Waking up early is probably the most popular topic amongst the personal development blogs. Not to mention the fact that is almost the first thing you hear during a personal development seminar: I will teach you how to wake up early, my friend. It’s the “Hello World” of the personal development (“Hello World” is the first application you build when you learn a new programming language). I have to admit that I was quite busy with this too, back in my early personal development endeavors.
So, why is this so important after all? Why waking up early? In today’s post I’d like to focus on the reasons behind this popular topic as well as on some of my own techniques to accomplish this.
No Time Mindset
With all due respect, I think that waking up early comes from a “I have no free time” mindset. Waking up early is for people who have daily jobs but want to win extra time on the side. Waking up early is a signal you send to yourself with the content: “free some of my limited, allotted time, and do it early in the morning”.
That approach changes your time perception. It makes time a finite resource. We may perceive time as a finite resource, but that’s only a convention. You know, when you’re in love, a second can seem like minutes and an hour can last days. When you’re bored, a whole day may pass in a second. We manipulate time through our perceptions. If we perceive time as infinite it will be infinite, the same as it is when we’re in love.
The empty goal of waking up early changes our time perception into a limited resource.
So, waking up early as a goal comes from a scarcity mindset. The underlying reason is: “I am in serious trouble with my time, I don’t have enough, I have to win some otherwise I won’t be well”. Lack of something is a powerful motivator and this motivator works for many of us. Especially when you can have some quick and visible victories. If you can create a habit of waking up early in a week, you’ll have some quick victories on your side and that will make some boost in your self-respect. You get the feeling you are not missing that thing anymore.
But the main question is: “what are you going to do with all that free time?”. I know people who were really good at creating the habit of getting up early but they reverted back to a different routine after several weeks, because… well, because they had no idea what to do with that free time.
So, if we’re going to wake up early, we need a better reason for that. We need to know what are we going to do with that free time, otherwise it won’t work. Or at least, it didn’t work for me. Waking up early must be a consequence of something much bigger than a habit, it shouldn’t be just a goal on itself.
Assess Your Time
What are you doing with your time throughout the day? Have you ever had the curiosity to write it down, to journal your time usage? I bet you’ll have some big surprises. It might sound awkward to journal every 15 minutes what are you up to, but if you can do it for just one day long, it will be enlightening. You’ll be dazzled to find out that your daily time is huge, you’re just not using it properly.
But, suppose you’re using it properly, but need more. If you haven’t notice it so far, I am using my Assess, Decide, Do life management framework for this. If you haven’t read yet the ADD series, feel free to do it right now and then come back here to read this post. By using this ADD approach, we’re going to traverse each of the necessary realms (from assessment to doing) until we’re actually going to implement the habit.
So, for now we’ll be starting in our Assess realm. Suppose we really have to do more (out of pleasure, for instance: we started a nice project, we love it, and want to do more of what we like). We gathered all the information we need.
Here comes the decision realm. We can decide to free up some time throughout the day, by eliminating some other tasks, for instance, or we may chose to free up some time from our sleeping routine. Again, suppose we’re not going to free time from the early night (which will result in going to sleep later than usual) and we decide to free up from the morning routine.
As you may see, this approach is really different from other DIY tutorials or self-improvement programs. We take a step back and first we assess the need for that specific habit. And then, after we have all the information from the assessment realm, we make a decision. And again, note that the decision could be quite different from our initial intention: we may find out that we’ll be better going to sleep later than waking up early.
Now that we assessed the need, took the decision, all we have to do is implement the doing part.
Waking Up Early – How To
In my experience, there are two ways to achieve this: brute force and gradual adaptation.
Back in time 20 years, for a personal story. At that time I was doing my military service in a Romanian city called Timisoara. We were still under a communist regime and military service was pretty bad. But out of nothing, during December, some people in Timisoara started a Revolution which ultimately led to the fall of the communist regime. Years after, that was to be called the Romanian Revolution. I didn’t have any idea what was going on in the city, but the most important result for me, as a soldier, was that I was forced not to sleep for 5 nights and 6 days.
That’s what I call brute force. From that event on I was able to manipulate my sleeping patterns much more easily. The duration of that sleep deprivation was so huge that made 2 nights of sleep deprivation in a row actually manageable. Of course, I was under extremely stressful conditions. But the main result was that I knew I was able to do it. Ever since I find it really comfortable to have 24-36 hours in a row without sleep, every once in a while.
Word of caution: I do not recommend to try sleep deprivation like this, it was just an example on how bigger and faster moves can make regular moves achievable. It was also something that took place in very stressful conditions and also generated very stressful effects, apart from this new ability. Sleep deprivation can be extremely dangerous for your health, and it is something you should know before starting a waking up early routine.
Another example for brute force is running: if you manage to run one day 10 miles, you’ll find the next day quite comfortable to run 3 miles, although your regular habit is to run only 1 mile.
I was applying this technique in my guest posting habits also. I never had a guest post in my entire life, but that was until last month, when I decided it’s time to start doing this. And last month I implemented an experiment called “Massive Guest Posting” (feel free to read the post for more info) during which I wrote and published not one, not two, not three, but seven guest posts. To make things a little bit spicier, each post was part of a series, was published on a different blog in a different city on the globe, but at the exact same time.
Guess what, now I’m finding pretty comfortable to write 2 guest posts per month, and that without affecting my regular writing routine for the blogs I already own.
Gradual adaptation is a cumulative technique in which you are making and assessing small progress each day.
It’s the 5 minutes per morning rule: put your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier each morning. If you do this for a week, you’ll have 35Â minutes of free time. It’s important to assess the effects each morning, in order to see how much you can push. I know people who are able to push 5 minutes per morning for two weeks continuously. That gives them an extra 10 minutes aside the expected extra hour. Other seem to do it better in installments: 5 minutes for a week, than one week at the same hour. And then another week with the alarm clock 5 minutes earlier each morning.
Gradual adaptation works. Period. I never met somebody who didn’t get results from that. This is why is so spread as opposed to the brute force technique. I successful used gradual adaptation when I learned a new language and I found it much more appropriate than brute force. For instance, when I was in Japan I tried the brute force approach in learning Kanji. The result was a lot of frustration. I was so confident that once there I will learn my way out in one or two days that I totally neglected to learn some Kanji before getting to Japan. Once there, I was completely puzzled and despite my efforts I had to rely only on English signs for my orientation.
Waking up early works only if you have something to do with that hour. If you don’t, you’d be better sleeping more and hope you have some nice dreams. So, if you ever want to implement that habit, I highly suggest to give some meaning to that extra hour. Start a list of things that you have to do during that hour. And then do them.