The Weekly Circle #29
Welcome to the twenty-ninth episode of The Weekly Circle! A free Circles in Time newsletter released every Sunday.
I am thinking a lot about two essential hours within my 24-hour cycle.
The first hour of my day, and the final hour before I go to bed at night.
If I am in a good rhythm during these two hours of the day (performing my intended practices consistently), I typically feel less stressed, more focused and more effective.
Here are what those two hours currently look like for me:
FIRST HOUR OF THE DAY:
Wake at a consistent time (5:30 am at the moment).
Drink 500ml of water (room temperature if possible).
Get outside to gain direct exposure to the morning sunlight.
Go for a short walk or run in the forest above my house.
Drink 500ml of water, shower and get changed.
Make myself a coffee and a small portion of yoghurt.
Brush my teeth, and then move into a morning writing session.
Several factors have shaped my ‘first-hour routine’—sleep quality being a primary one.
Optimizing for sleep quality may seem like a confusing goal to orientate my ‘first-hour routine’ around (There are 16 hours between the routine and going to bed).
It turns around that from a physiological perspective, the first hour plays a prominent role in entraining the neurochemical and hormonal systems that allow us to fall asleep at night.
Four findings from chronobiology that have influenced my thinking here:
ANCHORING MY CIRCADIAN CLOCKS
Although our body clocks are largely endogenous, they can be adjusted through entrainment (slow, gradual changes via key signals from the outside world). A consistent wake-time helps to anchor our clocks, moving our circadian rhythm into alignment with our intended sleep-wake cycle.
DIRECT SUNLIGHT EXPOSURE
One of the key signals that entrainment works through is sunlight. By getting direct exposure to sunlight, first thing in the morning, I activate a cortisol pulse, which acts as the first domino in a stack, setting off all our other circadian body clocks in the process.
TIMING MELATONIN SECRETION
One of those dominos is a countdown timer that sets off the secretion of melatonin around 15 hrs after the initial pulse of morning cortisol. Melatonin is one of the main hormones that activate the parasympathetic nervous system and is partly responsible for the sleepiness we feel in the evenings.
OTHER IMPORTANT LEVERS
In addition to early exposure to direct sunlight, exercise and body temperature are also helpful in anchoring my circadian clock in the process.
The intention here is to lower the chances I will feel wired and alert at 10:30 PM when I try to wind down and get to sleep.
LAST HOUR OF THE DAY:
Write about 3 key reflections for the day and the three key actions for the next day.
Take a warm shower and followed by some mild cold exposure to drop my body temperature.
Get changed, do a light stretch, play slow music and turn on the fan.
Set the alarm, get into bed and read a physical paper-based book.
Turn off the bedside lamp and go to bed (latest 11 pm)
The primary intentions driving my wind-down routine are to avoid unnecessary blue light, quieten my mind, calm my nervous system and lower my body temperature.
All of which help to get hormones like melatonin and sleep-focused neuromodulators like acetylcholine up and running.
Share your protocols!
I would love to learn about how you approach the first and last hour of your day. You can respond directly to this email, comment on the webpage post, or share your practices on Twitter.
SAMPLE OF ONE PODCAST
with Samuli Reijula
Samuli and I discuss self-nudging, boosting, responsibility, evading Skinner's dystopian world of Walden Two and how to resist the sweet allure of Nutella chocolate spread.
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THE IDEAS I CIRCLED AROUND THIS WEEK
NOTEWORTHY BOOK: KNOW THYSELF
Cognitive neuroscientist, Steve Fleming, recently announced the release date for his book, Know Thyself. The book explores the science of self-awareness and metacognition. Fleming is a brilliant scientist and science communicator. My hunch is that this book is going to be something very special.
HOW TO BUILD LEARNING COMMUNITIES
An excellent conversation between Erik Torenberg, Anna Gat and Anne-Laure Le Cunff about the state and future of online learning communities. All three of them are emerging as natural leaders in the space.
CAN WE HAVE MINDFUL HABITS?
I hosted a thread on Twitter on the topic of applying mindfulness to existing habits. It turned into a fascinating conversation with Lisa Feldman-Barrett, Wendy Wood, Mitch Olson and Samuel Salzer all sharing their views. This is Twitter at its best for me.
THE QUOTES I CIRCLED AROUND THIS WEEK
“Busy and productive are not the same thing. It's easy to be busy. It's hard to be productive. Busyness is doing something. Productivity is going somewhere. Busyness is a virus that infects productivity.” ~ Shane Parrish
“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.” ~ Josh Waitzkin
“It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.” ~ Paul Graham
“No one truly knows what they will do in a certain situation until they are actually in it. It's very easy to judge someone else's actions by what you assume your own would be if you were in their shoes. But we only know what we think we would do, not what we would do.” ~ Ashly Lorenzana
“These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” ~ Anthony de Mello
SOMETHING TO PART WITH
Last weekend I left the city for some time in nature. This photo was taken during one of our hikes into the Wolfberg Cracks, an incredible chamber of caves and formations.
Until next week,
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