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How This Navy SEAL Spends His Mornings

April 24, 2017, 5:21 PM UTC

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What’s your morning routine before going to work?” is written by Mike Goshgarian, former U.S. Navy SEAL and partner at McChrystal Group.

When the alarm clock goes off, you either get right out of bed or you’re a snoozer. Either way, you are soon confronted with choices about what to do with that precious slice of morning time before you physically enter your workplace.

Many executives and managers have found that the best use of this time is to conduct physical training (PT) of some type, oriented toward personal fitness or team sports.

This approach has long been a staple of military units, for whom morning PT is a non-negotiable part of the day. But the logic behind this practice applies broadly to anyone with busy days and tight schedules.

The first hours of the morning are the only time of day that you control. In our dynamic, complex working world, it’s very easy to lose control of your day to unanticipated meetings, calls, or crises. You may plan on lunch or the time immediately after work to accomplish tasks or focus on personal priorities, but too often this time gets squeezed by emerging work requirements.

PT benefits your daily mood and your long-term health. After a hard workout—or even a meditative walk at a moderate pace—you’ll experience elevated hormone levels, which help you put the challenges of the day into proper perspective. Even if you are young, fit, and energetic, remember: You won’t always be. Establish good habits now; they will pay off down the road.

As you get more senior in an organization, you may find your time and energy is increasingly spent on enterprise-level tasks that aren’t easily “done.” At the end of each day you may feel as if you’ve directed your energy widely, but with results that are not immediately evident. By completing a PT session the first thing in the morning, not only do you complete a tangible task, you also reinforce personal habits of action and achievement.

Finally, if you are able to participate in PT with coworkers, the benefits of team building are significant. A positive, challenging, and shared experience forms bonds of trust and breaks down interpersonal barriers. The result will be a tighter team that builds authentic, not transactional, relationships.

You may think you are too busy to carve out an hour in the morning for PT. In my 26-year military career, I worked directly for several high-ranking generals and admirals, all of whom had extraordinarily demanding schedules. Despite different personalities, work habits, and priorities, they all consistently made time for morning PT, even when commanding forces in combat zones. These senior leaders had learned from experience the physical and psychological benefits of regular exercise, and each developed the routine of PT first thing in the morning, the only block of time they knew they could control.

After getting up, I put on my PT clothes to ensure I don’t blow it off, then quickly scan emails or text messages to identify any new crises that are waiting for me. Next, during my PT, I consider these problems and draft initial responses to them. This gives me the time and focus to consider the issues dispassionately, and avoids the temptation of rapid-fire responses that are usually unproductive.

Like many others, I’ve found that a consistent habit of morning PT will result in more energy, enhanced mental focus, an action-oriented mindset, and better health. It may even make you a better teammate.