BEEP BEEP BEEP
For years I dreaded the sound of my morning alarm. It represented so much that was wrong with my life. I’d have to end whatever great dream I was having, put on clothes I didn’t like, go out into the world bleary-eyed and stand in a cramped train with a hundred other people who would also rather be anywhere else.
I am a night owl, born and bred. My dad is a night owl, my sister is a night owl. We’re a nocturnal family. We would often stay up into the early hours working on our projects, chatting, watching movies, you name it.
But recently I developed a skill that showed me the power of being a morning person. And as unbelievable as it feels to write, I now love—OK, that word’s a bit strong—I now enjoy early mornings. I’ve gone from rolling out of bed at 9 a.m. to actively waking up at 6 a.m.
How? By employing five simple techniques, I gained an extra three hours (a 12.5% increase) of usable day that has sent my productivity soaring.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it was an easy shift to make; it was bloody hard to change 25 years’ worth of habitual conditioning. With that said, after two weeks of performing the five techniques I’m about to share with you, it got significantly easier to go from horizontal to vertical. You will need to force yourself to stick to these actions if you want to see a difference, but after 10 consecutive working days (don’t worry, you can still sleep in on weekends) of performing them you’ll be singing with the larks in no time.
1. The bedroom is for sleeping.
The first thing that helped me get up faster was by not having my main sources of entertainment around me in the bedroom: phone not next to the bed, laptop not in the same room as the bed. I was attacking the “best of both worlds” habit that I had gotten into, whereby I could do the majority of my (now old, then current) morning routine from the comfort of my bed.
By removing tech, my bedroom has become a place of sleeping and getting dressed. If I want to do anything else, I need to physically go somewhere else. Now I have a much greater incentive to leave my cozy, warm duvet cave. Plus with fewer distractions, I’ve begun sleeping better.
2. Go to bed and stop looking at screens earlier.
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how much better you will feel by getting up earlier after going to bed earlier. Even when I was going to bed at 1 a.m. rather than 2 a.m., I noticed a big change in my morning energy levels.
At first I was against going to bed earlier; I mean, when would I browse YouTube? But I realized the majority of things I normally do at night will still be there tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. There was simply no benefit to doing anything in that time other than start winding my body down for sleep.
Also, by going to bed earlier, I cut down on my screen time, which enhanced my sleeping patterns. The blue light produced by technology discourages your body from producing melatonin—the “it’s time to sleep” hormone—in your body, which means that it’s not only harder to fall asleep, but your sleep is less restful as well.
3. Get your feet on the floor ASAP.
As soon as your alarm goes off, you need to rotate and plant your feet firmly on the ground so that you’re in the sitting position. I found that when I did that, I rarely ever went back into “five more minutes” mode. It was incredibly easy to hit the snooze button when my phone was within arm’s reach. So to get my feet on the ground, I simply put my phone/alarm somewhere that would force me to walk to turn it off.
4. Run into another room.
The best way to increase your morning energy is to increase the amount of oxygen going to your brain, so you’ve got to get yourself moving.
The first thing I do in the mornings is brush my teeth, so I run to the bathroom. By physically exerting yourself, you increase the amount of blood and oxygen moving throughout your body. The more oxygen flowing through you, the more fuel the brain has, which makes it work better.
Also aim to do at least a 15-minute exercise routine in the mornings, as soon as you get up. You’ll create a positive feedback loop that will solidify the habit of getting up early. When you perform exercise, you get that increased level of brain activity, as well as:
- Endorphins (pleasure hormones) released after the exercise is completed.
- A heightened level of self-esteem.
- The ability to think better (exercise decreases the amount of cortisol—the hormone that regulates stress, and which potentially affects memory and cognitive function—in your brain).
- Increased fitness and strength.
My personal routine is a circuit of 20 squats, 15 pushups, 10 reverse crunches and 5 pullups, repeated as many times as I can in a 15-minute period.
5. Have a reason to wake up early.
Before I go to sleep, I like to think about something exciting that I have planned for the next morning. It could be a new package of bacon in the fridge, used to treat myself to a tasty breakfast. Or it could be getting more time with a book I’m currently reading.
By focusing on the things I’m looking forward to in the morning, I create the idea that I want to wake up early. I also consistently reward myself for waking up at 6 a.m. by doing things that I can only experience early in the morning, such as a full English breakfast at the closest greasy spoon.
One of the biggest changes in my life was becoming an entrepreneur. When I was working in the corporate world, the only reason I justified getting up earlier than I wanted was to avoid reprimand. Now that more of my life is focused on living it the way I want to live, I want to have more time to do things.
Looking back, one of the reasons why I liked staying in bed for as long as possible was because that was my time. It was really the only time I had that was purely mine. Of my week, 60 hours were given to my job or doing job-related tasks, 20 hours were spent commuting and the rest was spent with my friends. My time didn’t feel like my own, and the only time that did feel like mine was when I could be contained within my own thoughts, dreams and aspirations.
All of these techniques were developed because I wanted more time to work on something I’m passionate about. If you don’t have something that you’re passionate about, that makes you excited or that makes you feel like you’ve finally taken control of your life, then you’ll have no real urge to change. So maybe that should be step No. 1.
This article was published in August 2016 and has been updated. Photo by Charday Penn/IStock