The Secrets to Waking Up Early
697 days ago I decided that I was going to start waking up early in the morning. There was just one problem…
…I wasn’t a morning person.
I had friends, colleagues and people I really looked up to tell me about the competitive advantage they had from waking up early. How they felt more productive, less hurried and how it was their ‘secret weapon’.
For years I had read about how people like Benjamin Franklin, Richard Branson, Oprah and so many other highly successful people had one thing in common, they woke up early.
I had even dabbled with it in the past and felt great on the days I had actually done it. I got more accomplished and felt less hurried each day that I did.
But something would always come up…
- I would stay up too late.
- I would convince myself that I really needed extra sleep for an important day ahead.
- The snooze button was just too damn tempting.
- My bed was too warm and cozy.
- It was raining out (rain is good for sleep, right?).
- It was cold out (who wants to get out of bed when it’s cold?).
- It was hot out.
- And on and on and on…
…and I would inevitably wind up going back to my old habit of waking up whenever I felt like it.
So what changed?
How did I go from a guy who normally slept in and woke up whenever I felt like it…to someone who started waking up at 5am each morning?
Here’s exactly what worked for me…
Focus on the benefits
“The early morning has gold in its mouth.” — Benjamin Franklin
Waking up early allows me to start my day in a very relaxed and intentional way. I had proven that to myself the few times that I had tried it but I wasn’t fully convinced so I started to do lots of research to come up with as many benefits as possible.
In a 2008 study, Harvard biologist Christoph Randler discovered that early risers are more proactive. He found that morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them.
A 2012 study found that waking up early could be the distinguishing habit that makes older adults happier than younger adults.
Happier, more productive and better at dealing with problems? I’ll take it!
Quiet the Morning Demons
I used to wake up and lie in bed thinking about the day to come ahead. The first thought that came to my mind was always “You’re late!”
It wouldn’t matter if I was actually late or not. I almost never was. But that’s how my mind wants me to think. I could be on vacation and my mind would tell me I was late. It would start going…
- You have so much to do today, you’re never going to get it all done.
- You have a big meeting today — start stressing about that!
- You are never going to get everything done that you need to. Don’t even bother.
- You should really be worried about that thing…
…and keep going. On and on. On and on.
By waking up early, intentionally and immediately taking action — I was able to quiet and eventually defeat these morning demons.
(Full disclosure: I didn’t take this particular piece of advice. I decided to jump right into the deep-end and begin waking up at 5am. This ultimately wound up working but it also caused me to be a zombie for a couple of weeks. But with people that I work with, I have seen a better rate of success when they have eased into it.)
The idea here is to make waking up early a part of your day that you don’t absolutely hate and that will be sustainable. So if you normally wake up each day at 7am but your goal is to start waking up at 5am each morning, then you work up to that target time with a schedule like this:
- Week 1: Wake up each morning at 6:30am
- Week 2: Wake up each morning at 6:00am
- Week 3: Wake up each morning at 5:30am
- Week 4: Wake up each morning at 5:00am (GOAL!)
Doing it this way is manageable and you’re not dramatically altering your schedule and your building on small wins each week.
Prepare the Night Before
Waking up early is uncomfortable at first and your mind is going to look for any excuses to make it more uncomfortable. You’re going to want to minimize this as much as possible.
By preparing the night before for the coming morning, you can dramatically increase your chances of success.
- Lay out your clothes
- Put your alarm clock/phone across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off
- Have your coffee/tea ready to go
- Know what you are going to do
Simple things that can make a big difference.
Have a Plan
You want to have something to look forward to in the morning. Something that is going to make you want to get out of bed.
When I go to sleep at night, I know exactly what I am going to be doing for the first hour of every morning (meditation, morning pages, affirmations and a gratitude list). The goal is to create a healthy routine that puts your mind in optimal shape for the rest of the day. And then to have this routine become a habit that is burned into your subconscious so that it’s not a struggle.
At the beginning, keep it simple. Do one thing that you enjoy and that is going to start your day in the right way (stretch, read part of a good book, walk your dog, listen to music, sit in silence for a few minutes).
Don’t overwhelm yourself.
It’s All in Your Mind
If you tell yourself that you are going to get enough sleep regardless of what time you are going to bed and truly believe that, you will help to program your subconscious mind to believe that.
Before we go to sleep at night, our minds can get into these vicious loops. Mine used to go something like this:
- 11:11pm Ugh, I need to wake up early tomorrow. I’m never going to get enough sleep.
- 11:43pm I really need to fall asleep right now. I’m only going to get 6 hours of sleep because I need to be up early to prepare for my meeting.
- 12:14am I can’t believe I’m still not asleep! What the hell is wrong with me! Shut off brain.
- 1:06am I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
- 2:45am This sucks.
In his book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod talks about the importance of affirmations before going to sleep at night. You can “trick” your mind into thinking you will have enough sleep simply by saying something like this:
Thank you for giving me these five hours of sleep tonight.
Five hours is exactly what I need to feel rested and energized in the morning.
My body is capable of miraculous things, the least of which is generating an abundance of energy from five restful hours of sleep.
I believe that I create my experience of reality, and I choose to create waking up tomorrow feeling energized and excited to take on my day, and I’m grateful for that.
Never Hit Snooze
“Hitting the snooze button in the morning doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I hate getting up in the morning so I do it over and over and over again.’” — Dimitri Martin
The snooze button is a healthy sleep routine’s biggest enemies. Once you understand that, you can eradicate it from your life.
If hitting the snooze button is the first action you take every morning, you are effectively starting with procrastination and telling your subconscious mind that they don’t even have the self-discipline to get out of bed in the morning.
Kill your snooze button…and kill part of your inner procrastinator in the process.
Don’t Start Your Morning With Junk
And I’m not talking about food. When I ask people what’s the first thing they do when they wake up, the vast majority say “Check my email and social media.” Don’t do this.
Email and social media consumption first thing in the morning starts your day off with other people’s lives and priorities. You want to use your mornings to focus on you.
Caffeine is Your Friend
My friend Kevin started waking up early and decided that he was going to do it completely naturally so he quit drinking coffee. This is akin to someone who never works out and then decides they are going to run a marathon the next day.
Suffice it to day…it didn’t work out for Kevin. He was miserable after a couple of days and decided to give up on waking up early and went back to drinking coffee.
Personally, I had to drink a ton of coffee when I first started waking up early. I’ve been able to cut it back dramatically but it’s what I needed to readjust my internal clock early on.
Nowadays I really don’t need any caffeine (I usually just drink a cup of green tea in the morning) but I wanted to make sure to share the reality of what I needed early on (for awhile actually).
Don’t Be Afraid to Change
Once you’ve worked up to your optimal time to wake up (and only you can be the one to determine this, not your friends, not your colleagues and definitely not some post on Medium 🙂 it’s time to start getting the most out of your “extra” time. I have one simple suggestion for you:
Do things that are going to put you in a better “state”.
A better state of mind, body and soul.
Here are a bunch of ideas and things that I have tried:
- Go for a walk
- Work Out
- Plan out your day
- Watch a motivational video on YouTube
- Write a gratitude list
- Spend time with your family
- Write a thank you note to someone
- Pet your dog or cat
- Say positive affirmations out loud
- Write a blog post
- Come up with 10 ideas
Once you try something, don’t be afraid to expand the practice or discard it (after you’ve given it sufficient time). The goal is to find a practice that works for you.
Listen to Your Body
(Here’s another bit of advice that I didn’t take but wish I had.)
I got sick about four months after I first started waking up at 5am. Really sick. But I was so all or nothing that I just kept waking up at 5am and I could barely even function. I think it wound up prolonging my sickness and it’s something that I could have avoided.
If you’re sick. If you are super jet-lagged. Or if you just really, really need sleep. Sleep in. Listen to your body.
One word of warning, don’t use this too often and don’t use this until after waking up early has become an established habit for you (typically anywhere from 21 to 60 days).
What About Weekends?
I used to wake up at 5am everyday of the week (including Saturday, Sunday and even holidays). This was helpful for establishing the habit but it also had some negative effects on me.
I began to resent having to go to sleep earlier and started to get very worn down if I didn’t (if I went out on a Friday night and didn’t go to sleep until 2am and then woke up at 5am).
In the last year, I adjusted my schedule so that I gave myself more flexibility on the weekends. I typically just set my alarm so that I get 7 hours of sleep (so if I go to sleep at 12am on Friday, I will wake up at 7am on Saturday). I then follow the rest of my morning routine the same way and still have a good start to each day.
Don’t Forget the Point
Waking up early isn’t some masochistic way to show how great you are as a person. Don’t let anyone tell you differently 🙂
It’s simply a tool that allows you to start your day in a positive, more intentional manner. It gives you time to focus on you so that you can set yourself up for a successful day mentally, physically and emotionally.
Keep that in mind when you are creating your plan. Focus on the good stuff. You don’t want it to be something that you dread, you want it to be something that you enjoy and there’s one simple twist that you can use to change your entire mindset:
- Don’t ever say this: “I HAVE to wake up at 5am tomorrow.”
- Always say this: “I GET to wake up at 5am tomorrow!
With these simple guidelines and tools, I was able to go from a person who hated mornings to someone who now looks forward to them. If I could do it…you certainly can.
What time do you wake up each morning? How does that work for you? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.