What I learned from living on the beach.

I used to always wake up in a rush - eager to start my day right away so I could be as productive as possible. It took me a long time to learn that being productive doesn’t always mean moving fast. Sometimes being productive is about strategically slowing down to reset and create space.

Naturally, I’m a morning person, and despite always knowing that, I never really protected my mornings for myself. The morning is my prime time and I was always giving it away to other people. When I was in school, I’d wake up early to finish all of my homework or study for an exam. And when I started working, I’d wake up to make sure I had time to write code before starting my meetings for the day. And while these clearly aren’t unproductive ways to spend my mornings, they also meant that I was less grateful and less present for the rest of the day, two things that I know contribute greatly to my day-to-day satisfaction.

Since I’m working from home these days, I have the luxury of working west coast hours from the east coast, making it much easier to save my mornings for myself. I try to leave my phone on airplane mode as I start the day, to protect my mind from the barrage of thoughts and opinions that is the outside world. Especially in these anxiety-ridden times, I’ve found that the more I can detach from reality the better. Or alternatively, the more I can dive deeply into the reality of my immediate surroundings, for example, the sounds and smells of coastal living or the light conversations and hilariously not funny jokes I share with my roommates, the better. Too much reality is not good, but neither is too little. So after clearing my head with meditation, and straightening up my room, I usually find myself drawn to whatever book I was reading to make sure that I actually brush my teeth for 2 minutes, but also to give myself something interesting but focused to think about. If I start my day by checking my email, social media, or the news I find that that frenetic energy fills my mind and troubles the rest of my day. I’ll admit I’m not perfect about resisting the temptations of the internet, especially if I’ve woken up from a particularly bad night of sleep, but my days are always better when I stay strong and keep my head clear.

When I moved to the beach for a month, I knew that I wanted to spend as much time as possible outside. I’ve never lived on the beach before and since I find the ocean to be exceptionally grounding and soothing, I wanted to see what would happen if I made spending time by the water a central part of my daily routine. I also knew that if I didn’t make it out to the beach in the morning, I probably wouldn’t go outside at all, as I find it a little bit too easy to be sucked into work, tackling one problem after another until the moon’s risen and it’s time for bed. I counted being out on the balcony as being “outside” because I could hear the rhythmic crashing of the ocean waves and feel the sunlight streaming onto my face. As a result, I found myself heading out there for morning meditation often followed by a slow yoga flow. Normally, I really enjoy fast-paced vinyasa classes, but something about hearing the ocean whisper in my ear made me focus a lot more on each movement and each breath instead of just trying to get in a “good workout”. I found this combination of sitting meditation and moving meditation to be unbelievably cathartic and I became somewhat addicted to the ritual. On days where I skipped meditation or yoga, for work or other benign reasons, I’d feel like something was “off” for the rest of the day and it was nearly impossible to recreate that feeling of centered clarity. Growing up playing sports, I developed an affinity for intense workouts that pushed me to my limits, but as I’ve grown in my personal development journey, I’ve started to learn that I don’t have to do a ground-breaking workout every day. In fact, just starting each day anew is ground-breaking already. I’ve started focusing on working out to support how I feel, as a path to that beloved place of mental clarity and expansive peace. I’ve learned to focus my attention on just moving my body and really being thankful for everything it does for me, and as cliché as it sounds, this gratitude has made it even easier for me to get myself moving into a positive feedback loop of habitual momentum.

On a totally unrelated note, I’ve also been feeding my sourdough starter in the mornings. Baking bread is yet another grounding hobby that I’ve gotten into recently, but that’s a story for another day. However, before starting the habit of having this super slow morning routine, I never would’ve made time for something like this, believing it to be an impediment to my productivity instead of appreciating that the activity helps me cultivate the energy I crave. Similarly, I used to only allow myself the luxury of sipping on a caffeinated beverage if I was deep in the throws of some challenging work, failing to realize that coffee and tea are some of my favorite little joys that can easily be slipped into any pocket of the day. I cannot explain to you how satisfying it is to make myself an iced matcha latté, bring it to the beach, and drink it for no reason other than that I feel like it.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with a little caffeine-fueled flow, but I’m tired of always doing everything for a reason. The more little things that I do just because I feel like it, the more satisfied I feel each day, and the more of these little things that I add to my mornings, the more likely I am to continue to add them to the rest of the day. I really do believe that whatever we bring into our mornings follows us for the rest of the day. And since our lives are really just made up of a series of today’s, I try to set the tone for how I want to feel in my life, every single morning.

Then I usually head outside and this time on the beach in the mornings, I’ve gifted to myself, to do whatever my heart desires. Some days I go for long walks on the beach playing one song on repeat. Other days, I dip my toes into the water and watch youtube videos that make me laugh or feel inspired.But lately, I’ve been in the mood to read.

Over the past several years, I’ve worked on reviving my childhood love for books, but I struggle a lot with separating my love for reading from my constant urge to be productive. I’ve found that reading on the beach pulls me in the right direction though. I know most people want to read faster, but I’ve been working on slowing down so that I really focus on enjoying the act of reading instead of just trying to learn as fast as possible. Ironically, this slowing down has not only helped me retain more information but also has ensured that reading remains an activity I love and not a chore, which actually means I’ve started reading a lot more than I was before. Coincidence? I think not.

And of course, I ended this lovely morning routine by making myself some breakfast and a cup of coffee for no reason other than the fact that I wanted to.

Check out a video of this morning routine here.