rising early

Another item on the Habit Bucket List. It glares at me, three bullet points in. “Get up consistently early.”

I live in a roller-shuttered home – something that’s great for safety but bad news for my internal clock. I could wake up at 10am and the only clue that I’d have of the time of day would be the rays of sunlight demanding to push themselves through the tiny slats, only to be stopped at the light-reducing drapes.

Still, I haven’t given up. It’s ideal for me to leave the house by 7.30am to avoid traffic on the way to work. And anyone who’s anyone has said how rising early is one of their cornerstone habits for success. Ergo, if I can’t even will myself into consciousness each day, how am I supposed to conquer each day like firework-inducing Super Mario? There’s no way.

My Ideal Morning

Ideally, what would I like to achieve in the morning? I’d love to sip on tea and read, uninterrupted, my dogs nestled into me on the couch. I’d also love to fit in a workout session, a shower, a nutritious breakfast that I prepare on the spot. Fitting in an hour of writing would be pretty nifty. Only problem is I’d have to get up at 4am to do all those things. So what do I do instead? I sulk about my lack of well-used time.

You know what I’m saying? Of course you do. Google threw over 2.5 million results my way when I wondered about just how pervasive the failure is in trying to rise early.

The Truth About Rising Early

The uncomfortable truth is that this all-or-nothing attitude about getting up before the sun? It’s just another excuse. An excuse as to why our lives aren’t going the way we want them to. Heaven forbid we sit down for 10 minutes a day and actually make gradual progress on our goals. No, instead we’re continually setting ourselves up for failure by throwing in the towel if we don’t tick off each habit we’re forcing our brains to adopt. Is it, in the end, self-sabotage? Do we really want to achieve our deepest desires if they can only be achieved under certain conditions?

Well, of course we do. I’m not here to suggest underlying reasons for our pathologies. I’m not pretending to be a shrink. The old adage of if you don’t succeed at something you didn’t want it badly enough is more demoralising than motivational.

The simple fact: I wake gently after close to 9 hours of sleep. I open my eyes to already exhausted internal chatter. Syrupy nothings, justifications about why sleeping in at the risk of unemployment is well worth the sensation of cheek against warm, saliva-laced pillow. One day I might work myself up to Ironwoman-level determination, but that’s not now. And now is where I’m currently residing.

You know what they say about repeating the same action and expecting a different result. 

How to Rise With Purpose

So, here are the steps I’m following, and the ones I think could benefit you, too.

  1. Use a weekend to test your sleep needs. Have a general idea of what time your head hits the pillow. The moment you open your eyes, jot down the time on a sheet of paper by your bed. If you go back to sleep, that’s fine. But every time you open your eyes again, note the time. You might see patterns. I know I did – 9 hours before I could comfortably get out of bed. Every single time.
  2. After you’ve figured out your sleep needs, figure out your happy balance between when you’re willing to go to bed and when you need to wake up. You may have to tweak this as you go. Remember, the goal isn’t to wake up as early as you think you need to. Be honest – if you could wake up at a time that meant you felt well-rested, what would that be? 
  3. Make a list of, ideally, what you would like to achieve in the mornings. Would you go for a run if you had the time? Would you read a chapter, or write one? Would you meditate? After you’ve made the list, look for what jumps out at you the most. What has been a recurring desire? This is not a coincidence.
  4. Now, it’s time to make a choice: do you have time in the evenings to put as much effort into this task/pursuit as you’d like? If not, is there a way for you to still tick it off in increments each morning? Say, meditating for two minutes. Free writing for ten. Doing low-impact exercises that energise your metabolism for the day ahead.
  5. Draw up a calendar for a set period of time – 2-4 weeks is ideal. Now, each morning, track if you hit the incremental goal. If you can’t, you might need to adjust it. 

Don’t try to fit in too much. What we want here is a sense of achievement. A taste of what could be magnified over time.  

This incremental goal-marking exercise is not just suitable for the generally sleep-deprived; it’s also great for those of us experiencing low mood. Because the commitment to tasks we feel we should be doing, or really want to do but struggle in the moment to complete, is extremely low-risk here. Low-risk, and low-effort. 

The overall mission of this website is to find ways to achieve happiness and contentment the smart way – the best, most efficient way for those of us who find it hard to make long-term commitments, and focus for extended periods of time.

It’s the small leaps, guys. Small in volume, but massive in meaning.

Your turn!

Let me know in the comments below what your relationship with your mornings are. Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to rise early? If you’ve been successful, share your tips! If you haven’t, share your struggles.