Katie Dalebout’s Pivot: Non-Routine Morning Routines

Transitions are universal and inevitable, regardless of age we’re constantly evolving. And while change can, at times, feel messy and uncomfortable, it’s through these metamorphoses that we learn success. All of my greatest lessons have come as a result of a pivot after a failure. These pivotal movements have made fertile ground for growth. Through the exploration of these transitions and changes it is my hope that fullest readers will feel less alone in knowing that others are going through the same trials and celebrations. As I move through my Saturn return and the tail end of my 20’s I find myself mining for life’s gems and sharing the lessons I’ve learned (and still continue to learn) through personal essays, lists, and interviews. 

Enjoy my monthly column, Pivot for the fullest.

In wellness circles there’s an expectation that mornings are magical hours spent sipping warm lemon water, meditating, practicing yoga, dry brushing, and emerging cold water therapy — all before the sun rises. For years, I was one of those people who rolled out of bed eager to scrape my tongue, take my probiotic, and get on with my long list of rituals. But my tried and true morning routine eventually made my apartment feel like a prison of my own creation — one I couldn’t break out of until I completed my required tasks. 

After years of asking wellness experts to share their morning rituals on my podcast, my list had become miles long. And without the need to go into an office daily or a family or pets to get me going, I’d rarely start my day before noon, if not later. 

I thought my sense of dedication was impressive. I applauded my discipline, consistency, and reverence. I even encouraged others to craft a morning ritual for themselves by sharing about mine on social media. In fact, in 2012 I wrote a piece for Mind, Body, Green about morning routines that tripled my audience. 

I’d accidentally become associated with magic mornings, positivity, and starting your day sans coffee, but with a heaping scoop of herbal, uncaffeinated, alkaline positive, inspirational energy.

I never considered my lengthy routine a problem until I started to diversify who I was speaking to. Instead of only talking to yoga teachers, holistic doctors, and self-help gurus, I pivoted my podcast away from a wellness show to a more all-inclusive one that interviewed creatives across industries, like actors, writers, and musicians. Yet I’d still ask my guests my classic question: “What are the first few things you do in the mornings?” 

These high performing, creative people downright shocked me when they’d simply say they wake up, drink coffee, and write. I wondered how they felt clear without doing any number of holistic things first. 

It was the first ping that my “wellness routine” was actually not the most productive way I could be spending those hours. The morning is when my brain is most clear and productive, yet I was using that time to check boxes on an imaginary list of my own creation. 

I have an addictive personality so even with this gentle nudge I didn’t stop my dogmatic obsession with my increasingly growing morning rituals. I held onto them tightly, even when they proved inconvenient. When visiting friends, I’d miss brunch and hide in their basement to get my jumping jacks in so I could “feel okay.”  

On a vacation with my ex-boyfriend’s family he finally confronted me. “Why are you escaping every morning? Why can’t you just hang out with us and do that later?” he asked. His calling me out shook me. I suddenly saw that this routine had become an OCD ritual that now affected other people. I was being selfish, putting my routine ahead of people, activities, and my work. I started to loosen the reins by removing some steps off the list, yet I still wouldn’t let them go completely. Around other people I could be less rigid, however when I was alone I’d cling to my list even tighter to compensate for my time without it. 

Even though I could intellectually see that it wasn’t positive for me, my compulsive mind couldn’t let it go.

That January, as winter settled over New York City, the longest, darkest depression began to encapsulate me. I was apathetic to everything, including getting out of bed. Getting dressed was barely possible, much less my laundry list of wellness habits. I removed more items off my list. 

In February, I went on a solo trip to Paris, and in a jetlagged fog one day, rolled out of bed and traded my clean lemon water for a latte. Coffee, not adaptogens! 

By March, all the rest of the items on my list had disappeared — except working out. April’s constant rain showers exasperated my melancholy, but still, I kept that one part of my routine — moving every morning, forcing myself to exercise regardless of my body’s screams for food and rest. 

May finally brought an injury that forced me to stop my dogmatic exercise routine — even limiting my walking. It was my mind’s worst nightmare, but my body’s greatest dream.

I was forced to stop, let go, and listen to what my body wanted, instead of my mind. My relationships and mental and physical health had culminated, forcing me to see what I was avoiding: that such a structured morning routine wasn’t needed and was actually problematic. 

Today, I’m still in the process of learning what works best for me in the mornings. There are days I don’t want to get up, but I do. Even though I feel like I’m moving through molasses sometimes, I keep moving until I build up enough momentum to coast. Because of the unstructured nature of my job, it’s completely on me to motivate myself to stand up and brush my teeth each day. I’m aware of my privilege and I am grateful, but this freedom can be a playground for depression, so I’m creating new structures and guardrails without getting too attached to them. I’m finding a medium between rules and freedom.

I’m a work in progress, concentrating on cultivating the same motivation I had with my wellness to-do list and putting that towards things that actually matter, like helping other people, being present with my relationships, and making creative projects.

I’ve made a new morning list for myself — one that is simple, doable, and depression proof. It’s a rough draft, one that doesn’t require checkboxes. Maybe I’ll do one, maybe I’ll do all of them, but at the end of the day (or beginning of the morning) it’s what makes me feel my best…

Open the blinds.

Listen to music. 

Put the phone on airplane mode.

Say good morning to someone. 

Make a warm beverage.

Put clothes on — maybe lipstick?

Listen to smart and funny people (what podcasts are made for).

Do something off your to-list.

Schedule early appointments, coffees with pals, or a workout class.

Do something creative. 

Go on a walk in nature. 

Take a morning bath. 

Leave the house, reminding yourself that the world has started… and you can too.

Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and the founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DIY podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed nearly 300 people on her long-form interview show, Let It Out and co-hosts Spiraling, an optimistic anxiety podcast. Her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling is a collection of essays and journaling prompts, and was published in 2016. She writes a monthly column for the fullest called Pivot and runs the website LET IT OUT, a Space for Soft Stories. Catch her in her Let It Out Letter, which features her essays, recommendations, and favorites. When she’s not traveling she lives surrounded by plants in Manhattan.

Photo credit: Nick Hagen.

Comment