Of all the habits I’ve incorporated into my life this year, waking up at 5 am has been the most valuable. In the early morning, my canvas is still blank and I’m at my most creative. It’s before the colors of a morning commute run down my sides and the sloppy brushstrokes of emails and text messages find me.
My canvas gets filled as the day goes on and the window of possibility gets smaller. By the afternoon I’m bleeding. Heavy with half-dried paint.
But in the predawn darkness, my canvas glows white and my color wheel is full. The slate has been wiped clean and everything is new. Everything is possible.
I started waking up at 5 am as a way to get a few hours of writing done before work. I didn’t feel like I had enough hours in my day, so I created more. But now, 9 months in, I can say that waking up early is much more than another “productivity hack.” It’s had a ripple effect that’s touched all the areas of my life and simply put, made my life better.
“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” -Jerzy Gregorek
Getting out of bed is difficult in general. Doing so while it’s dark out can feel like medieval torture. And that’s the point. It’s doing the hard things first that sets the momentum for the entire day. It doesn’t really matter what you do once you’re up. Just by getting out of bed at an ungodly hour means you’ve won the first of many mental battles that are waiting for you.
Discipline is at the root of all good habits. Cultivate it into your routine and it’ll be there when your motivation is still asleep.
A head start on the world
At 5 am the sun is still asleep and the moon is just finishing her shift. It’s the purgatorial, in-between of day and night and you’re there to watch it happen. There is a strange sense of satisfaction knowing that your day is starting while most people are still in bed.
Whatever you do in the morning is up to you— Read, meditate, exercise, or just play. But knowing that you’re up and ready ahead of the world has power. It’s one of the reasons Kobe Bryant continued to be the first player on the floor for warm-ups, long after he was established as the best player in the league. Being first holds psychological power.
It’s easy to overlook just how hard silence is to come by until you actually find it. The sounds of the world will find you soon enough, but at dawn, we more control over the volume around us. By all means, make 5 am yours — play music, watch tv, talk to yourself. Personally, the only sounds I want to hear at that time are the coffee machine bubbling and my fingers hitting the keys on my laptop.
No need to rush
When I wake up late I have to get moving right away. It’s shower, clothes, coffee, “See ya later!” My mind is already focused on the day ahead before I even breathe in the morning air.
Just as the relaxed pace of an early morning follows us throughout the day, the frenetic energy of feeling rushed sticks around as well.
Sunrises are better than sunsets
Sunsets are nice and full moons are beautiful. In fact, anytime the sky does things people gather around and Instagram feeds rejoice. But the reason sunrises are extra special is because they take more effort. Chances are you’ll see fewer in your lifetime than their counterpart.
A sunrise is you and that big fiery ball wishing each other luck for the day. It’s hello instead of goodbye.
Are you convinced? Of course, you are.
Have a plan
Whether your aim is to increase productivity or not, you’ll need a plan for the morning before your alarm goes off. Taking the guesswork out of the equation is always a good strategy for getting more done, but it’s particularly important here since your sleepy little brain is going to try and bargain its way out of getting up.
Knowing exactly what you’re going to do once your feet hit the floor will give you a huge mental edge over the snooze button.
Want to know the best trick for waking up early? Set your alarm and when it goes off get the f*ck out of bed. If you give your brain a chance to ponder why you’re getting up before the sun it WILL talk you out of it. Just zombie walk towards the coffee machine and it’ll all make sense eventually.
Work up to it
The first week or so will be hard to adjust, but like most things: Consistency breeds simplicity. If you can’t quit sleeping in cold turkey, try waking up 30 minutes earlier each day until you reach your target. If you want to be in the 5 am club but normally rise at 8 am, this strategy gets you there by day six.
Whether you do it all at once or work up to it, it takes most humans 7-10 days in a row to adjust.
Go to bed!
As much as I’m a proponent of waking up early, I am a much bigger fan of getting enough sleep. “Well, some people just need less sleep than others.” Nonsense. You need 7-8 hours. Yes, you. The benefits of waking up early aren’t worth much if you aren’t getting enough sleep to function throughout the day.
When life keeps me up and out until midnight or later, I push that alarm forward.
Remember, it doesn’t matter what you do
At least in the beginning, just waking up early is the goal. Once you make it a habit you’ll see the morning as your oyster and you’ll make good use of the time. Maybe you read, write, or do yoga. Hey, maybe you wake up early and tag your friends in hilarious memes so they can have a laugh right when they wake up. Not all heroes wear capes.
Whatever you do, make the morning yours and enjoy a head start on the world.