Updated: Jan 11
It’s 6am and I am already working. I am sitting down to write this blog.
I cannot tell you how many "discussions" I have had with my husband throughout the years, over him trying to convince me that staying up until 1 or 2 am was not good for me.
“I’m a night owl!”
“All my siblings are night owls!”
“My mom is a night owl!”
“It runs in our blood!” (Incidentally I did hear there is some evidence for the genetic underpinning of people who are morning people versus night people.)
“I cannot go to bed early; I need some wind down “me time” before I end the day!! if I don’t get it, I toss and turn all night long!!” (And I went on to prove that to be true for a while).
Those were my assertions in defense of my lifestyle, particularly the last one.
At the same time, I did also harbor a quiet desire to become a morning person.
Debilitated by the amount of work perfectionism requires, I developed a robust habit of procrastination during my childhood which continues, albeit in lesser form, to plague me even today. I believe the dyad of perfectionism and procrastination may be familiar to some of you. As you can perhaps imagine, my many years of school included many years of all-nighters trying to meet deadlines for papers and preparing for exams. I would sometimes take a nap for a couple of hours when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and wake up around 4 or 4:30am refreshed and with clearer mind, and be able to finally churn out that “A” paper.
The pull of the clear morning mind and starting the day off being productive, kept calling to me. It has been my New Year’s Resolution every new year for the past several years, to wake up early before the rest of the house; to have those few quiet hours to myself to enjoy a slow cup of coffee as I watch the rising sun, to meditate or perhaps read, and maybe even get some work done before everyone woke up and the day spiraled into things I needed to do and people who needed me to do them. As we all know, however, human beings tend to need 7-8 hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning. So, ultimately, the pull of the morning was always sabotaged by my nightly need to wind down, or when I had a deadline looming, to “just get a little more done.”
GENERAL POINT ONE ABOUT CHANGING YOUR LIFESTYLE:
If there is something you have always said you want to do or want to become, but haven’t, there is probably something deeper in your psyche that you are unwilling to give up to become it. It is often the fear, or anticipated pain, of giving up something you think has been serving you that keeps you from becoming the person you want to be.
To change, you have to WANT to. So, the first thing to decide is “Do you really truly want it?” And here it is often useful to think about WHY you want it. Is it because you think you SHOULD want it? Is what you are striving for a “should” or an authentic want? This can sometimes be hard to distinguish since so many external “shoulds” become internalized "wants" through our basic human need to please so we can feel loved, accepted, and belong. Consciously, you may not be able to distinguish one from another, but the real deeper you, knows. There are ways to untangle the “should” and the "wants" (sitting still in yourself without external pressures to imagine what you really want, free association journaling, etc) and there are resources out there that dive into this question. Or, you can listen to our podcast next week where we will discuss some of these methods in greater depth, but for this blog I am going to start from where you know what you want.
Once you decide you really want something, but are still struggling to make it happen, look for the fear or pain behind what you imagine you would lose; what you think you would have to give up in order to become what you say you want to become.
I think after a long day of being what I felt others needed me to be, (remember I am a pleaser and want to be loved & accepted) I was afraid of not having the space to breathe, and just be. I believed I needed a space to numb the pressures and stresses of the day before I could settle and sleep, and I was afraid to lose it.
HOW DID I MOVE OFF FROM THIS STALEMATE POSITION? (i.e., How Do You Get Unstuck From Old Habits You Believe Are Serving You?)
Somehow, I became interested in ancient philosophers and their lessons on happiness, especially the Stoics. In a masterclass on calm.com by Ryan Holiday on, “Stoic Wisdom for Modern Life” (so worth the listen, and thank you Lucy Solinsky for suggesting it to me), Holiday laid out the principals of Stoicism for modern life of which the first was….can you guess? Wake up early!! Incidentally, even Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic understood the pull to stay in bed in the morning. In Meditations, 5.1, he wrote,
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
As much as the warmth of the bed draws us, Marcus Aurelius believed we were born to fulfill our duty, to contribute and work, and we need to wake up and do so. Seneca (a.k.a., “Seneca the Younger”), an earlier Stoic, underscored the preciousness of limited time during the day in his equal call to wake early:
“The day has already begun to lessen. It has shrunk considerably, but yet will still allow a goodly space of time if one rises, so to speak, with the day itself. We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn.”
But what convinced me most was Holiday’s own description of how he starts his mornings and what it FEELS like; he described the stillness, the sense of interconnectedness and humility that came from watching the rising sun, the walks he takes with his children before the business of the day intrudes, the feeling of being un-
rushed. He talked about not starting the day “on your back foot”, not having your day determined by the emails, texts, & tweets (!) you automatically reach for when you wake into a day that’s already buzzing and try to swallow the “what’s going on today” and the “to-dos” as you set off already behind. I was in AWE as he talked about his alternative morning routine of meditation, journaling, and watching the beauty of nature. Even more than all of that, were his words:
“Own the morning.”
Hal Elrod who wrote “the Miracle Morning,” says this in another way:
“You win the morning, you win the day.”
Building off a quote from Robin Sharma who said, “One of the saddest things in life is to get to the end and look back in regret, knowing that you could have been, done, and had so much more,” Elrod suggests applying this idea not to some future date in life, but to today; the saddest thing in life would be to get to the end of today and know you could have been, done, and had so much more. If we treat each day with that sense of urgency, we can make every day the best day of our lives.
To understand how, we need to go back to why we woke up today, says Elrod. Most of us wake up because we HAVE to; we think of the last possible moment we can wake up before we need to be somewhere or do something. This is what he considers the mediocre morning. But the alternative is to wake up because you WANT to. What if we wake up even 30 minutes or an hour before you have to and dedicate that time to working on ourselves through practices proven to make us a better version of ourselves (i.e., reading, exercising, journaling, meditation), then each day we would wake up to be a better version mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually of the person who went to bed the night before! Imagine how empowering, positive and productive that would feel.
Taking all of this in and imagining, truly deeply imagining what it would FEEL like to wake up early, Holiday and Elrod made me want it so bad.
This is what got me started in earnest to try to change my night owl lifestyle. The scale tipped from the anticipated losses to the imagined palpable gains of making the change.
GENERAL POINT TWO ABOUT CHANGING YOUR LIFESTYLE:
Your desire to change needs to be greater than the fear of what you would lose by changing. We can meet this challenge in two ways: 1. increase the desire for the change, or 2. decrease the anticipated fear or pain associated with it. I find moving toward a positive (greater desire for) more powerful for me, and one way to do this is to really deepen your imagination of what it would be like, using all five senses (feel, taste, see..) to embody what it would feel like, for you 2, 5, 10 years later when you have made the shift in your life. Imagine yourself actually being that person. How does it feel?
Holiday and Elrod helped me develop the imagination further in my mind, and it increased my desire. Read stories, listen to anecdotes of people of who have made the change you seek, search out people who exemplify your ideal, hang out with them, and ask them about their experience. All of this can help you envision the same life for yourself. Imagination is what creates the impetus for change. Each time you are tempted to sleep in or go to bed late, pull up the image, the embodied sense of what it would feel like to wake up before the world, and the scales will tip. I used to focus my energy on fighting not to give up the night, now I am focusing energy on gaining the morning. Focus on gain not loss, and your brain will work to get you there.
WHY DO I SAY I AM "BECOMING" A MORNING PERSON INSTEAD OF ALREADY BEING THERE? (i.e., Breaking the Resistance of Old You.)
Your fear will not give up its fight easily. After all, fear serves the role of self-protection and self-preservation. It is a survival mechanism and will fight you each step of the way. There are cognitive as well as other strategies one can use to address the fear directly, to reveal its erroneous beliefs and lessen its power. One could arguably even find alternative ways of fulling the needs behind the fears, but all of that takes some analysis and work.
Instead, I came across a powerful idea and concomitant strategy only recently, that allowed to make a huge jump into becoming who I want to be.
It’s not the habit (or fear) you need to break, it is the self-concept. If I keep saying to myself, I am a night owl, I will never (unless I hardly ever sleep) be a morning person. I now say to myself, “I am a morning person” and I add to that the imagery of waking up early and everything it would feel like.
Guess what? It works! I have woken up earlier ever since. I haven’t reached my 5 or 5:30 am goal, but I am waking up at around 6am, which is a shift for me. The fears and the perfectionism habits, fight me going to bed every night still which is why I am not yet at my goal, but each successful experience of “owning the morning” reduces the power of the fears, and my night time routine is shifting too.
GENERAL POINT THREE ABOUT CHANGING YOUR LIFESTYLE.
Change your self-concept and your habits will change. Decide you are the person you want to be. Claim it and you will become it.
GENERAL POINT FOUR ABOUT CHANGING YOUR LIFESTYLE:
Another piece to understand is, it is rare (unless there is a radical life event or disruption) that you will make some radical change in your life, all at once. Most lasting change happens in small steps; evidence has shown over and over that micro changes lead to big changes over time (James Clear, Atomic Habits). One thing is we often try to do when we get excited over a goal, is to try to do it all at once. When it doesn’t work immediately, we get discouraged and give up, and use it to confirm our old concept of ourselves (I’m a night owl! My family are generational night owls! I cannot change.). According to Clear, if you shift 1% toward your goals each day, by the end of the year you would be 37 times better than where you started. Break\your big goal is into manageable, doable, micro goals. The taste of success with small changes will give you the belief and reward to continue.
I’m moving my time back gradually. I am winning the morning, and I am loving the new me.