…is the first hour of your morning, and if you get it right you’ll notice that the rest of your day goes right. Or seems too. Of course there are exceptions, yes, But there are always exceptions. Don’t focus on the exceptions. You can control to a large degree how your day goes by controlling when the first hour of your day occurs and what happens in it.
Another major advance in our understanding of memory was the discovery that priming is not restricted to concepts and words. You cannot know this from conscious experience, of course, but you must accept the alien idea that your actions and your emotions can be primed by events of which you are not even aware.
Kahneman then describes an experiment conducted by John Bargh and collaborators, in which the participants were asked to do a brief exercise involving a seemingly random collection of words. The words, however, weren’t random. (Is anything in a psychological experiment random?)
For one group of students, the scrambled sentences contained words associated with the elderly, such as Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle. When they had completed the task, the young participants were sent out to do another experiment in an office down the hall. That short walk was what the experiment was about. …As Bargh had predicted, the young people who had fashioned a sentence from words with an elderly theme walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than the others.
Priming, in short, is a pretty powerful effect that happens to you regardless of your conscious approval. But it definitely happens, as study after study has shown. In another study described by Kahneman, participants were asked to walk around for 5 minutes at a slow pace; afterward they were measured to be much quicker to recognize words related to old age.
The studies show that physical priming can effect mental or verbal response, and mental or verbal priming can effect a physical response. People who smile while viewing comics tend to rate the comics as funnier than those who frown.
“We now know,” says Kahneman, “that the effects of priming can reach into every corner of our lives.”
Now consider these two scenarios of the first hour of the day.
You wake up at 7, hit snooze on the alarm and doze fitfully another fifteen minutes. You roll out of bed, trip on the shoes you left by the bed, and notice the pile of library books in the corner. “Gotta remember to take those back today,” you think as you head for the bathroom. But you take too long standing under the hot water in the shower, and by the time you make it out, dressed and combed and looking human, your only thought is to grab a cup of coffee before you start your commute. While your coffee brews, you throw your necessaries into your bag, then scan the refrigerator and see nothing that looks like a decent lunch. “I’ll just go out,” you decide, forgetting about your resolution to eat healthy lunches and fit a quick walk into your lunch break. You pour your coffee into a travel mug, spilling some on the counter, which makes you more exasperated than it should. No time for breakfast, so a granola bar goes into your pocket, you grab your phone off the charger and your keys… your keys… where are your keys? Now you’re starting to panic: another 5 minutes and you’ll be solidly into late. You run from room to room, scanning all the likely places, and just when your’e about to scream you glance down and see them, in those shoes by the bed. You grab them and run, flinging your stuff into the car and slamming the door behind you. Off to another productive day.
Question: if that’s your morning, what are you primed for in your day? What physical, mental, or verbal priming has occurred in your morning (remember, you don’t have to plan it or be conscious of it, it still happens) and how is that priming going to effect your day?
You wake up at 5, tempted to hit snooze on the alarm and fall asleep again, but the song that’s playing does its work: wake on up from that slumber, baby, open up your eyes… it says, and when the second verse tells you not to trade in your life for a little more sleep, you know you’d better get on up. You creep quietly out of bed; you don’t want to wake anyone else in the house up – morning is your time – and throw on some clothes before heading to the kitchen. A few minutes later, coffee in hand, you settle into the chair by the window to watch the sky while you read and write for an hour or so. You’ve got plenty of time, and you’re careful about what you read in the morning: no news, no social, but something inspirational or powerful or sure to get you thinking and ticking. You write a page or two, then move on to planning your day. It looks good from here; you’ve got plenty on your agenda but if you stay on track you’ll get the important stuff done. You remind yourself of what it is (that critical inch!), scratch off a couple of tasks and a meeting that won’t benefit anyone, and you’re feeling ready for the day. You grab a quiche out of the fridge – you made it the night before – and put it on warm in the oven while you spend 20 minutes exercising, then get a shower. Your bag’s by the door, ready to grab, and you take your quiche to go, knowing you’ll have time to stop and get a coffee and a few minutes of conversation at the cafe on the way to work. The sun is bright now as you walk out, listening to one of your favorite podcasts. It’s looking like a good day already.
So you already know the question: if the second scenario is your morning, what are you primed for in your day?
And the next obvious question: who’s going to have a better day? The first scenario subject or the second scenario subject?
You know it’s the person in the second scenario.
Partially it’s because that person seems much more organized, put together, prepared, focused. And that’s true.
But nothing in the second scenario was rocket science. Nothing about it was that difficult; all it requires to make the second scenario your morning scenario is to do a little prep work ahead of time, plan your morning, and then stick to your plan. Which you can do, if you want to.
The first scenario, which is, too often, a version of what we live every single morning, primes us to feel rushed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. It primes us to notice disorder and failure. What a great way to begin a day, primed for frustration and failure.
The second scenario, which requires self-discipline and some forethought, primes us to feel prepared, energetic, and in control of our choices. It primes us to notice what motivates us and focus on what is important to us.
Look, I get that it’s not easy to create a second scenario morning. I get that it’s not possible all the time. I get that you need sleep. I get that I need sleep. I also get that if you and I want to be more than average, we have to make some difficult choices. Choices that are above average, that require more of us than the average person is willing to give. We know that if we only put average in, we’re only going to get average out.
Planning your morning to prime you for a productive, motivated, energetic day is how you can take that first hour and make it carry through the whole day.
The simple truth is that the first hour is going to effect your whole day, anyway. So it behooves you to decide what that first hour is going to be about, and stick to your decision. Otherwise you might feel like you’re making conscious and deliberate choices about the rest of your day, but a large part of it (feeling frustrated, tired, overworked, overwhelmed, confused, unsuccessful OR feeling prepared, confident, focused, energetic, motivated, successful) has already been decided by what you did in the first hour.