The Morning Routine That Got Me a 100K Scholarship For Grad School

Exactly what I did to get a six-figure scholarship and change my life

This year I was not only accepted into a top graduate school for journalism but given a prestigious full-ride scholarship adorned with perks, bells and whistles (not to mention a sense of validation for the previous years of effort).

I relied so heavily on my morning routine for a span of years that, when I reflect on the steps I’ve taken to getting into a top journalism program with a 100K scholarship, the thing that stands out most to me is my morning routine that I’ve refined and perfected.

There are many notable writers across Medium who write about the importance of habit forming and morning routines. Each of them say the same things, but spun different directions and with different slants for unique outcomes.

The thing that everyone seems to touch upon is that, whatever habit they happen to be advocating for, things don’t happen unless that habit is ingrained and consistent like rising of the sun or the changing of seasons.

Consistency in habits and positive routines are what make us who we are and dictate who we become. The things you and I do every day are the constituent pieces to our identity, personality, integrity, and character.

The importance of these small, daily doses of discipline and diligence cannot be overstated. I stand by my claim, candidly and with gusto, that the primary driver behind my academic success has been my morning routine.

Here’s exactly how I have started my day going on nearly five years.

5:30 AM

I started waking up early to exercise when I was in high school.

Each day, I rise early to lift weights or run or jump rope. It wakes me up immediately, and without fail, and acts as a catalyst for a productive rest of the day.

Waking up early is most strongly advocated for by former Navy Seal and best-selling author Jocko Willink, who penned the discipline manifesto Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win, where he famously writes:

“Discipline equals freedom.”

He notoriously wakes up at 4:30AM to exercise — intensive weightlifting, cardiovascular training, and mobility work — each and every day, weekends notwithstanding.

I began doing this many years ago (though not as early as Jocko) and it has been formative to my fitness and health, work ethic, and mental acuity for each day.

The sharpness of mind that is a result of the post-workout feeling is real; something akin to runner’s high but acute and focused, which prepares one to get immediately to work on intellectual labors for the day.

6:30 AM

By 6:30 AM, I’ve showered and changed and I’m sitting down at a desk to write in my journal.

I journal each day for only 10 to 15 minutes. The short time invested each day in this “mental dump” of sorts, a reflection and introspection all at once, provides a bird’s eye view on your own life, thoughts, and experiences.

The simple act of writing each day — no prompts, no topic in particular, just put pen to paper without hesitation — provides a depth of context to your life that cannot be obtained otherwise.

Sure, some say you could achieve similar results from sitting down and simply reflecting in your mind. But this is far more ephemeral and cannot be referenced back to like a page with writing can.

In a journal, you can put down goals, ideas, things you are grateful for, things you wish to avoid in life, things that make you scared or nervous or insecure; when done each day, these provide groundbreaking insights into your own life and role in this world.

Writing regularly too helps you become more articulate and helps you set your thoughts in order. This becomes a springboard for pubic speaking, professional writing (presentations, essays, articles, emails even), and even the ability to speak comfortably in conversation.

6:45 AM

After writing, I pull out whatever book I’m reading at the time and read for 45 to 60 minutes (depending on what I have going on afterwards that day).

Some of the most successful people are the most vocal advocates for lifelong learning. You don’t need to be in school or returning to school to be learning something new every day.

That’s where books come in.

Reading each and every day expands upon your present knowledge and can push your comfort zone in terms of new ideas, concepts, and insights. I select my reading from a range of genres, drifting between classic literary fiction and contemporary non-fiction.

I’m currently finishing up Leo Tolstoy’s classic fiction, Anna Karenina. Next up will be a non-fiction, historical account of World War II.

Books give us perspective that we could not obtain otherwise, just as journaling does albeit in a different way. The books we read inform us about things we did not know that we did not know — stories, fantasies, history, science, narrative blueprints — and they scaffold each and every pursuit in life.

Without reading each morning, I certainly would not be able to write as clearly and cogently as I can today. Again, dovetailing from journaling each day, reading helps one become more articulate and verbally intelligent and competent.

Reading and ingesting new, difficult, ideas each morning arms you with the superpower of knowledge, and can instill in you the single greatest passion in the world: a love of learning.

7:45 AM

Following my physical and intellectual gymnastics of exercise, writing and reading, then I am ready to begin the day.

By this hour, the world has begun to wake up and start the day. But by now I’ve already secured the mental advantage and confidence that is part and parcel of working hard before the rest of the world even gets out of bed.

The mental edge is something that becomes inextricable from your identity once you begin to wake up early and dominate your morning routines. The rest of the day feels easier, sharper, and smoother once you’ve accomplished a near-three hours of work before everyone else in your cohort.

At 7:45 AM I feel ready to do absolutely anything because I’ve already had a productive, feel-good morning.

Installing habits that you would be proud to accomplish each day is what makes you a proud, confident, self-assured individual. That is the type of person who can process, achieve, and navigate anything and everything.

But some years ago, when I first began this routine, I did not know I was embarking on a lifelong (and daily) journey that would ultimately result in such an academic honor.

I fully ascribe my academic successes to my diligence in the quiet hours of each morning. The old adage, It’s what you do when no one’s watching rings truer than true here.

Although nobody was telling me what to do each day, I turned to my habits and routine and did not stray.

The things you do every single day are the things that take care of you like nobody else can. If you treat those habits with respect, they will turn you into a person who was better than the person you were yesterday.

Just imagine that compounding impact spread over a span of months, years, and decades. The results would be extraordinary.

I will continue this morning routine and, hopefully in another few years down the line, I’ll have another article to write about how my morning routine resulted in something else I’d be proud to share.

Phil Rosen is a writer and journalist. If you want to see more of his ideas, check out his travel and lifestyle blog and Instagram.

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

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