A Perfect Day (According to Self-Help)

by Joshua Wilbur

I wake up just before sunrise.

For weeks, I’ve gone to bed at exactly 10 PM because—as Shawn Stevenson shows in Sleep Smarter—a consistent bedtime is the single most important factor in waking up well-rested. Before getting out of bed, I perform a series of stretches to prime my body for the day and gently transition to a waking state. I stand up feeling energized. I go to the window, open the blackout shades, and take a moment to appreciate the view. I’m ready to win the morning.

It’s hard to overstate the value of a morning routine. According to Hal Elrod, the author of The Miracle Morning, “By simply changing the way you wake up in the morning, you can transform any area of your life, faster than you ever thought possible.” My morning routine begins with some vigorous exercise, a HIIT of strength and cardio. With the Scientific 7-Minute Workout, I “essentially [combine] a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of discomfort.” This leaves me with plenty of time to meditate afterwards.

For a long time, I struggled to choose between mantra meditation, body scan meditation, and breath awareness meditation, so now I cycle through and reap the benefits of all three. I spend half an hour chanting, scanning, and breathing before taking a short contrast shower, alternating between warm and cold water in order to boost circulation and relieve tired muscles. I get dressed for the day, choosing an outfit that is both comfortable and likely to impress. I tidy my room and go to the kitchen.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I can’t afford to get it wrong. Fortunately, I’ve reviewed the most popular diets and decided on the Mediterranean diet as the best approach for weight maintenance, heart health, and cognitive wellness. Of course, I also appreciate the Paleo, Zone, and AIP diets. The important thing is warding off inflammation, which is the root of all bodily evil. I regularly consult Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid for quick suggestions.  As I prepare a Greek quinoa breakfast bowl loaded with fresh spinach, I can’t help but wonder how other people survive on sugary cereals and maple-cured bacon.  But, as I’ve learned from Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Judgement Detox, I shouldn’t judge other people’s choices: “Our judgments toward others seem to make us feel better than them—smarter, savvier, more enlightened, healthier, or wealthier.” Ultimately, we are all on our own journey.

After enjoying breakfast—taking time to savor each bite—I swallow down a regiment of supplements (multi-vitamin, fish oil, magnesium, fiber) with a glass of lemon-infused water. I sit at the countertop for twenty minutes or so, checking my phone for messages, writing notes in my journal, and reading just enough news to be informed but not so much as to dampen my mood. I gather my belongings, and I leave for work.

I ride my bicycle to the office, following a wooded path for most of the trip. I feel good about biking to work not only because it’s environmentally friendly but also because it allows me an opportunity to be in nature. Riding past the rocks and trees, I enter into a mental “flow,” a state of consciousness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “the psychology of optimal experience.” It’s a feeling of total immersion in the moment. Breathing in the cold air, I remember the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, who says that “as soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease.” For the rest of my commute, I listen to the chirping birds and the whistling wind.

I park my bike and take the stairs to the ninth floor. Once standing at my desk (and minding the new rules of posture), I establish micro-goals for the morning’s work. I sketch out an Eisenhower Time-Management Matrix, as outlined by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which prioritizes To-Dos according to importance and urgency. I’m always looking to work smarter, not harder, so I then embed the Eisenhower Matrix into a Getting Thing Done (GTD) workflow. I also ensure that all action items are in sync with my “Desire Map,” which I use to track my long-term goals for personal fulfillment. I finally silence my phone and settle into several hours of “deep work.”

Around noon, I eat lunch (a delicious chickpea salad) with a coworker in the office cafeteria. I’ve been eager to touch base with her about our objectives for a few shared projects. Following Dale Carnegie’s advice from How to Win Friends and Influence People, I make sure to smile, to call her by name, and to ask plenty of questions catered to her interests and concerns. It also helps that I prepared some potential conversation topics beforehand, as The Fine Art of Small Talk recommends, thus avoiding any awkward silences. I feel that we make a meaningful connection, and we agree to circle back for a follow-up discussion in the coming weeks.

I spend the rest of the work day in meetings. I manage a small team, and I’m always thinking about ways to motivate the group. I strive to be a “Level 5 Leader,” displaying a “powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will.” In the late afternoon, we brainstorm ideas for an upcoming conference presentation, and I’m careful to steer the conversation without dominating it. When the discussion begins to lull, I write one of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes on the whiteboard: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” This instills a new positive energy in the room—we finish out the day with some exciting proposals.

After work, I meet up with some friends at a nearby restaurant for dinner. A healthy work-life balance is absolutely essential, and I’m mindful about spending time with people who will push me to be my best. As Tony Robbins says, “The quality of a person’s life is most often a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group.” I order the smoked salmon paired with a glass of Pinot Noir, and, over the course of dinner, I make sure to follow Deepak Chopra’s “Law of Giving,”  freely giving out compliments, kind words, and helpful advice. There’s a wonderful atmosphere in the room, and I remember to be thankful for the amazing people in my life.

I notice, though, that one of my friends is acting a little strange. I pick up on some negative signals in his body language, applying lessons that I learned from What Every Body Is Saying. He leans over and speaks in a hushed tone, so that only I can hear. He says that I’ve seemed distracted lately, like I’m juggling a lot, like I’m trying too hard. He says that he misses the way I used to be, when I wasn’t so worried about being perfect. I can tell he’s had a little too much to drink, and I have to collect my thoughts as he stumbles away to the restroom.

I’m honestly taken aback at his criticism: who could possibly fault someone for trying to better themselves?  I know that I am a badass. In fact, I’m mastering the subtle art of not giving a f*ck.  I make sh*t happen, and I have unlimited power to shape my destiny. In that moment, I make a conscious decision to enjoy the rest of night and to not sweat the small stuff. The remainder of the evening is really great, and we all promise to get together again soon.

I’m back home around 9PM. I brew a pot of herbal tea and curl up on the couch. I read for half an hour from The Power of Positive Thinking, reminding myself to cultivate positive beliefs about myself and others. I take a warm shower, brush my teeth, and do some light stretches before getting into bed. Lying under the covers, I set a mindful intention to rest well, wake up energized, and make the most of tomorrow. As I drift off to sleep, I feel grateful for what was practically a perfect day.