I’ve lived most of my life with the notion that “I’m not a morning person”. Left to my own devices, I’d probably still be asleep right now. For the first twenty years of my life, if something wasn’t forcing me to get up early, I would be silently dreaming about the joy of ‘sleeping in’ until noon every day. The ironic part is that, on the rare occasions that I am able to sleep late now, I often feel like I’ve missed out on half the day when I wake up.
So why wake up early? As I move through different stages of life, the demands of my time are constantly changing. In college, life often happened late, 10-3am, so my incentive was to be available and aware at that time. But my life is slowly evolving and mornings are becoming more and more attractive. It also helps that my wife loves mornings and my little lady is happiest when she wakes up. For me, because I always consider getting up early painful, I had to think through the reasons why time in the mornings would better than staying up late.
As a challenge, I wanted to see if I could become a “morning person”. I like the idea of breaking through the notion of our predispositions and the thought of being in control of how my body operates at different times of the day is attractive. I even wanted to see if I could do the double impossible of becoming a morning person and not be completely dependent on caffeine to get me through. Even if someday I decide that I actually don’t enjoy mornings, I want the flexibility to make that decision. And since I plan on retiring early, I won’t have the typical 9-5 to dedicate my schedule in a few years.
Techniques for Transitioning to Mornings
If you do not consider yourself a morning person then the first step is to decide why you want to get up early. Even if we have traditionally disliked mornings, there can be some benefits to making the decision to get up early. Why get up? Is it to not feel ‘rushed’? Be able to exercise? Relax, have coffee, pray or meditate? Get stuff done without distractions? Or to spend time with your spouse or kids? Are there any benefits for you to actually getting up early and do they outweigh the cost of staying up late? Depending on your stage of life and who you want to spend your time with, these questions are important to answer or the motivation will fade. Getting up early with nothing to do is a recipe for failure.
- Decide exactly why you want to get up – On occasions where I have the chance to go hunting, offshore fishing, to a big football game or grab a deal at the local market, getting up early is not very hard. But more than that, understanding that I enjoy a relaxed pace, seeing both my ladies, biking to work and eating healthy are the motivational tools that get me up every morning on a daily basis.
- Try it for more than a day – I love how we tend to start new things only to realize by day three that it can be hard. Transitioning to getting up early for those who hate mornings is really hard, especially for the first week, so it is important to commit to it for some period of time. I love the idea of doing it for 30 days as a mind expanding challenge.
- Put your alarm across the room – Seriously, if you need to, put the alarm across the room. I slept in a lofted bed for seven years, so on days I had to get up the alarm went on the floor under the loft. If you need a baby step, try not to use the snooze for 30 days. Give your wife a 15 minute back rub every time you hit the snooze.
- Start Fast – The general rule of habit change is ‘start slowly’. Or baby steps. Or incremental change. And to be honest, for most people this is probably the best idea. My good friend Leo has a good bit to say about habit change and makes the case for starting slowly. But for me, I like to see progress and that is what motivates me. Waking up 1 minute earlier doesn’t work for me so I prefer to just jump in and power through the first few days of tiredness before my body adapts.
- Get Enough Sleep – This is the most underrated but probably the most important. I never realized how much of a luxury a good night’s sleep was until I started asking several of my friends and family about it. It is rare but achievable. It is worth the effort to get it. It begins with what you eat, your stress level and your exercise habits. The next steps for me are organizing my thoughts, relaxing and reading before bed. I like to get 7-8 hours of sleep so I count backwards depending on when I want to get up. Sometimes it can be difficult to go to bed before you are sleepy. But if you do this challenge with a spouse, going to bed before you are both tired can have extra benefits.
- Cut down on screen time before bed – As much as I enjoy movies or watching competitive sports events, I know that it is hard for me to turn my brain off after they finish. I also tend to spend a lot of time online in the evenings and we have actually put a timer on our internet router so it turns off at a certain time every night. Slow down before you go bed or you will lay in bed awake. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, start by removing your biggest distractions.
- Do something fun – Eat your favorite breakfast, watch the sunrise, get some really good coffee. When you just start out, do something really fun to kick off the habit change.
- Don’t Do Exercise/Do Exercise – Often, if I don’t exercise in the morning, I won’t do it at all. My afternoons and evenings tend to be really busy so many days if I don’t work out before I go to work, it won’t happen. And for a lot of people exercising in the morning is a primary motivator for early rising. However, if you hate exercising don’t add that to the habit change at the beginning or you will most certainly hit the snooze button. If you do enjoy exercising, set out your clothing in the morning and meet a friend. If my schedule is all messed up and I’m just starting to wake up and exercise, the first few days I’ll plan something really easy like jogging for 10 minutes just to get the juices flowing.
Benefits of Rising Early
As much as I previously hated getting up in the morning, I’m starting to see the benefits of rising early. For me, getting up early adds hours to my day and allows me to spend more quality time with the people I care about most. It also gives me time to exercise, relax and have a little bit of quiet time. I typically ride my bike to work every day but when I get up late it makes me rush around and the scooter/car is a lot more tempting. Eating an actual breakfast, a healthy one that sustains me throughout the day, instead of some prepackaged bar on the way out makes a difference in how I feel all morning. I always considered myself to be most productive in the evenings, but even that is subject to change. If you live with others, be flexible and willing to adapt. I’ve realized that it is much easier to change my habits and schedule than to try to influence the people around me. So, try getting up early and leave a comment to let me know how it is working out for you. Do you know any night owls that have converted to early risers?