Part 1 – The Struggle Is Real
Of all the positive habits in life, waking up at 5am is the one that scares me the most. I say this because my track record of failed attempts could not be more spectacular. Let me explain.
For the first 6 months of 2018, my alarm went off every work day morning at 5am. On each an every occasion, I hit the snooze button and went straight back to bed. In fact, I have developed a secret passion for my bonus hour of sleeping in.
Sadly, this tendency isn’t new. My 5 am snooze sessions have been ongoing for just over 3 years. There is only one way to describe this period of my life. It’s called ‘1000 days of failure‘. Even though there have been a few limited bouts of success (some 5 day streaks here and there), there is no question that my failure rate from mid 2015 to June 2018 was truly shocking. Percentage wise, it works out to about 98%.
To add insult to injury, I have also struggled with insomnia for more than 20 years. My first bout of insomnia happened at the age of 10. It was the night before my first exam, and for the first time in my life, I tried really hard to get to sleep. I wasn’t expecting to unleash Pandora’s box inside my mind. Since that day, I have struggled to fall asleep easily, and have been through hundreds of nights where I find myself staring at the ceiling at 3am in the morning in a desperate state of frustration and exhaustion.
I say all this to make one thing explicitly clear. If an insomniac with an abysmal waking up track record can learn wake up at 5am every morning, you can too.
Part 2 – The Book That Sparked The Change
During a quick lunch time browse on amazon.com, I happened to stumble upon a book that felt like it was written specifically for me. It’s called ‘the morning miracle for writers’ and it promises a way to break the habit of sleeping in and find a way to install a stack of positive habits into your early morning routine.
I was met with a smidgen of intrigue and a boat load of skepticism.
The last thing I needed was another ‘life changing’ boot that has virtually no impact on my behavior. Fortunately, it was the day before payday and I had some extra cash in my bank account, so I decided to give it a shot. I am happy to report that the book turned out to be the catalyst for the paradigm shift that I was desperately searching for.
Part 3 – The Method For Waking Up At 5am
While there is plenty of excellent information in the book, and I would highly recommend the morning miracle series, I am simply going to outline the method for waking up at 5am that it suggests. Bonus benefit – The process only takes 5 minutes.
Step 1 – Set Your Intention The Night Before – For this step, the goal is to focus on exactly why you want to wake up at 5am. This is what I wrote down, on the 27th of June, the night before my first 5am wake up. “I intend to wake up at 5am on Thursday the 28th of June. I know this will dramatically improve my live over the long term. It may also be the secret to becoming a successful (and well paid) author.”
Step 2 – Place Your Alarm Clock Across The Room – Of all the strategies that currently exist for forcing yourself to get out of bed, this is arguably the most important and effective. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, I’ve heard that one before. I was also fully aware of this technique, but was I putting it into practice? Negative ghostrider.
Like so much good advice this is basically common knowledge. It’s easy to acknowledge this tip and then simply ignore it. Even worse, it’s also possible to place your alarm clock across the room, wake up in order to switch it off, and then jump straight back into bed. I’ve been there. It’s one of my party tricks. This is why the next step is important (and far less common).
Step 3 – Brush Your Teeth – This strategy took me by surprise, but there is reason for the madness. Each of the steps outlined in this strategy is designed to increase your ‘Wake-Up Motivation Level (WUML)’. Brushing your teeth acts as a bridge between that groggy, I can barely keep my eyes open feeling, and that pumped up ready for action feeling. This transition eventually happens whenever you wake up, but it is usually much slower, especially for snooze button addicts. By incorporating this super simple action into your morning routine, you can decrease the likelihood of jumping back into bed and increase the likelihood of switching your brain and body into action mode [you might need to work on this sentence].
Step 4 – Drink a glass of water – The goal of this step is replace some of the fluids that you lose during sleep. It’s very simple to do, and it can only have a positive impact on your health over the long term. [Might need to work on this one]
Step 5 – Get dressed – Once you’ve completed the steps above, the final step is to get dressed. The key to this step is layout all the clothes you need for your morning miracle session the night before. Remember, this whole process should only take 5 minutes or less!
Full Disclaimer: After performing the ritual above for a few days, I simplified it even further. This is what my revised ritual looks like.
1) Place alarm clock across the room
2) Get dressed
3) Brush my teeth
4) Make a cup of decaf coffee
Side note – I also gave up caffeine in order to get to sleep faster and wake up with less physiological and mental resistance. You can read more about that experience here [insert link to caffeine article].
Also, I had to make getting dressed the 2nd step, because I started this habit in the peak of winter. So to make the whole experience of waking up early more pleasant, I prioritized warmth and comfort.
Part 4 – The Result – Have I actually become an early bird or not?
As I mentioned in the first part of the article, for the 6 months of 2018 I failed to wake up early every single day. 176 attempts resulted in 176 failures. If it were an exam, I would have got 0%.
Since reading the morning miracle for writers, I have woken up early on 9 of the last 10 mornings. It’s not a perfect track record, but moving from 0% to 90% is no small feat. If your worst student went from 0%,to 90,,%in any endeavor wouldn’t you pa attention? I am that student, and I have never been better at waking up early than I am right now.
While it’s still early days, I am optimistic about my chances of keeping this habit for the rest of my life.
Also, it’s worth adding that on the weekends, I give myself an extra hour of sleep, waking up at 6am rather than 5am. This makes the habit more manageable, and gives me more time to cuddle with my wife.
Part 5 – The Most Important Benefits
Accelerated Progress On My Most Important Goals – For me, this is the single most important benefit of waking up early. It gives me a bonus hour of productive time that I literally cannot find during any other time in the day. In terms of goal achievement, it’s like adding Nitrous Oxide (N0s) to your car and then putting your foot flat down on the accelerator.
That Christmas Morning Feeling: If you grew up in a household that celebrates Christmas, you probably have fond childhood memories of the raw excitement that would consume the very fiber of your being on Christmas eve. That amazing blend of excitement and anticipation is extremely powerful and most people know exactly what the Christmas morning feeling is all about. Sadly, if you struggle with sleeping in, most normal mornings feel like the opposite. When your alarm clock goes off, the last thing you want to do is get out of bed. Wrapping yourself in a warm cocoon seems like a far better option, the last escape you have before you put your game face on and start facing the challenges of the day ahead.
This whole dynamic changes when you become a convert of the morning miracle. Here’s a quote from Joseph Diosana, a realtor from Houston that has adopted the practice into his life, “The miracle morning makes every day feel like Christmas. Literally. Now I even do it on the weekends“.
I can happily verify that the feeling of excitement and positive anticipation is real. I now genuinely look forward to my early morning sessions. As an introvert, it’s one of the few parts of my day that I get to truly own, and I find the process energizing rather than draining.
More Control Over All Aspects Of Your Life: One of the most influential components of human motivation is the feeling of control. When you feel in control, you gain access to natural reservoirs of energy, motivation and optimism. Conversely, when you feel out of control, it is easy to be consumed by anxiety and fear, and your motivation tends to evaporate.
In the field of psychology, this aspect of human motivation is called the locus of control, and it basically divides people into 2 classes.
Class 1 – Tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure, rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence (People with an internal locus of control).
Class 2 – People with an external locus of control – believe that their life is primarily influenced by events outside of their control (People with an external locus of control).
This quote makes from Charles Duhiggs, book Faster, Better Stronger makes it clear just how influential a feeling of control can be for long term success:
“Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression, and longer life span,” a team of psychologists wrote in the journal Problems and Perspectives in Management in 2012. People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.”
I can say with utmost confidence that learning to wake up at 5am is one of the best ways to assert control over your life. Over the long term, it has the potential to benefit every task that you touch, and every goal that you pursue.
You Gain Early Bird Strengths: A study completed by the University of Barcelona found that morning people to be more persistent and resistant to fatigue, frustration and difficulties. This translates into:
Lower levels of anxiety
Lower rates of depression
Higher life satisfaction
You Avoid Night Owl Weaknesses: Unlike their early bird counterparts, Night Owls did not fare quite as well in the Barcelona study. In fact, the research found that Night Owls are:
More likely to suffer from insomnia and ADHD
More likely to develop addictive behaviors, mental disorders and antisocial tendencies
More likely to commit suicide
An unexpected cure for the Sunday Blues: I wasn’t expecting this benefit but I need to mention it. Since starting as a manager at a highly successful sports company, I have experienced intense Sunday Blues for well over 2 years. I’ve tried all the tips and techniques, and nothing has really curbed the fear and anxiety that has ruined so many of my precious weekends.
After starting with the morning miracle, I have dramatically reduced my anxiety about Monday and the all the challenges that the work week will bring. I think this change has happened because my whole life feels more on track, and the process has given me a newfound confidence in my ability to tackle difficult tasks. This translates to less procrastination, less work anxiety and a greater sense of mental well being on Sundays. This benefit alone makes the morning miracle worth it (for me).
Part 6 – Final Thoughts
There are many dreams in life that I have been forced to give up due to the realities of my skill level, and the need to generate income.
Becoming a super productive early bird has been one of these dreams for at least 5 years, and I made the mistake of categorizing it in the list of achievements that I will probably never satisfy.
It turns out that I was wrong.
It is possible to wake up early every single day, even if you are a recovering insomniac with a seemingly unbreakable tendency to hit the snooze button.
It might not be easy, but it can be done.
I am the living proof that you are looking for.
Resources used in this post:
The morning miracle for writers
The morning miracle
Smarter Better Faster by Charles Duhigg