I remember during relay race practice in school, my teacher telling us about the most crucial part of the 'handover' of the baton:
'Start running before the baton gets to you!'
I used to worry that I might not be able to run and also grab the baton at the same time... but in fact, I found it was actually more difficult to grab the baton from a runner in full power if I was stationary. They would almost crash past me if I didn't start jogging forward to meet their momentum with my arm outstretched behind me.
In the same way, if we want to build beautiful, positive, nourishing habits, there is no way we can just wake up and have them all in place without building some momentum first.
In this article, I share what I now refer to as the mother of all habits: a cornerstone habit that allows you build momentum, making it easier to pick up other habits along the way.
For most of this year, I just couldn’t wake up early, let alone wake up early and energised.
It started out with burning the midnight oil for a live/guided course I was taking, where I had to complete daily assignments. The course turned me into a full-fledged night owl by the time summer arrived.
The worst thing about staying up late, is when you're sluggish or have a slow-slow-stop to get started the next morning. As a result, I didn’t have the energy or motivation to engage in healthy habits during those precious hours of the morning.
However, half way through the year, the problem was fixed.
I started eating dinner before it gets dark.
This simple change to my daily regimen surprised me.
It also made me acknowledge how a single good habit chosen strategically can give birth to lots of other good habits too.
Just like the relay race, it provides the momentum you need to catch and nurture other good habits during the circuit of your day.
We're often told waking up early depends on sleeping early, but I don't believe that anymore.
I think that waking up early and energised starts with the timing of your last meal of the day.
In my view, this is now the cornerstone of a good night of sleep, among other things.
It has a 'baton' effect on the way you wake up, too.
Eating the last meal earlier helps so much with rejuvenating your body, because you are able to fully process the inputs of the day while you sleep.
Let's explore the unexpected benefits more now.
Unexpected benefits of eating before it gets dark
Here are some reasons why this single habit can be so powerful in affecting change and helping you make progress on your goals:
Eating your last meal of the day before it gets dark is beneficial because...
...it improves the quality of your sleep
One of my trusted nutritionist friends explained to me that good sleep is a 80% of good health.
The time between your body processing the last meal of the day and the moment you fall asleep is crucial for good sleep.
Eating the last meal of the day at least 3 hours before sleeping makes it easier for the body both to fall asleep easily and to have quality sleep.
In Shawn Stephenson’s book 'Sleep Smarter', he maintains that improving the quality, not just the quantity of consistent good sleep can contribute significantly to rapid weight loss, especially when combined with nourishing healthy foods and exercise during daylight hours.
...it improves & regulates your immune system (which can also aid weight loss)
Fasting has long been a part of my practice, but not in the way this habit naturally creates for me.
Previously I have fasted during the day.
Now, I find myself 'fasting' from 6pm until 9am or so in the morning.
The benefits of eating during a particular window of time seem to be profound: Dr Mercola explains that giving the body a break of 12+ hours between a meal is one of the very best ways to boost immune health and recovery time;
"To boost your innate immune system, use time-restricted eating and eat all your meals for the day within a six- to eight-hour window.
Since we're here, he goes on to specify the types of foods to eat too:
"Avoid vegetable oils and processed foods.
Focus on organic foods to minimise your glyphosate exposure.
Include plenty of sulphur-rich foods to keep your mitochondria and lysosomes healthy.
Both are important for the clearing of cellular debris."
Finally, I love that he mentions this:
"You can also boost your sulphate by taking Epsom salt baths."
Not only are epsom salts a naturally cleansing boost, but they'll also help relax your body in time for sleep if you can do an epsom salt bath soak before sleep.
The next reason to finish eating before it gets dark is my favourite:
...it gives you your evening back
No matter how much joy food brings, on a day to day level if you live at home and wash your own dishes, it is a 'have to do' activity.
But once the meal is enjoyed and cleared, usually by around 6pm, I have found it suddenly frees up 2-4 hours of ‘down time’ in the evenings.
This has allowed so much time for activities I love, like family time, a walk, reading, or a cherry bakewell.
...it helps naturally enforce a cap on work time
Finally, by having a dinner deadline, it means that work naturally has to have a deadline too.
When you've been going at 100mph all day, having free time in the evenings and finishing dinner early helps ease yourself into a good night of sleep because there isn't such a big jump switching from work to sleep.
The rush to get my work done before dinner means that the hours of 3-5pm have become so productive for me.
What's more, is that it has led to a profound shift in boundaries between work hours and rest hours.
It's shown me I can designate tasks to the next day if I can't get them in on this day.
And when I have an evening to rest, I seem to get even more done the next day.
Here are the reasons eating dinner before it gets dark is so beneficial:
It improves the quality of your sleep
It improves your natural immunity & can aid weight loss
It gives you your evening back
It helps put a natural boundary on work time
All of this is beneficial because it improves your sleep: and good sleep is a major part of good health.
And better health means more energy and clarity to do the things that matter most.
I am the first to say how very difficult it is to maintain this habit when there are evening events or other things requiring late night eating.
This 'mother of all habits' is ideal for those who have a fairly consistent kind of daily life.
I can also imagine it may be difficult it might be for someone who works night shifts to implement.
But the idea of time restricted eating is not a wild one - and is manageable for anyone to implement.
In sum, if your morning routine is something you want to reclaim, then this is a great foundational habit to try out.
Day by day, it helps make it easier to layer on and 'grow' other habits.
It is an energy giving habit.
And for this reason, I will always fondly refer to it as the mother of all habits: the one habit that many other good ones are borne from.
May I be reminded of this myself, when the inevitable chaos may swipe my early mornings away from me. :)
Thank you for reading 🙏🏼.
Ponder: do you have a strategic 'mother of habits' that seems to help all your other habits flow out of you more easily?