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  Shane Heath's Morning Ritual
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Shane Heath's Morning Ritual

How the founder and CEO of MUD\WTR spends his morning

Kyle Thiermann

MUD\FILMS’ new 'Rituals' series shines a spotlight on the morning routines of some epic, inspirational people. Narrated by our best David Attenborough impersonator, we join our subjects at the crack of dawn to see how they rise in their natural habitats. Launching November 4 on and YouTube.

It's 5 a.m. and the street is quiet. 

The only sounds are of rumbling waves against the Venice shoreline, the frenetic buzz of electrical wires above, and Shane Heath’s footsteps as he walks out of his house with a surfboard and wetsuit under his arm. 

He opens the hatchback on my Subaru and throws his gear inside. I wait for a long moment before realizing that he can't figure out how to close it. (It's a small black button on the hatch, obviously …) Finally, he succeeds, steps into my passenger seat, looks at me with bleary eyes and proclaims his first positive affirmation of the day: 

"That thing sucks."

Shane spends a lot of his time trying to make things not suck. His coffee habit sucked, so he made MUD\WTR, and in four years turned it into the fastest-growing coffee-alternative company in the world. But, unlike most CEOs, who tend to have one-dimensional personalities and are hell-bent on world domination, Shane is first and foremost an artist. A victim of his own success, perhaps, Shane now spends most of his time scaling the company, coming up for brief chirps of creative air in a sea of responsibilities. (I once looked at Shane's Google Calendar and nearly vomited.) 

In the past few months alone he's become a father, closed another round of funding and released a new product called :mushroom boost, an eight mushroom blend that can be added to drinks, smoothies and baked goods.

Amidst all of this, Shane has found one tool to moor his mind: morning ritual. And as we drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to surf Malibu, the sun now illuminating the dramatic LA mountains that bow to the sea, I ask him to walk me through how he starts his days.

So, Shane, clearly I’ve screwed up your ritual this morning by dragging you out for a surf.

Ha! Well, if your morning ritual can’t be switched up every once in a while, I don’t know if you’re doing it right.

What is your normal morning ritual when I'm not screwing it up?

It is more flexible now that I have a kid. My wakeup time depends on how many times little Lyon woke up the night before. But on an ideal schedule, I’m waking up at 5:30. But if he's up a bunch throughout the night, it’s more like 6:30.

Either way, I wake up, make some mud, chug a big cup of water, then I’ll sit down and do 11 rounds of breathing.  

What kind of breathing?

Nasal breathing. Two part inhale, then exhale, but with no breaks, followed by a breath hold. That wakes me up. Those inhales activate my sympathetic nervous system, it gets the blood flowing and I can feel a temperature shift in my body. It activates a kind of meditative mindset. 

Then, I’ll essentially do nothing for five minutes. Let the reality that I’m alive here on the planet settle in. 

After that, I’ll write in my journal for around five minutes. I start with three things I’m grateful for, then I write the top five to eight priorities for the day. Then, I’ll just freestyle. I’m normally not that motivated to write, honestly, but I’ll just reflect on the previous day and what I’m trying to accomplish for the current day. And that will typically open up more esoteric ideas around how I’m feeling.

I start with an upside-down T on a piece of paper. On the top left it’s gratitude and on the top right is a bullet list of things I’m gonna do today. Below, I’ll start writing, and it begins objectively: "This is what I’m going to do, or this is what I did yesterday." Inevitably more subjective perspectives might come up, like, “I felt confident during this moment or I felt insecure in that moment.” And there’s something really interesting about writing it down. When I'm writing it down it doesn’t actually feel that impactful, but when I’m not writing it down, it’s like this unkept garden of thoughts and perspectives about what’s actually going on. When I’m writing it down it’s the equivalent of pulling out the weeds. I can think, “That’s not what I want to be my truth about that situation,” and writing it down tidies up the story I’m telling myself about what happened the previous day as well as how I’m approaching the upcoming day. 

What do you do after that?

After that I try to do something physical. I’ve been doing early morning jiu jitsu. It’s a good workout, but it’s also cognitively engaging. You’re sparring with another human and playing this game of physical chess. You start off learning a new technique and you “drill.” Then you do live rounds. I can’t leave a class without sweating profusely. 

If I’m feeling sore, or if I feel like I need to sleep in, I’ll go for a run. I also have a yoga flow that incorporates something called the Tibetan Rights. There are five movements you do, each 21 times. It’s all about strengthening the core. Then, I’ll do a sauna and cold plunge

After that, I'll make a smoothie. Shameless product plug: Lately I've been incorporating a scoop of :mushroom boost. Haha.

At what point do you turn your phone on?

I’d like to say never, but pretty early on, usually after that initial breathwork and journaling practice. It depends on what's going on with the company. There might be late-night emails or a fundraise, and it’s really hard to justify not engaging in that. I have gone through periods where I have a hard rule to not check anything until 9 a.m. and I do tend to feel better, but lately I’ve been in a little bit of a bad habit.

Why do you think rituals are important?

One definition of ritual is an act or a series of acts that you do repeatedly. Another is a ceremonial act. I like the combination of those definitions: a ceremonial act that you do repeatedly. 

There’s a lot of value in bringing intention around things you may have been previously been blind to. Specifically, how you go to sleep and how you wake up. For most of my life those two things just sort of happened. Now, I see those rituals as lead dominos. An evening ritual is a lead domino for restorative sleep. A morning ritual is a lead domino for creativity, productivity and focus. When I’m not intentional in those ways it’s a grab bag of outcomes. The whole day usually feels a little disorienting, like I'm taking it as it comes. When I intentionally pursue a ritual, I have more control over how I perceive the day.

Creativity and focus tend to be more available to me, but also things like reducing distraction. More control of how I’m using devices. My diet. All these things tend to be easier to maintain when I have that discipline to wake up and own that moment ritualistically. It’s like a ceremony. It’s that important and sacred to me because what I’m doing after that is something that’s really valuable to me. Again, tending to the garden. If you don’t, you won’t know where you’re going, you’re growing weeds.

You’re obviously very purpose driven. You have a company that you’re excited about and a path that you’re on that feels righteous. It makes sense that you’re incorporating a morning ritual so that you can show up and achieve those goals that you’ve set for yourself. But what if someone hates their job and feels stuck, even nihilistic? What’s the argument for ritual if you’re talking to someone like that? 

Waking up and falling asleep are two things we all do whether or not we're intentional about it, so it’s obviously very accessible because of that reason. I’ve felt similarly in the past. I didn’t like my job. I didn’t know what I was gonna do next. I was taking life as it came to me and I felt like I didn’t have any say in the matter. 

When you start to have a say in the things that you can have a say in, it becomes a slippery slope, but in a positive direction. You begin to see decisions that you can make that you didn’t see before—around your career, around how you spend your time when you're working. You start to see things open up a bit. There’s that cheesy saying, “Own the morning, own the day.” It’s a cliché because there's a lot of truth to it. 

If you approach the day from the perspective of being the person you want to become and you do the things that the person you want to become would do—embodying that—it cascades into outcomes that are bigger than you can imagine. 

How do you think about rituals in relation to burnout?

I think burnout is often the result of exerting yourself in the wrong places. You might be working really hard but you’re not seeing the fruits of your labor because you might not be prioritizing well enough. There were times at a previous company where I misinterpreted my time. I thought I was being productive, but really I was just making myself busy. I was putting a lot out there but wasn't seeing anything in return, it felt like I was spinning my wheels. It’s so exhausting.

But when you give yourself a moment first thing in the morning or at night and you ask yourself, “How could I have approached this better?” You get a better compass on the things that will have an asymmetrical return. And when you start investing your time into things that have asymmetrical returns, life starts to feel very exciting. You’re starting to get leverage on time and experience in the world.

The morning and the evening are great times to reflect on that most important thing. 

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