8 Morning Routines of History's Most Successful People

H.F. Davis/Getty Images
H.F. Davis/Getty Images

Everyone always wants to know how great artists, thinkers, and leaders achieved greatness. What did they do right? And if we follow in their footsteps, can we see similar results? In search of answers, we often turn to the morning routines of history’s most successful people. These morning habits and workout routines may have been just one small facet of their genius, but the ways they started their days were crucial to their creative process nonetheless. Here are eight simple morning routines of some of the world’s greatest minds that are worth a try in 2019.

1. Make a resolution every morning.

Benjamin Franklin strictly adhered to the 13 virtues he laid out for himself, including order, frugality, and justice. He also followed a daily routine with the same rigor and discipline. Each morning, he woke up at 5 a.m. and asked himself, “What good shall I do this day?” In his autobiography, he outlined his morning schedule as such: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.” Once he had a game plan and some food in his belly, he got to work doing typical Benjamin Franklin things, like inventing the rocking chair or helping to fight fires.

2. Work from bed.

This may sound counterproductive, but if some of the greatest minds in history had success with this method, then it might have some merit to it. One such proponent of working from bed was the French writer Voltaire. He wrote more than 50 plays in his lifetime, including Candide—and many of them were penned from the comfort of his bed. Laziness wasn't in his nature, though. He often put in 18-hour work days, helped along by the copious amounts of coffee he drank (40 to 50 cups a day, by some estimates). Likewise, British poet Edith Sitwell also frequently worked from bed, and once exclaimed, "All women should have a day a week in bed.” If you need further convincing that it’s possible to be productive while tucked under the covers, look no further than Winston Churchill. Each morning he spent hours in bed, where he ate breakfast, had a cigar, read the newspaper, and worked or dictated to his private secretaries.

3. Treat yourself.

If you want to start off your day on the right foot, do something that brings you joy, boosts your confidence, or helps you relax—even if it does feel like you’re procrastinating. Sigmund Freud famously had a barber come and trim his beard each day, and both Napoleon Bonaparte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were known for their extensive primping sessions. Napoleon often poured lavender water over his body while washing up, and Mozart spent an hour just getting dressed. Of course, grooming habits aren’t the only way to get your day started with a positive attitude, as Adam Toren, the co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, writes. He suggests carving out time each morning for something you enjoy doing, whether it’s listening to a podcast, jogging, or sipping a cup of coffee.

4. Take a walk …

Charles Darwin typically started his day with a stroll around his thinking path (a gravel track near his home in Kent, England). Darwin mused on the scientific questions of the day during these walks, often with his fox terrier in tow. He may have been onto something, because certain types of exercise—particularly ones that require little thought—stimulate the motor and sensory regions of the brain. In turn, this tends to encourage the flow of new ideas. “Obviously, walking was not responsible for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but a good footslog was certainly part of his cognitive labor—and still is for many today,” Damon Young writes in Psychology Today. Georgia O'Keeffe had a similar habit, waking at dawn to take her tea in bed, then heading outside for a walk around her New Mexico neighborhood. She is said to have carried a walking stick with her, which came in handy anytime she needed to shoo away rattlesnakes.

5. … Or do something else physical.

If walks aren’t quite your speed, try jump-starting your day with some other type of exercise. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier rose at 6 a.m. and did calisthenics for 45 minutes each morning. English author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse had a similar routine, waking up early to complete his morning calisthenics on the porch. However, he also followed it up with a pipe and drank two martinis before lunch and another two before dinner, so he might not be the best person to be taking health advice from. If you don’t like traditional exercises such as running or swimming, don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with different activities. President Herbert Hoover and his physician invented a strenuous sport they dubbed Hooverball, which the POTUS played at 7 a.m. on the south lawn of the White House.

6. Get your hands dirty.

In 1850, would-be Moby-Dick author Herman Melville bought a 160-acre farm and farmhouse in western Massachusetts and named it Arrowhead. He personally tended to the farm and enjoyed rising at 8 a.m. to feed his horses and cow (“It’s a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws,” he wrote). Only then did he make breakfast for himself and begin writing. If you don’t have a full-blown farm, a small vegetable or flower garden will suffice. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, woke at 8 a.m., ate breakfast, then headed straight to his garden to care for his prize-winning chrysanthemums. He named his home and garden Ozcot.

7. Meditate.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant made silent contemplation one of his first orders of business each day. He woke up at 5 a.m., drank a cup or two of weak tea, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, all while using that quiet time to meditate, according to biographer Manfred Kuehn. We now know that meditation offers several scientific benefits, including anxiety reduction. If you start fretting about everything on your to-do list as soon as you open your eyes each morning, the Kant approach might be a good way to practice mindfulness.

8. Stimulate your mind.

Jane Austen practiced piano first thing in the morning before other members of her family woke up. English-American poet W. H. Auden started off his day with a crossword puzzle. And countless political leaders, from John Quincy Adams to Theodore Roosevelt, made reading a priority in the morning. (Roosevelt reportedly read entire books before breakfast.) Regardless of the materials they were consuming, they understood well that reading is brain fuel—and knowledge is power.

6 Books You Didn’t Know Were Originally Self-Published

jtyler/iStock via Getty Images
jtyler/iStock via Getty Images

Though the wild success of a few self-published books—like E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey—has created a wave of DIY authors, it’s not a novel idea. Long ago, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, and Walt Whitman decided to go their own way for some of their most famous works. Here are six well-known books that were originally self-published.

1. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets //  Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane is perhaps best known for traumatizing generations of elementary schoolchildren with grisly, gory depictions of the Civil War in his novel The Red Badge of Courage. Before that, he financed the publication of his first work, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, an equally bleak examination of poverty, prostitution, and alcoholism in 19th-century New York. Just 21 years old at the time, Crane released the novella in 1893 under the pseudonym Johnston Smith and even devised a clever strategy to publicize it: He paid four men to read it on a New York elevated train. “It fell flat,” he said later, according to The New Yorker. But Maggie did pique the interest of fellow writers William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, which helped Crane gain confidence and momentum for his next works.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit // Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Peter Rabbit original edition
Carl Court/Getty Images

While Stephen Crane’s Maggie was hitting shelves in 1893, British author Beatrix Potter was beginning to write what would become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The six publishers who received her manuscript insisted on publishing it as a large book so they could inflate the price, but Potter refused—she wanted it to be small enough that a child could easily hold it. So in December 1901, Potter dipped into her savings to print 250 copies herself. Its overwhelming early success convinced one of the original prospective publishers, Frederick Warne and Co., to change its tune. In October 1902, they released an edition with Potter’s specifications that sold more than 20,000 copies by that Christmas.

3. No Thanks // E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings had already published several poetry collections to widespread critical acclaim when he submitted what would eventually be titled No Thanks to New York publishers in 1934. All 14 of them declined the collection. One reason was that the Great Depression had made it difficult to sell already-successful books, and publishers were rarely acquiring any new ones. Another reason was that Cummings had ruffled feathers with EIMI, an experimental travelogue of his trip to Russia. Many writers thought it disrespected socialism, which was then en vogue. Eventually Cummings’s mother lent him the money to print the new collection himself. He named it No Thanks, and his dedication page read “No thanks to” followed by a list of all 14 publishers who had rejected it. The list was shaped like a funeral urn.

4. The Jungle // Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
Byeznhpyxeuztibuo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In February 1905, the public encountered Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as a serialized work in the socialist newspaper The Appeal to Reason, and again later that year in a quarterly journal called One-Hoss Philosophy. But when it came to publishing it as a book, Sinclair ran into serious issues. His contract with Macmillan fell apart after he refused to cut some of the more repulsive meat-packing details. Five other publishing houses also rejected the novel. Just as Sinclair was printing it himself using donations from readers, Doubleday, Page finally approached him with an offer. Always the portrait of integrity, Sinclair asked that they allow him to self-publish his edition so he could fulfill the existing pre-orders. Doubleday acquiesced, and Sinclair released 5000 copies of the so-called “Sustainer’s Edition” under The Jungle Publishing Company in February 1906, the same month that Doubleday released its almost identical version.

5. The Elements of Style // William Strunk, Jr.

The Elements of Style 1920 edition
Jimregan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before The Elements of Style was Strunk and White’s, it was just Strunk’s. Professor William Strunk, Jr. privately published the self-proclaimed “little book” in 1918 for his Cornell students, and in 1920, Harcourt, Brace re-released it. But it wasn’t until E.B. White, one of Strunk’s former students, wrote about it in a 1957 issue of The New Yorker, 11 years after Strunk’s death, that it really gained momentum. The original 43-page publication, according to White, “consists of a short introduction, eight rules of usage, 10 principles of composition, a few matters of form, a list of words and expressions commonly misused, a list of words commonly misspelled. That’s all there is.” The rediscovery of the guidebook so invigorated White that he revised and added to it, and Macmillan republished the expanded edition in 1959. One hundred years and millions of copies after its initial release, The Elements of Style—or just “Strunk and White,” as it’s called colloquially—is one of the most acclaimed how-to books ever written.

6. The Celestine Prophecy // James Redfield

James Redfield’s novel/spiritual guide began with a 3000-copy print run that set him back about $7000. Redfield and his wife packed up their van and spent a month at a time traveling to independent bookstores across the nation to give a copy to each manager and whatever customers were present, reprinting as needed. The strategy reinforced the old publishing adage that the best way to sell books is by word of mouth: After a few months on the road, Redfield said that everybody was talking about it, and he estimates that they had sold around 160,000 copies. It was enough to ignite an informal rights auction between Warner Books and another unnamed publishing house, which Warner won. When asked at the Southern California Writers’ Conference if Warner requested any revisions, Redfield said yes. “But we didn’t do any of them,” he added. Warner published the book anyway, which then spent an impressive three years on The New York Times best seller list.

Want to Repurpose Old or Damaged Books? Turn Them Into DIY Wall Art

Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images
Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images

Many bibliophiles see their books as more than just reading material. Whether they're color-coded, stored backwards, or stacked around the house in teetering piles, books can double as decorations that add coziness and character to a space. This interior design trend spotted by Today pushes this concept to new heights by transforming old books into pieces of sprawling wall art.

Erin Kern, the Oklahoma designer behind the blog Cotton Stem, first had the idea to make books into DIY art in 2015. Her concept works with any books you have at home that you can bear to part with. Just grab a staple gun, secure the book covers to the wall you wish to embellish, and then use staples, glue, or tape to arrange the pages of the book however you like them. You can keep the book open to your favorite page or use some clever craft work to make the pages look like they're frozen mid-flip. As you expand the piece, you can add single pages or pages without their covers to vary the design.

Kern and other designers who've created their own versions of the project often combine old books with other types of wall decor. You can nestle framed prints of literary quotes or tuck air plants among the pages. Ana Ochoa of the blog Fiddle Leaf Interiors used hanging books as a makeshift canvas for a larger-than-life painting.

If seeing books stapled to a wall makes you cringe, rest assured that no one is suggesting you buy brand-new books to use as your crafting materials. This project is a great way to repurpose old books you never plan to read again—especially books with tears and missing pages that are too damaged to donate.

Looking for more literary design inspiration? Check out these pieces of furniture made out of books.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Soulla Christodoulou PGCE MA (@soullasays) on

[h/t Today]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER