For some reason, waking up early has always interested me.
I can’t even succinctly explain why.
Maybe it’s the feeling of getting a jump start on the rest of the world, the sense of boundless productivity that seemed to seep through into the rest of my day.
Maybe it was the extra space that it provided, the moment of pause before the background hum of life began.
Or maybe it was that it allowed me time for myself, time to focus on hobbies, passions and habits that would otherwise have taken a backseat.
Whatever the reason, I’ve come to love waking up early.
I really believe that, while this kind of advice may be slightly off the beaten track amongst the fitness community, it’s a habit and change we could all benefit from.
Obviously, 24 hours is 24 hours, there’s not much we can do about that.
But there are ways we can become more effective with how we allocate time.
I firmly believe, for example, that all else held equal, swapping 9pm-11pm for 5am-7am will result in a doubling of output (assuming you’re doing something productive)
Take a training session for example.
What’s REALLY important, is consistency. Punching the clock, 4-5 days a week for months, years.
When you live a normal, busy life and try to commit to hitting the gym in the evenings and weekends – life will get in the way, it’s inevitable.
If you create an extra 2 hours in the morning, that’s ample time to get your session done before friends and co-workers have had a chance to steal your attention.
You could train 4 weekday mornings, in calm, comparable conditions – get 4-6 hours of dedicated, quality training in, and no one would even notice. Evenings and weekends are yours to spend how you please.
If ever there was a time to use the word “hack” – this is it.
You’re taking control that others don’t have.
Tipping the scales in your favour.
Thing is, waking early is hard.
I’ve tried and failed many, many times.
Only very recently have I become successful with establishing it as a mainstay of my routine. Before this, I had 4 or 5 failed attempts at attempting early starts – all ending with either caffeine fuelled afternoons and sleeping through countless morning alarms.
I imagine, like most of you reading, when I want to make a change in my life, I turn to trusty google to provide the answer and that’s what I did when trying to form the habit of early mornings.
The consensus amongst many self-help blogs was that habits take time to form and should be implemented gradually and waking early was no different.
The standard advice seemed to be; find your current average wake time and move it slowly backwards, day by day and week by week. In other words, make the smallest, easiest change possible and then adjust over time.
I tried this multiple times. And failed.
Some articles suggested implementing accountability, using apps to check in and tracking your streak to garner some kind of reward.
I decided that, rather than just following other’s advice, I maybe needed a different approach – I needed something new.
One habit I’d been successful with in forming and maintaining, was training – what did I do differently?
My first observation was, initially, training was immensely rewarding and enjoyable, watching the rapid physical changes and seeing the KGs added to the bar.
I had no issues hitting the gym 5-6 days a week.
I enjoyed it
I looked forward to it
The habit was effortless to create as a result.
Once you enter the no-man’s land of the intermediate – where gains start to slow and months go by with no progress, the prospect of hitting the gym becomes less appealing but, by now, the habit is engrained – it’s just part of your week.
I’d earned the ability to push through the hard days
You’d forged the ability to push through the days where the habit seemed more like a chore, but you chipped away and punched the clock, still maintained momentum.
Second, I didn’t build it slowly, contrary to popular advice.
I didn’t walk to the gym on day one, do a curl and go home
I fully submerged myself in it
I flinched into the discomfort, before I was ready.
Hell, I didn’t even know what I was doing
One day, I just went to the gym.
I decided to build a House of Cards
Everyone is always preaching about how you should create a morning routine to meditate, journal, drink seaweed and take over the world.
Imagine trying to motivate your chimp brain to leave the warm confines of your cosy quilt with the prospect of listening to your own breath and writing about your thoughts
At first, it needed to be enjoyable.
I needed to feel like a kid on Xmas morning.
As an avid Netflix fan, I decided to put the tool to good use.
One night, I decided to go for it, I set my alarm for 5am.
I flinched into it
Jumped straight in.
I didn’t go to bed earlier than normal. I just stuck to my normal schedule.
At 5am, after less than 6 hours sleep, I cringed at the noise of the alarm and wanted more than anything to go back to sleep – cursing myself for trying these stupid things.
But the prospect of newly appointed President Underwood in the new season of House of Cards was too appealing.
My Chimp brain was OK with that idea.
Slowly, I rose and through a coffee fuelled daze, watched Frank Underwood dominate the White House.
3 or 4 days went buy and, while waking was still very much a challenge – I kept going, I was being consistent for the first time.
Charles Dughill outlined a model in his book “the power of habit”, he explained that the conclusion of a habit loop was reward, there was a cue (my alarm clock), the habit (getting out of bed and staying awake) and…the reward.
The reward was what I’d always been missing – I’d tried to do things that I thought were productive but I never looked forward to them. It was so easy to rationalise staying in bed in the morning – I had no drive or excitement.
So, that’s how I started. I let this run as is for 10 days (I wasn’t waking early on weekends, so two full work weeks). I’ve found that sticking with a new habit for 2 weeks tends to mean I’m able to stick with it long term.
I started fine tuning
I knew that to be consistent, I’d still need to get my 7 hours.
I hadn’t been adjusting my evening routine consciously during the first 10 days but by just keeping my wake time the same – I started to feel tired earlier and started moving towards 8 hours.
After 10 days, I made a conscious effort to get into bed 7-7.5 hours before my scheduled wake time.
For this to work effectively I made 2 big changes, things I think we’re all guilty of NOT doing
I stopped drinking caffeine at midday
I even started moving towards just one coffee per day, this allowed how awake or tired I truly was become obvious and made getting to sleep earlier easier.
I set rules for Facebook and social media
Social media has always been something that I use to sedate
After a busy, stressful day, it can be easy to stare blankly at your Facebook feed, I knew that one of the reasons I procrastinate instead of getting to bed on time was social media
Giving up wasn’t really an option – I use it to stay in touch with old friends and communicate with Propane clients.
I decided to set a limit on how many times I checked it per day
I started with 5 and worked down to 2 (9am and 7pm).
I strongly recommend giving this a try, you’ll realise that actually, the world won’t burn to ashes if you aren’t checking for notifications 73 times per day.
This change was instrumental, it halved my procrastination time at night – I got what I needed to do done and as I started to feel tired towards 9-10pm, I was ready to hit the sack
Phone on airplane mode, laptop off
Several months have passed and I’m still going, marking the FIRST time I’ve made it past 3 days
It took a bit of self experimentation, going against the norm and a bit of help from Frank Underwood.
– waking early affords a period of consistent, comparable, uninterrupted time that is yours to personalise
– If you live a normal busy life, this time can be your sanctuary
– waking up early is really, really hard
– don’t try to be a hero, give yourself something to do first thing that you really enjoy (watching Netflix)
– over time, make changes
– ensure you control your caffeine intake
– Identify time sinks (social media) and set hard limits on them, cut down on evening procastination/sedation techniques and get to bed on time