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Early Riser or Night Owl: Why It Doesn’t Really Matter

Early Riser or Night Owl: Why It Doesn’t Really Matter

    I bet you’ve heard this quote before:

    “The early bird gets the worm…” – William Camden

    Perhaps you’ve heard it in reference to your own sleeping habits. There are numerous articles on the web where writers tell you that one of the best ways to become more productive is to get up early. By doing so, you get a jumpstart on the rest of the world and reap the benefits of a quiet work environment — among other things.

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    Yet for the amount of articles that all about getting up early, there are many people who struggle to do just that. I’m one of them. I’ve tried time and time again to get up early, to “reset my internal clock” to make that happen…and I can’t seem to make it stick. While failure isn’t the worst thing in the world when it comes to this (and other efforts, for that matter), after trying to become an early riser more times than I can remember, this quote came to mind:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

    Now I wasn’t doing the exact same thing each time I made an effort to change my sleeping and waking habits, but I realized that the act of trying to change my habits was the problem. That’s where the insanity was coming into play. I was frustrated that I simply couldn’t do what I thought I should be able to do — and I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working.

    And then it came to me: I’m not meant to be an early riser. I am a night owl and I needed to embrace that rather than fight it.

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    Further to that, I examined how somebody who’s a night owl could essentially “hack their day” in the same way as an early riser does. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same benefits that apply to early risers can belong to night owls too.

    Quiet Time

    If you’re up past the bedtimes of those in your home, then you’re going to get the same sense of quiet that the early riser gets. Plus, if you woke up later in the morning, you won’t be as tired when you get down to whatever you plan to do with that quiet time because you’ve been awake for far longer than the early bird will be. As someone who does a lot of writing, I have found that I’m at my best in a creative sense later in the day, once all of my essential actions and errands have been taken care of. I call it my “Finally Time” — I finally have the clarity of thought, quiet I need and time I want to get my great work done.

    Getting Ahead

    While many are up at the crack of dawn and getting an early start to their day, I’m sleeping. And I’m no further behind because of it.

    You see, I’ve already done the things that I needed to get a jump on the previous night. I’m no less productive than the early riser because I did what they do in the morning hours during the late hours the day beforehand; I am being proactive in my own way.

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    The notion that early risers are more productive than night owls is a myth. They just do “more productive” differently. How they allocate their time is the key.

    Stop Struggling and Love the Late Hours

    I started off by offering a very famous quote…but there’s more to it than what I initially delivered. My favourite addition to that quote is:

    “The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” – Jeremy Paxman

    To some that may mean that you should proceed with caution rather than be first into the fray, but I tend to look at it differently.

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    There is no advantage to being an early riser over being a night owl when it comes to increasing your productivity. It’s all in how you handle what comes at you – day and night – and making sure that you handle in it in a way that suits you and your lifestyle. If you find that you like getting up early, go for it. If you don’t, then don’t change that.

    Listen to your mind and body and drive yourself to do more when it works for you. Don’t drive yourself insane trying to do anything that doesn’t.

    (Photo credit: Time to Wake Up via Shutterstock)

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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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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