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Waking up Early Is Easier Than You Think: 10 Simple Things Early Risers Do

Waking up Early Is Easier Than You Think: 10 Simple Things Early Risers Do

After almost 30 years of being an avid anti-morning person (I almost had protest signs made), I now wake up early every day – at 6am to be exact (including weekends!) While my attitude toward mornings changed overnight, getting to a point where I could wake up early without wanting to cry has taken over a year to accomplish.

It all started when I read Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. This was at a time where I was fed up with my hectic lifestyle – a lifestyle we’re all made to feel we “should” want – so I began spending every spare moment learning various ways to get out of my rut. I learned not only who out of the insanely successful wake up early, but why, and how they spend that time. It sounded glorious!

So that settled it: I was going to become a morning person. Clearly you’d like to do the same or you wouldn’t be here. So, without further ado, here are 10 simple strategies on how to wake up early:

1. Let go of your morning baggage.

Like me, you’ve probably spent years cultivating your “mornings are evil” attitude: hitting the snooze button 37,256 times, dragging yourself out of bed just to grunt like a cave person until your coffee’s ready, and sharing every “I hate mornings” meme you can find on Facebook.

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Let it all go. Throw away every misconception embedded in you since school and start this process with a clean slate. The only way you’ll succeed is if your mind remains open and free of negativity.

2. Picture your ideal morning.

This is one of those rare situations where you actually can make your fantasy a reality. Picture yourself as the morning person you want to become: what do your mornings consist of? Are you quietly drinking your coffee on the patio? Reading a book? Doing yoga?

Also, what’s the atmosphere like? This will help you lay the groundwork for what will later become your morning routine. For example, if you want to drink your coffee on the patio but your dog won’t even spend time on it, use days off to create an environment you’d want to wake up to.

3. Tell only your loved ones about your plans.

At first, only share the changes you’d like to make with those you live with, since they too have to adjust to your new routine. Don’t tell anyone else until you’ve made considerable progress. Otherwise, their attitude toward mornings might negatively impact your frame of mind – or worse, their lack of follow-through in their own lives might rub off on you.

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4. Only focus on one act at a time.

Don’t do what I did and attempt to set a deadline for when you’d like to wake up early – it won’t happen. You never know what circumstances will get in the way of your progress, whether it be emotional resistance, or personal or professional setbacks. Take your time.

Focus on one act at a time: take note of what time you wake up now and when you’d like to wake up from now on. Set your alarm for 15 to 30 minutes earlier, and once you’re comfortable getting up at that time, set it earlier again, and again, until you’re comfortably waking up at your new early time.

5. Find an alarm that doesn’t turn you into the Hulk.

Some people have no problem with alarm clocks, but I find the beeping to be unnerving. I’m more comfortable waking up to the radio – it’s less abrupt and helps me transition into waking up, as opposed to startling me into an anxiety attack. Test out various alarm options and see which works best for you.

6. Keep your mornings pressure-free.

One thing we tend to lose as adults is the feeling of freedom we had as kids. When we had no sense of schedule, deadlines, goals, or pressure, we were always emotionally available and our imaginations made us feel like anything was possible. I’m not sure when this became “uncool,” but it’s truly the best way to start your day.

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What are the things you always want to do but never get to do? Establish what you love to do into your morning routine and stop feeling guilty about it! Not only will you start your work day refreshed and motivated, you’re more likely to wake up early when you’re excited to do so. When I started doing exactly what I wanted to do in the morning, my attitude toward everything changed and I became better equipped to handle future stress and challenges.

There’s no better feeling than creating a protected pocket of time when you can do what you love for no other reason than you want to.

7. Eliminate excuses to sleep in.

As you continue to adjust your sleep cycle, some days will be harder than others. There will be mornings where you’ll do everything to justify shutting off your alarm and going right back to sleep. Sometimes it will work, and you’ll want to slap yourself later for letting it happen.

During this rough patch, do what you can to make your mornings easier: if you’re so tired you even dread making coffee, program your coffee maker. If your home is cold in the morning, leave your housecoat and slippers beside your bed. If your mind flat lines when you try to decide on breakfast, decide the night before and prep the ingredients. Eventually, your abilities to wake up early and function will happen at the same time, but for now, throw yourself a bone.

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8. Refuse to break the chain.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the productivity hack “break the chain,” where you consider each day you accomplish your new habit a “chain link.” If you miss a day, you break the chain. It’s a great (and simple) way to stay motivated and push through the mornings you’d rather bathe with a toaster than wake up early.

9. Keep track of what you’ve accomplished.

One of the biggest motivators to continue waking up early is keeping track of what you accomplish when you first get up. By 9am, I have all of my major work accomplished while everyone else is just getting started. It gives a sense of calm to the rest of my day, because I don’t have to worry about interruptions or distractions preventing me from accomplishing my goals – they’re already met. Game. Set. Match.

10. Practice waking up early.

If you’re struggling to break up with your snooze button, try this: during the day, setup your bedroom as if it’s early morning and your alarm’s about to go off. Set your alarm for a few minutes from now, and practice getting up when it goes off sans snooze button. Alarm goes off, stand up. Alarm goes off, stand up, and so forth. This practice will eventually translate into you waking up early – and successfully.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

More by this author

Raphael Ha

Writer. Still waiting his chance to travel the world.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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