Lots of CEOs love to humble brag about their extreme morning routines. Tim Cook is up at the ungodly hour of 3:45, Richard Branson is kite surfing before most of us open our eyes, and Tony Robbins subjects himself to a daily ice water plunge. But there are exceptions.
Jeff Bezos is a famous morning putterer, for instance, refusing to set important meetings before 10 a.m. And apparently Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is another iconic name that prefers a gentler start to the day.
A moment of mindfulness to start the day
The idea builds on the trendy notion of mindfulness, but Nadella didn’t pick up his practice from the latest leadership guru. Instead, he traces his interest in mindfulness to his mother, who was a Sanskrit scholar. She may have spent her life studying the ancient language, but Nadella explains he takes a much more lightweight approach to mindfulness.
“I picked this up from the gentleman who works with the Seattle Seahawks, Michael Gervais,” Nadella tells Time. “The first thing I do when I get up in the morning, you get out of the bed and then you put your feet down and say what you were thankful for and what you’re looking forward to. That’s it. It’s the simplest thing, and given that it’s the first conscious act, very helpful.”
The science of rituals and gratitude
Taking a moment to give thanks and look forward with optimism can’t take more than a few seconds but despite the ritual’s ease and simplicity there are plenty of reasons to believe consciously setting your outlook for the day this way might actually be impactful.
First, a load of reputable science shows that small, secular rituals such as adopting a mantra to counter feelings of overwhelm, ripping up a piece of paper on which you’ve drawn your negative feelings, or listening to the same song before every big challenge can have powerful effects on our psychology. They might seem silly and irrational to some, but rituals work.
Second, Nadella’s morning ritual focuses on the present moment with gratitude, and gratitude is another surefire, research-backed way to improve your well-being. Neuroscience shows that optimism is like a muscle. The more we practice looking for the positive, the easier it becomes to see. By making space for a moment of gratitude at the beginning of each day, Nadella is teaching his brain to spot occasions for joy and opportunities for growth. Of course his days are going to be a little brighter.
If you have a few seconds free every morning (and every one of you reading this does), give Nadella’s ritual a try and see how it impacts your outlook for the entire day to come.