The year was 2007. It was nearly 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Still half asleep, I heard the phone ring. I listened as my mom answered and dove into conversation with the loopy, upbeat tone she uses for strangers. Who is it? I wondered.
As I soon discovered, it was the next-door neighbor—a “contemporary” of mine—calling to invite me to a party. “I’m so sorry,” she said, without sounding penitent, once I was on the line. “But I love getting up early. If I miss the morning I feel like I missed the best part of the day.”
This Hallmark sentiment provoked a Liz-Lemon-style eye roll. Not entirely because I was anti-morning, but because nearly everything she said was hyperbolic nonsense. If I moved to Spain, I could be fluent in Spanish in three months. My response? Then go.
So I cackled until midnight over her missing-the-morning line. It’s not that I slept until noon. On the contrary, I was probably awake at 9 but non functional. The pre-breakfast time slot was a haphazard, aimless time, punctuated with dramatic yawns.
Without guiding principles, a ritual, or a process to inspire me, what was the point of getting an early start?
And although I woke early for work, then grad school, then work again, I wasn’t enthusiastic. Like many, I grudgingly did what was needed all the while believing that getting up early was a necessary evil best forgotten immediately.
Besides, with Ms. Instant Fluency as my perky A.M. role model, why would I join that freaky club?
It wasn’t until I began The Artist’s Way, in March 2013, that I rose with excitement. At least, in retrospect it was thrilling. Part of The Artist’s Way is morning pages, where you free write upon waking. Those first days, half propped up in bed, I scrawled almost diagonally across the notebook’s ruled lines, I’m so tired. My eyes are closed right now. This is painful…
But it got better—faster and more comprehensively than I imagined. Suddenly, there was a process to engage in. A journey to go on. An outcome to experience. During morning pages, I remembered my dreams, random memories, and additional to-do’s nearly every day. Before I knew it, I was happy with my new arrangement and looked forward to getting up.
Now, there are tons of online articles about how to become an early riser. They all mention important issues, like avoiding electronics before sleep, letting natural light into your room as soon as you get up, even planning a pep talk to set the tone for yourself.
But few address the why. As in, why on earth would you leave the comfort of your personal sleep palace sooner than required?
It’s an important question. Because for a day-in, day-out regimen, just waking at dawn to say you did is not enough. Consider it a version of Thoreau’s quote, “It is not enough to be busy…the question is: What are we busy about?”
For our purposes, what are we waking about?
Without a goal, you get up, then what? Probably talk to your bedroom, like “hey, BR. That’s right, it’s me. I’m awake. Pretty cool, huh? You look really attractive in this light.”
Don’t let that happen. You need an activity, an adventure, an inspiration awaiting. A ritual, a hobby, or a passion.
Plus, a morning mission lets you rebrand your new wake up time. Peoples’ first mistake is thinking of early rising as getting up at the crack of dawn. WRONG. Let’s try again. It's not losing sleep, it's taking a meditation class before work, training for the half marathon, or cycling around the lake.
For years, a family friend made teddy bears by hand before work. (And gave them as presents to people like me!)
Across the board in this game called life, the best motivators are intrinsic.
It's worth spending time to choose a meaningful, fun, pleasant option. If none of those appeal, pick something else:
Work on an art project
De-clutter (probably only appeals to me, but just in case…)
Set a timer and read a great book
Take a relaxing, hot bubble bath instead of a rushed shower
Get a head start on a nagging task
One way to start the day peacefully instead of behind schedule is to watch the sunrise. A friend does this with her young son. They sit side-by-side, she sipping coffee while he drinks whatever the LA preschool set enjoys these days. Isn’t that adorable? By the way, if sunrise is your goal, this is your moment. It’s gradually rising later.
Each day you wake early, it becomes easier. And it automatically makes going to bed earlier first a possibility, then a probability, then a hard-and-fast rule. That’s what we all want, right? Because maybe (maybe) it’s just me, but I have yet to meet an adult who doesn't eventually admit, “I need more sleep.”
There is a secret society aspect to getting up early. Once you’re a regular, you’ll feel special. At this point, it’s important to remember you aren’t actually morally superior to those who sleep in. But this pride is handy for hung over or frosty dawns when your devotion will waver.
Plus, how powerful to no longer dread an early flight, an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting, or a pre-dawn, long-distance phone call?
Once you’re up, you’re guaranteed to accomplish something with the extra time, setting an uplifting tone for the day. You awoke for a purpose and pulled it off. Now it’s DONE. What can’t you accomplish?
Years later, I honestly think morning is the best part of the day. And I do feel I've been cheated on the rare occasions when I miss it.
Just stay humble, and never call anyone before 10 a.m.
P.S. Although I’m a fan of the morning, I still make it as easy as possible to physically be an early bird. Here’s how I grease the A.M. skids.
- I put my phone, which sets off my alarm, on my desk. Meaning I have to sit up, scramble to the end of my bed, and silence it, all without falling onto the edge of my glass-y desk, thus (maybe?) breaking my teeth. You probably shouldn’t start with such a high-stakes scenario. Maybe work up to it.
- I’m a night shower-er. Always have been, always will be. That’s allowed in nursing homes, right? I remember as a kid thinking being an adult necessarily entailed showering in the morning. Fear not, little ones! Getting it out of the way makes a streamlined morning.
- Unless working out in the morning is your activity, do it after work. This eliminates an extra, time-consuming undertaking and it’ll revive you after the workday.
- Write the day’s to-do list the night before.
- Ensure all supplies for your activity are “in stock” – notebooks, pens, teddy bear eyeballs, spare bicycle tire, running shoes.
- For your first several days, maybe plan a breakfast treat, or a favorite outfit to wear. Whatever’s motivating. But a small reward can go a long way to inspire you to follow through.