By Jackie Kinealy
Originally Published on Medium.
Photo by Paul Varnum on Unsplash
If I can become a morning person, you can too.
During the past five years, I quit my mind-numbing job writing multiple-choice questions for tests (which is actually more boring than it sounds), and now I am a full-time yoga teacher (which is my dream job, my calling).
Also, I wrote and published a book!
Also, I feel healthier — physically and mentally — than I have since the fourth grade.
Also, and perhaps most powerfully, I have taken time and space to think about what I really want from life, how I want to use my gift to serve and uplift, and how I am aligned with my core values.
And it’s all because I started waking up super early, and now I love it.
You guys, I am telling you that I go to sleep excited to wake up at 5 am. How annoying is that?!
I am not trying to brag, or pretend like I don’t struggle, or eat to much pizza on Fridays, or drink too much coffee, or give the finger to other drivers, or have moments when I question everything I am doing.
I am saying that waking up early has put me on a totally different path, and if you want to make a change in your life, or light a fire under your butt, or get in shape, or complete a project but you don’t have time — the answer lies in the wee hours!
Why Mornings are Magic
The early morning is your time to make magic; the time before other people are awake; the time when no one expects a reply to their text or email or call; the time when your house is quiet, your kids are sleeping, and your neighbors houses are dark.
Indeed, it is the time of day when you can smugly sip your coffee, and think, “That’s right, I’m up. Eat my dust neighbors. Watch this, kids!”
If you spent just one hour on your goal every morning for the next year, you would be so much closer, so much better at what you’re aiming for, and so much more confident in your ability to make it happen.
I am not naturally a morning person, not by a long shot, but I learned how to be one, and I can teach you too.
If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
Let me show you how much I’m NOT a natural morning person.
In first grade, my parents found it so difficult to wake me for school that my dad resorted to scooping my sleeping body out of bed, carrying me downstairs, and depositing me on the kitchen counter, my head lolling back against the cabinet, while he poured his coffee and my cereal.
Fast forward ten years and imagine that child driving a car. In the morning. Fifteen minutes after waking up. Yikes, I know.
In high school, I drove 30 minutes eastbound on the highway each morning with the sunrise in my eyes and the heater in my 20-year-old Volvo blasting in all its hardy Nordic glory.
You know that feeling when it’s painful to keep your eyes open? That was me every morning, fighting sleep and terrified I would crash the car, killing myself and the quiet freshman I drove to school, who always insisted on sitting in the backseat (I am literally, right now, realizing why she did that…).
Fast forward five more years and imagine that teenager in college, living in a party house with ample access to marijuana, a History major, and a boyfriend who loved Adderall. Yikes, I know.
I would sleep as late as possible, til 11 or noon, and sometimes on a Saturday in the winter, until 4 pm when the sun was starting to set. You guys, I went to class in my pajamas; I went to class stoned; I didn’t set foot in the rec center for the first two years of college.
And here’s the thing; I thought everyone was doing that, because that’s what all my friends and housemates and boyfriend was doing. Which brings me to my first tip …
How To Wake Up Early and Do Your Best Work
1. Get some role models. For me, the shift toward waking up earlier accelerated when I moved from rural Missouri to Denver, Colorado, where people were noticeably healthier, jogging at dawn and being vegan. I lived with my best friend, a special ed teacher and a hardass who woke without an alarm before 6 am each day to meditate and make a smoothie. The sound of the blender wore me down until one day I was rising early too.
Connect with friends who rise early, and hold each other accountable. Make new friend if you don’t have ones like that. Or read about successful people who rise early like General Stanley McChrystal who wakes up at 4 am and doesn’t eat ’til dinner. Damn, Stanley! Listen to some self-improvement books. Hit the gym at 6 am, and be amazed at how full the parking lot is; that there are people finishing their workouts as you arrive!
2. Hold tight to your why. Chances are that if you are reading this article about how to wake up early, you have something you want to wake up to do. For me, my initial why was yoga. In Colorado, I fell in love with the practice and how it was changing my body and spirit, so I started shifting my habits to make daily class possible.
Yet, even with a passionate why, it’s hard to wake up early, and it’s easy to talk yourself out of it. On the cold mornings, you will tell yourself that it doesn’t really matter if you skip this workout, or that you are never going to publish a book anyway, or that your dream business is too risky and actually kind of dumb, so you might as well go back to sleep.
To keep yourself motivated on difficult mornings, you need to have a clear and deep why. What do you want from life, and how will this daily practice move you closer?
I am waking up early to write a book because writing is the most fulfilling work I can imagine for myself, and publishing a book will be deeply fulfilling.
I am waking up early to go to the gym so that I feel healthy and energized the rest of the day: productive at work, present with my family, and confident in myself.
I am waking up early to grind away at my dream business so that I can leave the job I hate to work for myself, have financial freedom, and build a creative outlet for myself.
3. Go to bed earlier. Duh, right? But I need to say it: if you are going to wake up earlier than you have before, you are going to have to go to sleep earlier than ever before. This might mean saying goodbye to more TV, drinks with friends, and scrolling social media. So be it!
When you hold yourself to your bedtime, the least constructive elements of your life will be eliminated. Set an alarm to play a song around the time you should be getting ready for bed, and start your pre-bed routine as soon as you hear it.
Tip: pick a song that you like, but not your favorite. This should be something that you can stand to resent. Beyonce’s “All Night’ is not the same for me anymore, and it’s a real loss, because it’s so sexy.
4. Give yourself a manageable win. If it’s painful for you to wake up early, it can feel daunting, or downright depressing, to picture the rest of your life this way. You can’t imagine yourself doing this forever, so you quit. It’s not worth it, you say. What kind of way is this to live, you cry!
Tell yourself that it’s only for a month, or 14 days, or 7 or whatever you can muster. Complete that goal, then give yourself a little break. Then start again; try to go for longer. Repeat until you have changed your internal clock, and it can be a sustainable lifelong way of being.
5. Have a specific routine. Once I watched a YouTube video called something like, “I Woke Up at 5 am for a Month,” created by a sweet gal in her early 20s. She took viewers through her bedtime ritual of reading her Bible, brushing her teeth, setting her alarm, the whole bit. True to her word, she woke up at 5 am, but she didn’t really have anything to do. She kind of sat around until it was time to go to her workout class. I was touched at her earnestness, and also confused- wouldn’t sleeping be more productive than this? Why is she getting up at 5 am?
The point is: don’t make your early morning aimless. Have a clear and specific routine. This is a format has been a good one for me:
6. Just do it. Not to get all Stanley McChrystal on you, but sometimes getting out of bed at 5 am physically hurts, and you have to do it anyway. Feel it, acknowledge it, get to the coffee, and don’t get back into bed. There, you’ve done it. Not easy, but simple.
7. Be kind to yourself. When you inevitably fall off the wagon, and suffer a week of sleeping in and not sticking to your goals, chalk in up to a natural cycle, and get back on it next week.
When I say I wake up around 5 am everyday, I don’t mean every day. You know that, right? There are seasons in life, and sometimes you need more sleep. Life is about learning the finesse of when to be disciplined with yourself, and when to give some slack.
I hope my story and advice help you to start the powerful habit of waking up early. It gets easier, I promise. Remember: consistency and patience is key. Just do a little bit of focused work toward your goal every day. Remember to take care of yourself too: drink water, get sleep, have fun. Let me know how it goes!