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Early in his life, Benjamin Franklin, one of the primary framers of the American Constitution, outlined his best morning routine:

“…I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing.”1

In Franklin’s Autobiography, he elaborated he would “rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.”

Franklin was not alone in having planned out his ideal morning routine. I’ve spent years studying the habits of creatives, entrepreneurs, and artists and have discovered it is a near universal truth that they each have a particular morning routine.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer, started by having tea, smoking, and reading from his Bible and philosophy collection.

Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, was awakened by the daily gunshot from the fort near his home, had a cup of freshly brewed coffee while reading a letter from his mistress, Juliette Drouet, and then drank two raw eggs.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant started his day with weak tea, a pipe and meditation before an hour of writing.

Beethoven started his day with a cup of coffee. He believed that sixty beans per cup was the ideal dose and he counted them out one by one himself


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The research by Steve Key, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California, shows that “[w]hen it comes to doing cognitive work, most adults perform best in the late morning.” 2
So what do you do during the early morning to get ready for when you’re at your peak level?

Standardizing the first 30-120 minutes with a routine lets you arrive at that peak in the best possible mindset.

Another reason that morning routines seem to be so common among creatives is that they create a rock in what feels like a raging river. Whether you have a project going badly, are moving cities, or are changing jobs, a morning routine gives you something to hold onto—a sense of normalcy to root yourself.

A morning routine also helps limit your wasted days. Do you ever have those days where you never get off the ground? You just sit around until 11am or noon “tidying up”, then you answer some emails, and before you know it, half the day is gone. Now you can’t get anything done because you’re too busy being angry at yourself for wasting the first half of your day.

Most importantly, a morning routine generates momentum.

Momentum is a fundamental part of human psychology.

Who do you think is happier and more optimistic? Someone who makes $5,000 a month or someone who makes $6,000/month?

The answer is non-obvious: It depends on where they are coming from. If the person who is making $5,000 just got a raise from $4,000, and the person who was making $6,000 just got a pay cut from $7,000, the lower paid person would be more optimistic about his future earnings.3

This is called the endowment effect and it was discovered by research Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in their work on prospect theory.

According to the endowment effect, if you’ve already started the day by moving your life forward, you have established positive momentum, and are more likely to keep doing positive things.

This then is the purpose of the morning routine: You should get one “small win” to create momentum in each life domain that’s important to you.

A small win is anything which creates momentum.


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The first step is to make a list of all the areas you want to move forward and list one “small win” you could do in each.

Here are some options for areas and actions you could start with in each.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t an ideal morning routine for everyone, but there is an ideal one for you.

To quote Bruce Lee: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

Looking to build your own morning routine and stick to it?
Download the free guide to building your own morning routine below.

Stay on track with the bonus habit forming checklist, so you can stay on track and take your morning routine from an experiment into a long-term habit.

Enter your email below to download the free morning routine builder and tracking checklist:


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A 2011 meta-analysis looked at the relation between physical activity and fat mass in children and found almost no correlation, meaning that your body composition is overwhelmingly determined by your diet.

A little self-experimentation generally makes this abundantly obvious. In the documentary Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock ate McDonalds three meals a day for thirty days. In that month, he developed high blood pressure, cholesterol and early signs of fatty liver disease. He also gained 25 pounds, became depressed, moody, lethargic and completely lost his sex drive.

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  1. Drink a glass of water and make coffee

In moderate quantities (1-2 cups a day) coffee increases performance including memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times, and general cognitive function.4 5 6 It can increase fat burning by 10-29%.7 It may also lower the likelihood of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Diabetes.8

Chronic dehydration may affect your organs and lead to kidney stones, cholesterol problems, constipation, and liver, joint, and muscle damage. It’s remarkably common and also remarkably easy to prevent by drinking water.

  1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast:

Increasingly, I’m convinced that health, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve met people that swear by juicing, others by protein shakes and others by a low-carb breakfast. The point is that you think it’s a small win so whatever you define as healthy works.


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Reading has been shown to reduce the chance of dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as reducing stress and anxiety.

I find that if I don’t read first thing in the morning, I won’t read all day. Once I’ve started working, it’s very hard for me to walk away from the “press of the day” and read for an hour. By the end of the day, I’m usually too exhausted to read anything other than light fiction.

If you read 30 minutes every morning, that will add up to about 24 books in a year on average, which would put you in the top 1% of Americans.

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Read a book for 10 minutes

Read an article – If I am travelling or don’t have a book with me for some reason, I keep a list of articles I want to read in an app on my phone called Pocket.

Write down 10 ideas – James Altucher, an author and entrepreneur, has a daily ritual of writing down ten ideas. Not necessarily focused on a particular topic or project, just whatever 10 ideas pop into his mind. It could be topics for a science fiction book, or ten new recipe ideas, the point is to flex your ideas muscle.

Listen to a Book or Podcast – If you have a morning commute, you could listen to a book or podcast.


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According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control,9 the benefits of exercise include managing your weight, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reducing your risk of some cancers, strengthening your bones and muscles, improving your mental health and mood, and increase your chances of living longer.

More recent research indicates that the amount of exercise you need to achieve this is astonishingly small. Even a few minutes of training at high intensity your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.10

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4 Minute Stretching Routine for Desk Sitters: I like to do a full squat (60 seconds), shoulder dislocates (10 reps, ~1 minute), and the couch stretch (60 seconds each leg) each day. I find these three stretches target the primary problem areas for people who sit all day. Squats open up your hips, shoulder dislocates open up your thoracic spine, and the couch stretch opens up your hip flexors. All three tend to contract over time from prolonged sitting, which is why you see old people at the supermarket who look like a curled over C.

7 Minute Morning Yoga for Flexibility –

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I will sometimes do a few minutes of yoga. I find this gets to my hamstrings much better than the prior exercises, and also touches further on most of the stretches above. Usually, I will rotate between the two routines every few months until I get bored of one and switch to the other.

The 7 Minute Workout – A 2013 New York Times article outline a 7 minute workout routine. It is based on the research from 2013 study published in the American College of Sports Medicine.

Image source: Ben Wiseman

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A 2014 study called Neural mechanisms of mindfulness and meditation showed that the practice of mindfulness changes brain function in areas including the medial cortex, default mode network, insula, amygdala, lateral frontal regions, and basal ganglia.

That is, it rewires your brain in the same way lifting weights or exercising rebuilds your muscles.

A regular meditation practice for the last five years has increased my ability to focus,11 my creativity,12 and most importantly, my ability to deal with stress.13

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If you’re just getting started, I strongly recommend using guided meditation. There are two easy-to-use apps that I recommend to get started on building this habit.

Headspace – Headspace is the most popular paid meditation app. I think it’s the best option, because it takes a lot of the complexity out of meditation and gives you a simple step-by-step entry point. They have a 10-day free trial, then you can upgrade for $12.95 a month.

Insight Timer – Insight Timer is a free alternative to Headspace. It has a larger variety of guided meditations (at the cost of being more confusing), and includes a simple unguided functionality.


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Each morning, it helps to sit down and review some of your more foundational thinking and goals. By doing this, you are able to start your day focused on your core beliefs and plans, so that everything you do will align to serve them.

There was a study done by psychologists Sheldon and Kasser in 1995 that showed that “[p]eople who are mentally healthy and happy have a higher degree of vertical coherence among their goals, that is, higher-level long, term goals and lower-level immediate goals all fit together well so that pursuing one’s short-term goals advances the pursuit of long-term goals.”

Another study done in the 1990s by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, studied different professionals to see which ones were happy and productive, and which were unhappy and unproductive. The most important factor was vertical coherence.

The happiest, most productive profession was geneticists, because all the participants involved respected the best science. Even though pharmaceutical companies were injecting a lot of money into the field, geneticists believed doing the very best science on a day-to-day basis led to more benefits for the general public, the pharmaceutical companies, their universities, and themselves—they were in vertical coherence all the way up and down the chain.

The least happy, and least productive, profession was journalism. Most of them had entered the field with high ideals about truth, making a difference, and the free press, but the decline of family run newspaper and rise of corporate media empires made journalism a profit center where all that mattered was sales. This meant good journalism was bad for business, and news reporting was replaced by scare stories, exaggeration, and scandal. Their values did not align with their day-to-day work.

Vertical coherence is the largest predictor of motivation that I’ve found. If I can see a clear line between the tasks I am working on today and a bigger future that aligns with my values, I find it much easier to get to work.

Looking to build your own morning routine and stick to it?
Download the free guide to building your own morning routine below.

Stay on track with the bonus habit forming checklist, so you can stay on track and take your morning routine from an experiment into a long-term habit.

Enter your email below to download the free morning routine builder and tracking checklist:

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Create and Review a 25-Year VisionMy favorite thing to review is a 25 year vision document that I re-write every 90 days. While most people’s reaction to the idea of a 25 year plan is “I don’t even know what I’m having for lunch” (don’t get the tuna), it’s the most valuable timeline I’ve found. It lets you, actually forces you, think expansively. No matter how big your goal, 25 years should be plenty of time to accomplish it.

Script out and Review Your Ideal Day – Another document I’ve put together is a script of what my ideal day looks like. It can often be hard to set goals in the abstract, but doing it on the day level makes it much easier. How do you want to spend your mornings, your afternoons, and your evenings?

Determine and Review Your Operating Principles – A final document you could put together is your personal operating principles.

Note: I find all three exercises helpful, but you really only need one so start with. Choose whichever seems most interesting to you.


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The health benefits of journaling are becoming evident. Journalling has been shown to:

  • Reduce stress – writing about what you are feeling and what problems you are encountering will reduce how much they negatively affect you.
  • Clarify your thoughts and priorities – If you ever seem all jumbled up, unsure of how you feel or your priorities, writing them down can help quickly clarify them
  • Physical well-being – regular journaling goes beyond mental benefits to physical benefits. University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker has research indicating that journaling actually strengthens your immune system.
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There are lots of variants on daily planning and journaling, but this is a five minute version. All you need is a blank piece of paper and a pencil.

The morning journal consists of responding to these three prompts

  1. I am grateful for…
  2. What would make today great is…
  3. I believe…

Gratitude – I am grateful for…

The scientific research behind gratitude is exploding. Here are just some of the findings:

  • According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences,15 practicing gratitude increase the quality of your sleep.
  • A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology16 found that gratitude increases self-esteem. Instead of becoming resentful or envious of others, people who practice gratitude are better able to appreciate others’ accomplishments.

So the first thing you’re going to do each morning is list three things you are grateful for. Mine are frequently family and close friends who I would otherwise take for granted. Even seemingly banal stuff is amazing, if you think about it. Can you imagine living before air conditioning existed?

Prioritize – The one thing I could do today to make everything else this week easier or unnecessary is…

The next thing you’re going to do is list the number one most important priority you have today. If you start the day with ten priorities, you’re likely to get none of them done. I find, if you start with one thing you absolutely must do, you’ll always get it done.

While I still keep a to-do list with ALL my to-dos for the day, I will always separately write down the most essential one. By putting it in writing, you get a certain sense of concreteness. Plus, I can now make sure the rest of my day is organized around accomplishing that key priority.

Affirmations – I believe…

Another effective technique that has come up in the psychological literature is affirmations. They are often referred to as “self-affirmations”, but “values-affirmations” is more accurate. Write a few sentences or a short essay about what’s important to you and why you value it on this particular day (examples are things like family, creative expression, or spirituality).

Affirmations have been shown to:

  • Reduce the cortisol response (a stress hormone) and self-reported stress.17
  • Participants who have done an affirmation exercise have less of an increase in heart rate after being insulted.18
  • An affirmation exercise reduced relationship insecurity for four weeks after the initial exercise.19

When people think of affirmations, they usually write as aspirational or motivational statement like “I am a great entrepreneur.”

But the actual research that has asked participants to do something quite different.20

They write short essays (a few sentences is plenty) explaining what’s important to them, what their values are, and why. You want to write something like “I am working on becoming a great entrepreneur because I believe it allows me to reach people with an important message in a scalable way.”


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The most important ingredient to having a morning routine that works is to customize it for yourself. To reiterate Bruce Lee: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

I’ve developed mine over years of trial and error. I found that I really liked to read first where other people prefer to meditate first. I don’t like eating breakfast or taking a shower in the morning, but know many people who can’t start working without doing both.

I like to workout in the afternoons, but have clients and friends who swear by doing a full workout in the morning.

There’s not a universally right answer so once you have a basic routine, start tweaking it to what works for you.

Life happens after all. You might spend an hour on their business and writing and working out and meditating, then you have kids. Suddenly making sure your child is nourished and ready for their day becomes a priority.

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While striving for optimal is great, it’s often true that the great can be the enemy of the good. It’s not easy to carve out an hour at the beginning of every day.

If I have an early appointment or if I’m travelling, I’ll condense it down to ten minutes: five minutes of meditating and then five of journaling.

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One of the biggest reasons people quit their morning routine is that it takes too much time and makes them late. I found that actually setting a timer for the different activities helped me get through them quicker.

Set up your routine in the 30/30 (iOS) or Loop Habit Tracker (Android)

Then all you have to do is follow directions.

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I am going to use my routine as an example. I’ve spent almost five years crafting it based on research I’ve done and, more significantly, what I find personally suits me.

  • [Diet/Food] Consume Something Healthy (5 minutes)
  • [Intellectual] Read a book (30-60 minutes)
  • [Fitness] Stretching/Yoga (2-5 minutes)
  • [Spiritual/Mental] Meditate (10-20 minutes)
  • [Review] Review 25 Year Vision and Weekly Priorities (5 minutes)
  • [Planning] Journal and Plan Day (5 minutes)

Total Time to Complete: Approx. 60-90 Minutes


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For the past five years I have practiced Intermittent Fasting, which means I have a fasting period of about 16 hours where I don’t eat for about 16 hours, generally from 8pm at night to noon the next day. I like it primarily because it makes the day simpler (only have to prepare two meals per day instead of three) but it has other potential benefits:

  1. Life extension – A 1945 study found that intermittent fasting in mice extended life expectancy.
  2. Cancer prevention – Early research has found that fasting, in combination with chemotherapy, resulted in better cure rates and fewer deaths. Dr. Thomas Seyfried has proposed a metabolic mechanism for cancer that would explain this.
  3. It’s easier than dieting – If you’re trying to reduce calorie intake, studies indicate compliance to a fasting regime where subjects eat fewer meals is easier to maintain than one where subjects eat less food over the same number of meals..

If you’re interested in reading more about intermittent fasting, habits researcher James Clear has put together an excellent guide to getting started here. It’s worth noting that it typically works better for men than women for hormonal reasons you can read more about here.

Practically speaking, that means I don’t eat any real food  (just liquids, coffee and water) before noon.

I do have a small supplement routine. I’ve played with supplements on and off, and come to the conclusion that less is more. The dose response curve suggests that not only is more is often not better, and it but actually be harmful.

My supplement regime is based mostly on making up for major deficiencies I’ve found in my blood tests. For me those are:

  • 5,000 IUs of D3 – Vitamin D is produced by your skin when you are in sunlight. If you are of the modern species homo officeus who sits in an office all day, you are probably deficient. Optimal levels are between 25-70 ng/ml depending on who you listen to.21 22 When I get my blood test done every six months, I also ask for a Vitamin D test and have found that 5,000 IUs per day keeps me at around 50 ng/ml. Get your levels tested before you start, if you take too much, it can be toxic.
  • Creatine – Creatine is basically the only workout/muscle-building supplement with a strong enough scientific backing to say it works. It’s been studied since the 70’s and almost always increases power output for exercising. It may even increase cognition if you’re deficient. There is no known downside.23
  • 1 Glass of Water – As stated previously, dehydration is remarkably common and astoundingly easy to cure.
  • Coffee – Also as stated previously, I think the research suggests coffee is beneficial or at least neutral in low to moderate quantities. It also make me feel awesome.

Note: I am not a physician. I do not even play one on the internet. This is not medical advice. Use your brain and do research, etc. If you’re interested in supplements, Examine is a good place to get started and Smart Drug Smarts is a good place to level up.

You can choose something completely different, the point is something to get your day started on a healthy dietary note.

I have a friend that makes 2 eggs, sauteed mushrooms and tomatoes, and half an avocado. I know someone else that has an apple.

The point is that in their mind it is a small win towards eating healthy.


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After I prepare my coffee, I sit down to read for a few minutes.

Mostly, I read first thing in the morning because I really like reading. It lets me ease into the day, and reinforces (in my mind) that I am the type of person who is constantly learning and growing.

I also find how much I read correlates very closely with how many ideas I have, and how good my ideas are. The more books I read, the more, better ideas I have. Sometimes I’ll spend a week banging my head against a problem with no progress, only to spend two hours reading a book which has the answer.

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After I finish reading, I’ll do a very short stretching or yoga routine.

I talked to a high level performance coach a few years ago, and he said that given the choice between having someone lift weights, do cardio, or do mobility work everyday, he would hands down pick mobility work.

That’s always stuck with me, so even if I do nothing else, I at least make sure I do a light stretching routine. This can be as simple as just sitting in a full squat for a minute while I floss.

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Ray Dalio, the manager of Bridgewater, which is arguably the most successful hedge fund in history, attributes “whatever success [he] may have had” to his meditation practice.

I was initially dubious as it struck me as both religious and woo woo, neither of which I am inclined to be. It clicked for me when someone explained meditation like doing weight-lifting curls for your brain.

I sit somewhere comfortable, usually the edge of my bed, put in headphones and use Insight Timer, a free meditation app, to time me. I typically meditate for 10-20 minutes.


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After I meditate, I pull out my phone and look over a document I keep in my Evernote with a 25 year vision.

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I use the short journalling practice explained above where I respond to three prompts:.

  1. I am grateful for…
  2. What would make today great is…
  3. I believe…

This helps me start my day by being grateful, plan the most important activities, and remind myself of my core values.

After that I will open my laptop and loosely plan out my day in my calendar. I find that having to assign the tasks I’m planning on working on to actual times forces me to be realistic about how long they will take.

If I have a list of ten tasks, I’ll think I can get them all done today but once I start dragging them onto my calendar I realize that it’s easily two days of work.

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One of the biggest reasons people fail with establishing a consistent morning routine is that they feel like it is a waste of time, an unnecessary indulgence. I used to not make my bed because I figured “what a waste of time, I’m just going to get back into it tonight;” but eventually I realized it had real implications. I would walk into my room and feel off kilter because the bed was in disarray.

That impacted my psychology in everything else I did for the rest of the day.

If you feel that way, what’s the best way to get started? Have a Minimum Viable Morning Routine.

BJ Fogg, the world’s leading habit researcher, has found that the largest predictor of whether someone establishes a habit will be if they start small.

If you want to start flossing your teeth, start by flossing one tooth at a time instead of your whole mouth, and you are likely to build the habit.

If you want to start exercising, just put on your tennis shoes, walk around the block and come back. Over time you can do more, but starting small means it’s more likely you will actually do, it.

I find the same with morning routines. If you have tried to establish a morning routine, before and it hasn’t stuck or you already feel busy in the morning and the idea of carving out an hour to go through a full ritual is laughable, start by just doing one thing.

It could be meditating for just 1 minute. Or just writing down your top three priorities for the day.

The purpose is to get momentum and even one thing for one minutes accomplishes that successfully.

The secret of getting ahead, is usually getting started. Once you get started, soon enough you’ll find that you’ve developed a morning routine that rivals the rituals of the creatives and entrepreneurs you admire most.

Looking to build your own morning routine and stick to it?
Download the free guide to building your own morning routine below.

Stay on track with the bonus habit forming checklist, so you can stay on track and take your morning routine from an experiment into a long-term habit.

Enter your email below to download the free best morning routine builder and tracking checklist:


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  1. Footnote: (2013-04-23). Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Kindle Locations 403-404). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Shellenbarger, Sue. “Your Body’s Best Time for Everything.” WSJ., 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.  
  3.  Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  4. Huxton, C. H X. “The Impact of Caffeine on Mood, Cognitive Function, Performance and Hydration: A Review of Benefits and Risks.” Nutrition Bulletin 33.1 (2008): 15-25. Http:// Web. <>.
  5. Brice, C. F., and A. P. Smith. “Effects of Caffeine on Mood and Performance: A Study of Realistic Consumption.” Psychopharmacology 164.188 (2002): n. pag. Web.
  6. Lieberman, H. R., R. J. Wurtman, G. G. Emde, and Et Al. “The Effects of Low Doses of Caffeine on Human Performance and Mood.” Psychopharmacology 92.308 (1986): n. pag. Web.
  7. Acheson, K. J., G. Gremaud, and Et Al. “Metabolic Effects of Caffeine in Humans: Lipid Oxidation or Futile Cycling?” Kevin J Acheson, Gérard Gremaud 79.1 (2004): n. pag. Web.
  8. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “13 Health Benefits of Coffee, Based on Science.” Authority Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.
  9. “Physical Activity and Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 04 June 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <>.
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  14. Personality and Individual Differences Volume 54, Issue 1, Pages 1-146 (January 2013)] people who practice gratitude experience fewer aches and pains and exercise more often.
  15. Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher, confirms that practicing gratitude reduces depression and increases happiness.
  16. According to a 2011 study in Applied Psychology,14 Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial, Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, Volume 3, Issue 2 July 2011 Pages 193–206
  17. Chen, Lung Hung and Wu, Chia-Huei (2014) Gratitude enhances change in athletes’ self-esteem: the moderating role of trust in coach. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26 (3). pp. 349-362. ISSN 1041-3200
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  20. Stinson, Danu Anthony, et al. “Rewriting the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Social Rejection Self-Affirmation Improves Relational Security and Social Behavior up to 2 Months Later.” Psychological science 22.9 (2011): 1145-1149.
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