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When it comes to mornings, there are generally two types of people: Those who have a.m. rituals that prepare them for a productive, peaceful day ahead, and those who groan, frantically hit snooze, and roll back over for as long as they can. Hoda Kotb, 57, falls in the former camp, but her blissed-out morning routine will have even the crankiest of risers rethinking their wake-up strategies (or lack thereof).
As a co-anchor on the TODAY Show, Kotb rises at an ungodly hour — like 3 a.m. ungodly — but she seems to make the most of those early wake-up calls, opting for a series of mindful rituals that set the tone for a chill day ahead, no matter what's on her agenda. On a recent episode of TODAY with Hoda & Jenna, the mom of two dished about her morning must-have moments (say that five times fast) as her co-host, Jenna Bush Hager, lightly teased her. But when you hear how Zen it all sounds, you're going to be taking notes from Kotb's book — trust.
"I do have my little things that I like to do," she sheepishly admitted, with Bush Hager confirming, "You do the same habits every single morning."
"I wake up. I light my candle, then I write [daughters] Haley and Hope a note. Then I do this kind of prayer meditation practice, which I love," shared Kotb. "Then I scribble in my journal. Then when I'm done, I close it and start studying," aka reading the news stories and prepping for her day at work.
In true TODAY with Hoda & Jenna form, Bush Hager playfully teased her longtime pal and co-worker, joking, "And if you don't light the candle, things are a little off. What if you can't find the matches?" (Don't worry — Kotb doesn't "mess with matches" in the dark, but rather relies on a BIC lighter or, in her words, "I flick my BIC.") All jokes aside, though, Kotb's days start with three solid, science-backed steps to starting your day on the right foot… and setting the mood with a candle is just an added bonus. (Related: The 10 Best Scented Candles for Creating a Serene Space)
In October, Kotb elaborated further on her morning routine during an interview with Oprah Daily, providing a veritable step-by-step breakdown starting from the moment she gets downstairs at 3:15 or 3:30 a.m. "I light a candle. I write a note to my kids with Post-its — it's like a whole situation, and now they want a map to find the notes. Today, I hid one in the fridge and wrote, 'Brrr. I'm cold, so glad you found me. Happy Tuesday!' Then I do seven minutes of breathing, and it sounds so wacky, but I listen to a book that has a whole bunch of prayers, and then I write in my journal — not stuff that's a litany of what happened the day before, but something that's bigger to me, like witnessing an act of service that blows your mind." (Read more: The Benefits of Journaling and How to Get the Most Out of Your Practice)
Now, you might be wondering why she makes time to do all of this when she already has to wake up before the crack of dawn. Kotb's reasoning? "I realize how important it is to have a routine, because when you scramble out of bed late… and we've all done it, and you're brushing your teeth and running out the door, your day is all out of wack...man, and you can't get it straight," she told Oprah Daily. "I try to front-load my day, because the most important part is early, and afterwards, who cares? You can mess the world up." (Although, of course, she doesn't really do that.)
And while there's no shame in not having a Kotb-level a.m. routine, the journalist's not wrong: There are some serious benefits from creating and maintaining a wake-up practice. Research suggests that people who perform repeated behaviors that have meaning attached to them feel more in control of their day and, in turn, their life. What's more, studies also show that having a consistent routine that you can rely on can help you better manage stress and reduce anxiety.
Kotb's "prayer meditation practice" in particular can be particularly beneficial beyond just helping her begin her day in a centered, mindful manner. Kotb's "prayer meditation practice" no doubt has plenty of powerful benefits beyond just helping her begin her day in a centered, mindful manner. The ancient practice has been proven to lower stress levels, boost self-awareness and compassion towards others, help ward off physical illness, and provide mental health benefits aplenty, particularly when it comes to anxiety and depression.
Capping it all off with a few minutes of journaling — or, as Kotby tells Oprah Daily, "scribble[ing] about whatever happens to be bubbling up" — is also an expert-approved move. Whether you write to clear your thoughts, manifest your visions and future goals, or strengthen your creative muscles, putting pen to paper is proven to be a stress buster and mood booster. Pair that with some meditation, a nice-smelling candle, and other feel-good moves (e.g. leaving your loved ones little notes à la Kotb), and you've got a masterful recipe for making mornings magical (or, at the very least for those anti-a.m. folks, a bit more enjoyable). (Up next: These Morning Routine Ideas Will Make You Happy to Get Out of Bed)