Everyone always wants to know how great artists, thinkers, and leaders achieved greatness. What did they do right? And if we follow in their footsteps, can we see similar results? In search of answers, we often turn to the morning routines of history’s most successful people. These morning habits and workout routines may have been just one small facet of their genius, but the ways they started their days were crucial to their creative process nonetheless. Here are eight simple morning routines of some of the world’s greatest minds that are worth a try in 2019.
1. Make a resolution every morning.
Benjamin Franklin strictly adhered to the 13 virtues he laid out for himself, including order, frugality, and justice. He also followed a daily routine with the same rigor and discipline. Each morning, he woke up at 5 a.m. and asked himself, “What good shall I do this day?” In his autobiography, he outlined his morning schedule as such: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.” Once he had a game plan and some food in his belly, he got to work doing typical Benjamin Franklin things, like inventing the rocking chair or helping to fight fires.
2. Work from bed.
This may sound counterproductive, but if some of the greatest minds in history had success with this method, then it might have some merit to it. One such proponent of working from bed was the French writer Voltaire. He wrote more than 50 plays in his lifetime, including Candide—and many of them were penned from the comfort of his bed. Laziness wasn't in his nature, though. He often put in 18-hour work days, helped along by the copious amounts of coffee he drank (40 to 50 cups a day, by some estimates). Likewise, British poet Edith Sitwell also frequently worked from bed, and once exclaimed, "All women should have a day a week in bed.” If you need further convincing that it’s possible to be productive while tucked under the covers, look no further than Winston Churchill. Each morning he spent hours in bed, where he ate breakfast, had a cigar, read the newspaper, and worked or dictated to his private secretaries.
3. Treat yourself.
If you want to start off your day on the right foot, do something that brings you joy, boosts your confidence, or helps you relax—even if it does feel like you’re procrastinating. Sigmund Freud famously had a barber come and trim his beard each day, and both Napoleon Bonaparte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were known for their extensive primping sessions. Napoleon often poured lavender water over his body while washing up, and Mozart spent an hour just getting dressed. Of course, grooming habits aren’t the only way to get your day started with a positive attitude, as Adam Toren, the co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, writes. He suggests carving out time each morning for something you enjoy doing, whether it’s listening to a podcast, jogging, or sipping a cup of coffee.
4. Take a walk …
Charles Darwin typically started his day with a stroll around his thinking path (a gravel track near his home in Kent, England). Darwin mused on the scientific questions of the day during these walks, often with his fox terrier in tow. He may have been onto something, because certain types of exercise—particularly ones that require little thought—stimulate the motor and sensory regions of the brain. In turn, this tends to encourage the flow of new ideas. “Obviously, walking was not responsible for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but a good footslog was certainly part of his cognitive labor—and still is for many today,” Damon Young writes in Psychology Today. Georgia O'Keeffe had a similar habit, waking at dawn to take her tea in bed, then heading outside for a walk around her New Mexico neighborhood. She is said to have carried a walking stick with her, which came in handy anytime she needed to shoo away rattlesnakes.
5. … Or do something else physical.
If walks aren’t quite your speed, try jump-starting your day with some other type of exercise. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier rose at 6 a.m. and did calisthenics for 45 minutes each morning. English author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse had a similar routine, waking up early to complete his morning calisthenics on the porch. However, he also followed it up with a pipe and drank two martinis before lunch and another two before dinner, so he might not be the best person to be taking health advice from. If you don’t like traditional exercises such as running or swimming, don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with different activities. President Herbert Hoover and his physician invented a strenuous sport they dubbed Hooverball, which the POTUS played at 7 a.m. on the south lawn of the White House.
6. Get your hands dirty.
In 1850, would-be Moby-Dick author Herman Melville bought a 160-acre farm and farmhouse in western Massachusetts and named it Arrowhead. He personally tended to the farm and enjoyed rising at 8 a.m. to feed his horses and cow (“It’s a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws,” he wrote). Only then did he make breakfast for himself and begin writing. If you don’t have a full-blown farm, a small vegetable or flower garden will suffice. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, woke at 8 a.m., ate breakfast, then headed straight to his garden to care for his prize-winning chrysanthemums. He named his home and garden Ozcot.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant made silent contemplation one of his first orders of business each day. He woke up at 5 a.m., drank a cup or two of weak tea, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, all while using that quiet time to meditate, according to biographer Manfred Kuehn. We now know that meditation offers several scientific benefits, including anxiety reduction. If you start fretting about everything on your to-do list as soon as you open your eyes each morning, the Kant approach might be a good way to practice mindfulness.
8. Stimulate your mind.
Jane Austen practiced piano first thing in the morning before other members of her family woke up. English-American poet W. H. Auden started off his day with a crossword puzzle. And countless political leaders, from John Quincy Adams to Theodore Roosevelt, made reading a priority in the morning. (Roosevelt reportedly read entire books before breakfast.) Regardless of the materials they were consuming, they understood well that reading is brain fuel—and knowledge is power.