Jocko Willink posts a photo on his Instagram every day of his wrist watch: 4:30 a.m. The former SEAL Team 6 commander always rises by 4:30 a.m., often earlier but never later. I browse Instagram daily looking at numerous inspirational people’s accounts, and I’m determined to get up early and conquer the day (limit the number of Insta-hookers you follow, it’s unhealthy). A new me, a better me, a healthy me. Then the alarm goes off the following day, and I often struggle to adhere to the sage advice of so many accomplished people.
Mike Tyson was once asked why he runs so early in the morning, and he said it was because he knew his opponent was still asleep. It gave him an edge. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” You will benefit tremendously from rising early. However, the person you were the day prior with the motivation to become an early riser isn’t the same person hitting the snooze button. It’s difficult, but it isn’t impossible to become a lark. Early risers are not mystical creatures who use their superhuman will power to accomplish the impossible. They’re people like us who discovered the value of rising early and developed a routine.
The secret to early rising is that there is no secret, but you can take steps to realize your goal of rising early and getting more out of your day.
What’s the benefit of waking early?
The scientific literature and anecdotal evidence of the positive benefits of waking up early is overwhelming. A quick Google search and a semi-competent individual can discern for themselves that hitting the snooze button isn’t the way to go. Developing an early morning routine has been nothing less than revelatory for me.
I have a family. The modern world has benefited humankind tremendously, but it has also increased the number of responsibilities for the average person, making it difficult to juggle so many variables: family, job, friends and a myriad of obligations. When I come home after work and take an hour or two to exercise or work on ‘me’ I find myself feeling enormously guilty. My wife is incredibly kind and understands my neurosis, but I feel guilty nonetheless. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. gives me ‘me time.’ Rising early alleviates the concern that trying to be healthy takes away from my family time.
Rising early also makes me feel better physically and emotionally. Initially, I want nothing more than to give in to ‘my inner wuss’ and sleep another hour. However, when I rise early, throw on my running gear and head out I gain so much mental clarity. The stars are bright, and the planets glow. The air feels clearer and cleaner, and the city is silent and still. I often see wildlife, and I feel a great sense of comradery with the people I pass as I run along the canal. We may not know each other, but we’re kindred spirits out there struggling to be a better version of ourselves. The city is beautiful in the morning before the sun rises, as the sun rises and when most others are asleep.
I feel more energized when I’m at work. I’m quiet and unassuming to my colleagues, but when I rise early, run, stretch and meditate I feel a tremendous relief from stress and a boost in overall happiness. Stress from work will always persist, but I stress less about it. I realize I’ve done my best. It isn’t always adequate, but that’s okay. It’s okay to fail. But, even if you fail at work that day, if you rise early you’ve already accomplished something. You took time for you, and you’re better for it.
It’s okay to fail.
I have spent the better part of my life beating myself up for something I didn’t do. I’m convinced that if I had a do-over of every conversation I’ve ever had I’d be considered the funniest, wittiest and smartest person alive. But, the ‘what if?’ mindset isn’t value added. It prevents me from being in the moment and enjoying life. Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t analyze a failed meeting, presentation or encounter, but to dwell on the past for hours is a useless exercise in futility.
The same goes for hitting the snooze button It’s okay on occasion. The key being on occasion. Hitting that button for an extra hour or even 5 minutes too often will lead to a new routine of lethargy. However, it’s sometimes necessary to allow yourself to rest. Despite my best efforts I’m rarely in bed by the time I need to have a full 7 hours of sleep. The desire to give into that snooze button is often strong when I’ve had another bout of insomnia or a later-than-expected night due to some concert or family outing. So, sometimes, I’ll give in. But, don’t make it a habit.
It’s a lifestyle change.
Waking up early requires effort and mandates a change in lifestyle. Night owls will find it difficult to become early birds. Scientific evidence shows there are distinct differences in the brains of larks and night owls. However, most people fall in-between, so simply exclaiming you’re a night owl because you don’t want to go to bed early, rise early and express a modicum of self-discipline is counterproductive.
Going to bed early isn’t fun. I remember as a child I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I could go to bed whenever I wanted. So, a self-imposed bedtime still strikes me as rather hilarious, but it’s important. I’m often jokingly ridiculed for being an old man because my wife and I typically have dinner around 5 p.m. So, going to bed early can have consequences on your social life, but if it’s that consequential then you probably have a different set of priorities and aren’t ready to become a lark. No judgement. Do you.
I have a relative who complains incessantly. He has an excuse for everything negative that has happened in his life. I’ve fallen victim to this trap, and I’m sure many of you have as well. The ‘the world owes me’ mentality is very counterproductive. I’m not a statistician, but I’ll say with utmost certainty that 90 percent of your failure or success is your doing. There is luck involved, and I’ll let that account for a little. However, if you have a desire to wake up early so that you can kick start the day in a positive manner then you must take ownership of that desire and stop making excuses.
I’m sometimes met with looks of disbelief or acknowledged as the office oddball when I talk about my morning routine. The idea of not rolling out of bed, throwing on some clothes and grabbing an unhealthy breakfast like a bagel before groggily showing up for work sounds like a ridiculous notion to some. But, rising early and forcing yourself into a healthy, productive routine will pay dividends.
Steps to avoid the snooze button.
- Get your workout gear and lunch ready the night before.
- Put your alarm clock in a location that forces you to get out of bed to turn it off. If it wakes your spouse they’ll forever you when you’re more tolerable to be around and easier on the eyes with your fitter body.
- Use a journal to identify your goals, so you know why you’re getting out of bed and to track your progress.
- Develop a positive mental environment. Read, study and practice positivity. It helps.
- Find a workout partner who will hold you accountable.
- Maintain your wake-up schedule to develop a routine.
- Go to bed earlier.
- Do whatever gets you going.
Here is an example of my weekly morning routine.
Monday – Wake at 5 a.m. for an hour of yoga. I follow that with 5-10 minutes of meditation and 10-15 minutes of body weight exercises – pushups, sit-ups, pullups, squats and dips. Fast until noon.
Tuesday – Same as Monday.
Wednesday – Wake at 4:30 a.m. and run 10 miles. I follow that up with 5-10 minutes of running specific yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation.
Thursday – Same as Monday.
Friday – Same as Wednesday.
Saturday – Same as Monday
Sunday – I do my long run on Sunday increasing it a mile each week while I train for a marathon. For example, this week I’ll be running 15 miles while next week will be 16 miles. I’ll then do 10 minutes of running specific yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation. My legs are typically shot, so I give myself two days of recovery. But I have a goal in mind, which is important – the Moab 100-Mile Endurance Race.
No matter your goal, waking up early will help you get there provided you’re not genetically predisposed to be a night owl. My sample routine can be modified no matter a person’s level of fitness, their goals or desirers. I have noticed a tremendous benefit, and even so, I occasionally hit that snooze button. There are numerous blogs that give tips and guidance for how to avoid the snooze button and wake early. Many are just variations (including mine) of the same advice. There are truisms to becoming an early riser: have a goal, develop will power through practice, learn to be more positive and take personal responsibility for your actions – limit the excuses. I’m perhaps the very definition of average. You may not be able to will yourself to great wealth, a beautiful bride (I was lucky) or any number of ridiculous claims self-help books may offer but rising early and getting stuff done is well within your power. Good luck.