Getting up Early

Getting up early was the one thing I had been challenged by for the longest time. The last few months had also been particularly demanding from a personal standpoint (in terms of health and relationships). I would find myself going to bed late every night as I would be aimlessly watching YouTube videos on my iPad especially when I wanted to sleep, but I simply couldn’t resist. Furthermore, I would sleep without setting any alarm, because I didn’t know when I would get up, and I wanted to get at least 5-6 sleep cycles (7.5-9 hours). Even when I did set an alarm, chances were I would end up hitting the snooze/stop button, which again would lower my self-trust as I wasn’t keeping my promise of getting up when the alarm buzzed.

Anyway, I would get up in the morning when I’d had enough sleep. There was no structure to it. Depending on when I arose, more often than not, my morning routine would go for a toss. Not getting up early (more on what early means below) each morning also became a bottleneck for my other activities because of the way I worked. That would mean revising my schedule each day to accomodate the lateness. After weeks of sleeping and getting up late with all the agony and the decision-making involved on a daily basis, I got tired of doing things this way. Something had to give.

At some point, I had an epiphany. I realized that I was not the kind of person who got up late (and went to bed late). In other words, it was not part of my identity. It was not who I was, so I had to remind myself that I was the kind of person (defining identity) who would get up early and do his morning routine to the T and that I had forgotten to do so. The thing is you have to achieve it in your mind before you can do it in practice. For me, this was the shift that needed to happen in my mind. Not being the kind of person who I was supposed to be became unbearable. I just HAD to change — so I did. Since having done it and being consistent at it, there are some things I’ve learned along the way, which I’ll share with you. But first I want to briefly discuss what waking up early means, since it can mean different things to different people.

I think getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning is overrated despite the benefits that many seem to espouse. If you’re not the kind of person who wakes up that early, then you’re probably better off not trying to do that. Getting up that early makes more sense when you’re living with family (kids, spouse, etc.) because you want that quiet time to yourself, which isn’t a challenge when you’re living by yourself. This isn’t to say that you get up late either. What I am saying is whatever time you decide to wake up (and sleep), make sure it’s consistent so you don’t have to keep thinking about it everyday.

Getting up early is the cornerstone habit for me that makes my morning routine work. I know that when I get up early and do the things in the morning that I deem essential, I feel more in control of my day (and of my emotions). I am more proactive and much less reactive. I am slower (in a good way), meaning I take my time in doing things. Doing these things in the morning as part of my routine also enables me to be at my best every day for work. Last but not least, I find myself to be more present and having an optimistic outlook toward life. I also drink more water throughout the day because I have more time on my side as a result of waking up earlier.

When I have enough time for myself in the morning, I can help others later in the day (if I choose to) that much better. This goes back to having a healthy selfishness. You can’t help others until you help yourself first.

Now that we have talked about some of the benefits of waking up early, let’s explore some ways for getting up early and for making it a consistent habit so we don’t have to consciously think about doing it. The goal is to just show up and do it.

Unless you have an epiphany and make a change like I did (which is entirely within the realm of possibility), you’re better off taking baby steps to begin waking up early. For instance, if you typically wake up around 8 and you want to be up at 6:30, for the next few days, wake up at 7:50. Then, after a few more days, start waking up at 7:40, and so on. Wash, rinse, repeat. The point here is that the change you’re making is so tiny that it’s hardly noticeable and it’s only a matter of time before you reach your goal. You can keep track of this by logging it on a sheet of paper that you’ve hung on the wall. Having a physical thing that you track every day is important and more effective than an app because you see it — out of sight can be out of mind. On this sheet, you need two columns: the date and the time at which you woke up. Simply log the time you wake up each day. It should only be a matter of time before you reach your goal.

Here are some ideas for waking up earlier, which starts with going to bed earlier. Have an evening routine. Go to bed earlier than usual even if you don’t feel like sleeping. Pick a fiction book to read for a few minutes (or listen to light music on a timer) to help you sleep. Whatever you do, sleep at the same time every night. Even if you can’t manage that sometimes because life gets in the way, still strive to be up at the same time in the morning. You can always take a nap later in the day if you feel sleepy/tired from lack of sleep the night before.

My current evening routine looks like this:

  • set my clothes for the following day
  • brush teeth
  • log receipts, exercise, and other data in my notebook
  • plan/review for the next day as things can often change during a week
  • write in my journal about the best part of my day and how I could have made it better
  • read some fiction or listen to light music
  • sleep

Have a morning routine in place. Know exactly what you’re going to do when you wake up and in what order. My current morning routine looks like this:

  • arise
  • stop alarm
  • drink water
  • shower
  • reflect on three things I am grateful for and three things that would make today great
  • write morning pages
  • practice mindfulness meditation
  • read classic nonfiction
  • eat breakfast
  • begin work

Here are some things you can do in the morning before you have your breakfast and get to work. Walk/exercise, cold shower (post workout), journal, meditate, read, pray, spend some time outdoors (for Vitamin D), hydrate, etc.

Be sure to block at least an hour to 90 minutes for your morning/evening routines in your calendar. Those should be non-negotiable to you, come hell or high water. This goes back to renewing yourself on a daily basis.

If you can sleep and arise at the same times every day, it will drastically improve your well-being. It’s one less decision to make and one less thing to worry about. I often find myself coming back home at night early enough from events to do the things as part of my evening routine. It gives me something to look forward to and to close out my day. It’s also great knowing that no matter what happens during the day or how busy things get, my mornings and evenings remain sacrosanct.

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