Mental Game: 10 Tips for an Optimal Morning Routine

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You wake up and feel immediate relief. It’s still dark outside, the world is fast asleep. There’s still time, you think, as you slowly start drifting back to la la land.


No, no, no, no, no! Just ten more minutes. A momentary feeling of triumph sweeps over you after pressing the snooze button. Those ten minutes feel like 10 seconds. Just one more, then I’ll be ready to face the day.

Whenever you do finally build up the courage to look at the time and process what it means, your first thought is “HOLY %$&@ I’M GOING TO BE LATE!!”

“What am I going to wear?” Who knows. “Time for breakfast? No. “Time to relax?” Is that even a real thought? “Coffee?” Well, maybe there’s time for a cup of coffee to go.

And then, in a panic and loaded up on caffeine and an empty stomach, you go to tackle the one thing you’ve been dreading since you came home yesterday … work.

Then we wonder all day long why we’re in such a foul mood. We make observations like:

  • “Why is this secretary so darn chipper every morning?”
  • “Why do I consistently turn in mediocre work when I know I’m capable of so much more?”
  • “I wish I could play poker for a living, then I could wake up on my own terms and create my own schedule.”

We always promise ourselves we’ll beat the mental game, but the vicious cycle continues. We’ll wake up early and go to the gym … meditate, eat a healthy breakfast, and start our day off the right way!

Yet when we get home after working all day we plop our behinds on the couch to rest our weary body and mind.

“Next Monday … that will be a better place to start than tomorrow.”

“If You Win the Morning, You Win the Day.”

The morning is our precious time to prepare for what the day is going to bring. Do you think olympic sprinters press snooze 5 times before rushing to their competition, praying they aren’t late? Of course not! They spend this time and energy into preparing their minds and bodies to compete at the highest levels humanly possible.

As a poker player, it is absolutely essential that you create an awesome morning ritual. How often have you gotten up out of bed, poured yourself a bowl of cereal, sat down in your computer chair, and checked the tables “just in case”. Naturally, there is always one fish that reels you into starting your session earlier than you anticipated. I have personally fallen into this trap hundreds of times and shudder to think how much money it has cost me over the years.

And yet, this is the path most poker players take when starting their sessions. The grim reality is that you aren’t prepared for the stress of the mind and body they’re about to endure on the felt. By simply winning the morning, you will significantly reduce the amount of tilt you endure while also maintaining your focus for longer periods of time.

Always remember that whenever we do the little things to prepare us that almost nobody else does regularly, we are creating a built-in edge over our contemporaries. We are simply more equipped to deal with the adversity that inevitably occurs throughout a poker session than they are … and this will reveal itself in our bank accounts at the end of the year.

1) Create a checklist for all the things you would like to accomplish in the morning every single evening. “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed.”

Directly after you finish reading this article, handwrite a list on an index card of the things you dream about getting accomplished tomorrow morning. Make a checkbox next to each item. Before you go to bed, put this list in a place where you’re sure to notice it first thing in the morning. There is power in writing things out by hand, so don’t cheat yourself by putting it in your phone!

2) Remove distractions. “Oooohh: 8 people liked that picture I posted of my niece’s new puppy on Facebook” … said no one ever who was prepared to win the morning.

What are the hang-ups that keep you from getting in gear and conquering the day? My biggest one is checking my phone, followed by plopping down at my computer while my coffee is brewing. These devices were created by the greatest engineers on the planet for one purpose and one purpose only … distraction. So the only sure-fire way to avoid them is to create as much friction between yourself and distraction as possible.

Here are a few tricks that work for me:

  • Keep your phone out of your room when you go to sleep. The farther away it is, the harder it will be for you to access it in the morning. If you want to work out straight away, try placing your phone underneath a pair of gym shorts and t-shirt. It will be much harder to say no to the gym when you face a reminder.
  • Block the websites that cause you to trip up. Make a list of the websites that suck your attention away from you in the morning. For me, that list would look something like this:,,,, and These sites distract me from my goals and add zero value to my day, and yet I still find myself looking at them mindlessly. (To learn how to block websites, simply run a google search of “how to block my web browser” and follow the instructions.)
  • Take that list you made for your computer and add each website to the “restricted sites” section of your phone. Have your best friend or significant other password protect those websites and solemnly swear never to tell you.
  • Delete all the apps that are easily accessible and throw you off course. Make yourself have to actually log in to Facebook instead of just being able to click an app. Hide “Firefox” in a place on your phone that you wouldn’t think to look. The more chances you get to ask yourself, “How are they sucking me in, AGAIN?” the less likely you are to fall for their dirty tricks.

3) Figure out when you need to go to sleep and then “Go the $%#@ to sleep”

Alright, so now we have our list and have removed all the things that could cause us to stray off course. The next step in our action plan, again, occurs the night before our morning.

Look, if you don’t love waking up for your job, then going to sleep just means we’re one step closer to doing something you don’t want to do, so we tend to resist and drag the night out just a little bit longer (Just one more episode of “Game of Thrones”) … which in turn shortens our sleep cycle and makes the morning all the more unbearable.

Before we decide to tackle this step, we need to equipped with 2 pieces of information.

  • Number one is figuring out how many hours of sleep we personally need to feel well-rested. This varies from person to person and only you truly know your mind. Personally, I always thought I was lazy because I felt terrible if I didn’t get a full 9 hours every night. The reality is that the average person needs somewhere between 7 and 9 hours to feel fully rested, so don’t feel lazy if you’re at the high end of the spectrum.

Repeat after me: Sleep isn’t a waste of time … it is absolutely necessary to have a high quality existence and perform at the highest levels we are capable of. If you do nothing else that is in this post, embrace that simple fact and you’re life will improve dramatically.

  • Number 2 is how many hours do we need to get the items on our list accomplished? Once we know how much time to allocate to our mornings, we just add that to our required hours of sleep and subtract from what time we need to start our job. Presto, now we have a time we need to go to sleep every night.

4) Educate yourself about creating awesome sleeping habits.

The surest way to win the morning is by getting sound and restful sleep the night before, that way you’re prepared to do battle with the dawn. Tomes have been written on how to sleep more optimally, so I will provide you with the cliff notes:

  • Blue light spectrum is the enemy. The reason is that it simulates the sun and prevents our body from producing the sleep hormone melatonin. So, for one hour before the time you have designated for sleep, turn off all the lights and avoid your phone like the plague (notice the pattern here? Phones are bad mmmkay).Your television also emits a blue light spectrum but you’ll probably find it next to impossible to avoid your phone, not watch tv, and just lay on the couch in the dark. So if you’re going to cheat, watching TV from the couch is the lesser of all the evils.
  • Don’t eat for 3 hours before you go to sleep. This is also a tough one to follow because feeling tired feels exactly the same as feeling hungry. This is why sometimes late at night, you keep on stuffing your face but that pesky feeling of hunger continues to linger. Here are some pro-sleep foods: Bananas, a small bowl of rice, Turkey (My girlfriend and I are pescatarians, so don’t tell her I put this in here), cherries, and herbal tea (For drinking … please don’t eat the tea bag).
  • Treat your bedroom like a sanctuary. Just a bed, darkness, and sleeping. This should be a no-electronic zone. Moments of passion are allowed as well (encouraged, even).

5) “Eat your frogs first”.


And now we finally arrive to the beautiful morning that is going to set the tone for an awesome day. But how do we prioritize the items on our list and tackle them in an efficient manner.

Let’s do a little experiment. Pretend you have 5 items on your list. Head on over to a random number generator and generate a number between 1-5. We are going to generate the order in which you are to complete the items randomly.

I just tricked you, sorry about that. I know that in your heart of hearts, right before you clicked the “generate” button, you were desperately rooting against one item in particular. Whatever item that was, this becomes priority number 1.

Now, even if we fail with the rest of our list … we still get to begin the day with a feeling of triumph because we slayed a particularly troublesome dragon.

6) Work out.

For most people (Myself included) this is the monster that is toughest for me to slay on a daily basis. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before about the endorphins, burning calories, more energy later in the day, etc. but man all I want to do is sit at the kitchen table and drink my coffee. The only way I stand a chance is if I’ve put yourself in a position to succeed by following all of the above directions.

7) Meditate.

This is my monster’s little cousin, let’s call him Mike Wazowski.

Throughout meditation you’re constantly sharpening your ability to be in the present moment. Your levels of focus will gradually increase and you will much more attune to the inner feelings in your body. At the poker table, this means less tilt and sharper decision making. Off the felt, it means being able to feel more joy and appreciate the moments that make up our daily life.

Win this battle in the morning and you will win the entire day.

8) Eat the right things (Stay away from sugar aka cereal).

Tim Ferriss recommends eating 30 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes of waking up.

Personally, my daily morning ritual always includes eating 3 eggs, which I boil the night before. What we put into our bodies fuels us for the entire day, so be sure to do some research and figure out what works best for you on an individual level.

9) Automate as much as possible.

Before you go to sleep, your breakfast needs to be prepared. Your clothes for the next day should already be picked out. The more things you can get out of the way the night before the better. The truth is you are only going to feel like doing so many things whenever you wake up, so let’s make sure the things that get done are the ones that are going to really sustain us throughout the day.

After you have taken care of everything you can think of, the following morning you will probably realize you forgot some things that can steer us off course. That’s fine, just compile a new list and add those to the things we need to automate the night before.

10) Create an action plan right now.

So, you’ve been given a list on how to win even the most miserable of mornings. The final step is to follow-through on what you have learned and put all of the pieces together.

I promise that if you follow all of the steps I have written about that not only will your poker results improve dramatically, but the quality of life that you and those around you experience will be greatly improved.

Now get to it.

If you’d like a little more help, learn a specific technique to change your habits and win.

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