“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.”
I’ve happily been an early riser since 2009. In my earlier days, however, getting out of bed was a fight I always lost to the snooze button.
I’ve experimented with different sleeping cycles/phases, including being an extreme night owl, and I found the early morning to be the most rewarding. If you’re a growth oriented person, the early morning hours will complement your path. Starting your day early allows you to grow into the natural rhythm of the earth; from experiencing the healing effects of the early sunlight to the melodic twittering of the morning birds.
Moreover, I’ve found that I am cognitively sharpest when I am in-sync with this natural rhythm. Every morning I gain more clarity and insight into what I truly want from my life and it allows me to pursue that with creativity and passion.
The benefits of waking up early are plentiful. Imagine how much more you could accomplish if you had a few extra hours in the morning just for yourself. Imagine what that can do to your health, to your productivity and to your relationships?.
1. My Life Prior to Becoming an Early Riser
Prior to 2009, my mornings used to be agonizing. As soon as my alarm went off, I would desperately cling to my bed sheets and bury my head under my pillow. I had a slow start to my days and I didn’t get going until after lunch. Nevertheless, I made up for my slack in the morning by catching up late at night, and although that helped me get on top of my work and do well in my career, I still wasn’t making the most out of my day.
I know this because I had fitness and writing goals that I never got the chance to actualize. I skipped working on them and I was tired of putting these goals on the back burner. I eventually reached the point of “emotional threshold” where I couldn’t tolerate the pain of missed opportunities anymore.
But I first had to identify exactly why I was experiencing this pain. I found that there was a unique domino effect to waking up late that measurably affected my day. I found that skipping my first goal of the day increased my chances of skipping the second goal of the day and skipping on the second goal of the day made it more likely to skip on the third and so on and so forth. For example, when I failed to rise early, I found that I also failed to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast (since I was rushing to get out of the door), I then would skip going to the gym, then I would skip working on my writing goals, etc.
The negative momentum of skipping my first commitment made it more likely for me to come up short on the rest of my goals. I also found the opposite to be true: honoring my first commitment initiated a positive momentum that allowed me to work on the rest of my goals, and rising early was the lynchpin to honoring my commitments and having a productive day. So there’s really more to lose when you fail to wake up early than you might think.
2. Akrasia and Sub-Optimal State of Mind
The journey toward becoming an early riser requires a good understanding of how our minds work. For this purpose, it’s important to work with the concept of “akrasia.” This is a philosophical concept that Greek philosophers used to refer to weakness of will.
Akrasia is usually manifested when we don’t follow through on our promises. For example, if you promised yourself to not eat a cookie after lunch, and failed to stick to your commitment, then we say that your behavior was akratic. That is, you had a weak will in that moment. People usually suffer from akrasia when they are in a suboptimal state of mind. That’s when they are under some sort of distress including tiredness, boredom, frustration, anger etc. So to put it simply, the onset of these stresses and the consequent suboptimal state of mind that arises can make us akratic.
How does that relate to waking up early?
In the early morning hours, we are an easy prey to this mental state. When the alarm goes off, we tend to be in a suboptimal state of mind and our minds will favorably evaluate the comfort of staying in bed versus the work it would take to start the day. In this state of mind, you revise your original commitment to rise at your designated time and you overestimate the value of sleeping in and underestimate the value of executing your plan for the day, hence convincing yourself to act against your better judgement. This is why many of us rationalize ourselves back to sleep instead of thinking ourselves out of bed. Your suboptimal state takes hold and it controls the conversation.
The tricky thing about akrasia is that once its effects wear off, we recognize that we have indeed acted against our best interest, however, the realization comes too late. This is what generates the guilt that follows failing to commit to our plans.
3. The Principle of No Thinking
So what is the best way to handle sub-optimal states of mind and prevent the onset of akrasia? And once you get in the habit of rising early, how do you prevent yourself from swerving off the right track? The tactic that has worked best for me is a principle I call; “The Principle of No Thinking.” This principle is premised on the idea of swift action and it prioritizes doing as opposed to thinking.
When your alarm goes off in the morning, your focus should be on doing. Your task is to get busy doing something right away with absolutely no thinking. Make yourself a quick coffee (instant coffee if you need to, at least for the first few days), brush your teeth, wash your face, do whatever you’ve decided you needed to do. You want to override the signals that arise out of your sub-optimal state of mind by redirecting your attention to doing. This will prevent those commands from creeping into your decision-making process and it will set you off on the right foot.
In order to make full use of the “Principle of No Thinking,” I suggest that you take a few minutes each night to prepare for your morning. This includes going through the possible mental hurdles you might encounter when your alarm clock goes off.
Make a conscious effort to constrain the set of options available to you such that you have one and only one choice for action; that of doing. Ruling out other possibilities and associating dis-empowering emotions with them makes it imperative for you to rise at your designated time. That’s why we’re normally able to be up at 4:00 A.M to catch a flight – we have no choice but to go to the airport or we’ll suffer the consequences. So eliminate the mental clutter and don’t entertain alternatives to your original commitment. Make sure to focus on the negative momentum you will generate if you miss your waking time.
Be careful not to shock your biological clock by drastically changing your waking time. If you usually arise at 8:30, then I recommend cutting back 10 – 20 minutes at a time. Your goal is to consistently wake up earlier every day. On some days that might mean waking up just two minutes earlier than the day before, and that’s success. Experiment and see how you feel. With time, rising early will become an effortless and enjoyable doing, and you will eventually be able to wake up early in the morning without needing an alarm clock. (You can remind yourself of the “Principle of No Thinking” by hanging the Nike “Just do it” poster on the wall in front of your bed).
Again, don’t try to cut a drastic amount. The most important thing is to make progress every day until you’ve reached your goal.
4. My Early Morning Ritual
Over the years, I have trained myself to start my days at 5:00 am. As soon as my alarm goes off, I get up and head straight to the kitchen where I make my coffee. I mix black coffee with hot water (no sugar) so it really takes me less than 2 minutes to make. From there, I basically start on my daily tasks right away. Usually, it’s writing, but on Mondays it’s practicing my toastmasters’ speech. I attend Toastmasters Eye-Openers Club and we start our meeting at 6:15am. These guys are the most formidable speakers I’ve ever worked with. (No wonder why they start their meetings so early!).
By the time 8 o’clock rolls around, I have already worked on a few things: my writing, my public speaking, prepared a healthy breakfast, and have brainstormed a few ideas for my articles. If you’re a writer, then I encourage you to take advantage of the early morning writing. I find myself to be sharpest and most creative in the early hours of the day. I also like to work with natural light and I like to see the progress I am making as the sun rises. It’s really wonderful once you get the hang of it.
5. Simplify, Don’t Complexify
Waking up early in the morning is something that takes some work, but please keep in mind that those steps are fairly simple. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to master every other self-development skill in order to wake up early (although once you’ve mastered one skill, it tends to create a momentum that transfers over to other skills). The reality is you need to focus on taking action without overthinking your action steps.
If your mornings are cold, then don’t let that be an excuse. I have a heavy sweater and socks next to my bed, and I wear them first thing when my alarm goes off. (When I was still struggling to wake up early, I actually slept in my heavy sweater – this way I had no excuse to stay in bed).
You may also benefit from using these alarm clocks if you feel like they might be of help to you. Clocky is basically an alarm clock that literally runs away from you when the alarm clock goes off. This forces you to get out of bed and chase it to make it stop. Once you’re out of bed, it’s less likely that you will go back to bed. If you’re a heavy sleeper, you might also want to check out the screaming meanie. It’s really loud… and really mean. (It’s the best alarm clock for heavy sleepers.)
6. The Early Morning Gift
Give yourself the gift of the early morning hours. It has changed my life, and it will change yours. In fact, it was during one early morning that I felt inspired to start this blog and write my articles. Without the peaceful solitude that the early morning gave me, I may have not conceived of this idea. Today I am more productive than ever – I write more, I don’t skip my workouts, and I get to flirt with more creative ideas more than I’ve ever had.
Finally, the beauty of the “Principle of No Thinking” is that it’s a global principle. You can apply it to any area of your life. I’ve successfully applied the “Principle of No Thinking” to areas like working out, writing, organizing my place, healthy eating, and it has worked wonders for me. I basically sit down and start working without having a conversation with myself about it. It helps me get started, and once I get going, I keep going.
For personal coaching on how to become an early riser, how to beat procrastination, how to increase productivity and beat output failure more, and to make distinctive changes to your life, please get in touch with me through the contact form by clicking contact me above. I look forward to hearing from you!
Love and respect,