8 Morning Routines of History's Most Successful People

H.F. Davis/Getty Images
H.F. Davis/Getty Images

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.

7. Meditate.

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.

93-Year-Old Toymaker Donates Hundreds of Handcrafted Wooden Creations to Children

Ed Higinbotham holds a toy with Pennsylvania State Trooper Robert Broadwater.
Ed Higinbotham holds a toy with Pennsylvania State Trooper Robert Broadwater.
Courtesy of Brittany Hoke, WTAE

Some folks are doing more than their part to ensure no child goes without presents this holiday season. In Pennsylvania, 93-year-old toymaker Ed Higinbotham donates hundreds of his handcrafted wooden toys to children in need each Christmas. He’s been doing it for about 30 years, and state police help him distribute the toys to homeless shelters and Head Start programs in the area.

Higinbotham is a self-taught craftsman who took up woodworking as a hobby. Initially, he says he just wanted something to keep his hands busy, but toymaking soon turned into a passion. Today, he works year-round from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in his workshop in Georges Township, about 55 miles south of Pittsburgh, to ensure he has enough toys for the holidays.

He fashions cars, trucks, and horse-drawn tractors out of wood, taking great care to include the small details, like the ladder on a fire truck or the bridle on the horse’s head. When asked if he was Santa Claus incarnate, he replied, "It's just something that I enjoy doing and now I make somebody else happy, and if that's Santa Claus then I'm Santa Claus."

[h/t WTAE]

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
jessicacasetorres/iStock via Getty Images

Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
Sedan504/iStock via Getty Images

And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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