Here’s what I learnt:
First off, I might have a small advantage because I’ve always been something of a “morning person”. A morning person not necessarily based on my intrinsic characteristic as a person but by the circumstances that have shaped my life. Growing up, I’ve almost always lived in areas that for some reason weren’t remotely close to the places where I worked or went to school. The long, chaotic morning commute ahead of me meant that I didn’t have much of a choice and absolutely had to wake up early so I could make it to class or punch in on time. Don’t get me wrong, in no way does this fact make the idea of getting out of my warm, cosy bed at some ungodly hour more palatable to me. I reckon that with constant repetition over 23 years, a part of me seems to have caved in and accepted this rather unpleasant act as a way of life.
With the passage of time, work, relationships, side hustles and the occasional drinky poo came in the way of my daily ritual and before I knew it, waking up early became all but a thing of the past for me. All of that came to an abrupt halt 33 days ago when I quit my last full time job in order to pursue something more in life — but that’s another story, more on that soon.
I now suddenly found myself in a new world order where I didn’t have to punch in or make it to my class on time. As a self professed creature of habit, not having an incentive to plan my routine around made little to no sense. Most people I spoke to told me that they would kill to have the option to wake up whenever they wanted or stay in bed all day with Netflix and a bag of nacho chips.
The absurdity of these comments were downright horrifying to me and I knew that I needed to do something radical to ensure that I had the daily incentive to plan my day around, else I would succumb to waking up at 12 in the afternoon in nothing but my Spiderman boxers and my chin covered in a fine layer of Cheeto dust-stubble.
There were a bunch of things that I wanted to achieve everyday and the only possible way I could do everything that I wanted to was by waking up early, gathering momentum and using the same momentum to power through the day.
Now all I have to do is wake up at 05:00 every morning. I’ve done this before, should be easy peasy right?
Short answer, yeah it wasn’t easy. Psychologists say that it takes around 66 days to form a habit. What they don’t tell you is that the first 14 days are exponentially harder but it does get easier with time and consistency.
I managed to convince my mind and body into waking up at 04:50 on day 1. It felt good to be up before most people but the next question was… It’s 5 AM, I’m up, now what? I had been training for a half marathon for a while and decided to use the time to start my day off with a 10K run. Completed the run and things were great. I even managed to carry the momentum from the morning run through the day with my productivity levels reaching some of the highest levels I have ever observed. I now had a superb incentive to wake up by 04:50 every morning! Things seemed to magically fall into place.
Day 1 was so good that I didn’t have to spend too much time convincing myself to wake up and get out of the door at 5 AM on day 2. The momentum carried throughout day 2 and I experienced very similar productivity levels to day 1. I had already found my groove and it had only been 2 days!
As I was getting settled into my new routine and unlocking insane productivity levels, the first setback struck. On day 5, I decided to push myself hard during my training. I felt a sharp pain in my right knee but it took me a week to identify that I infact had Iliotibial band syndrome caused by an injury I received during my training and exacerbated by daily training without giving my muscles and joints a rest. This had caused my knee bursae to be rubbed raw.
To prevent permanent knee injury, I was sidelined from all marathon training for a recovery period of 2 months. 2 months!? Just when I thought I had things figured out. My productivity during this time frame also took a hit and though I was able to wake up on time, I couldn’t achieve enough every morning to give my day the momentum it needed for me to output high quality work at a rapid rate.
It took me a few days of walking and stretches but I have now recovered enough to train my muscles with conditioning exercises. Though I’m not rolling down the same highway of motivation as running a marathon, conditioning exercises are motivation enough to get me to roll out of bed at 5 AM and lace up my trainers. My productivity levels are slowly increasing and should improve over the course of this week.
Another issue that seemed to coincide with my injury was the lack of sleep due to a sudden influx of freelance gigs. With the Pacific Daylight Time zones back to haunt me, I was required to work well into the early hours of the AM in order to hit delivery deadlines. This didn’t change the fact that I still lived on Indian Standard Time and still had to be up by 5 AM for my stretching and injury recovery. Probably not too hard to guess that my productivity and spirit took quite a beating over the course of a tiring 2 weeks.
So what did I end up learning from waking up at 5 AM everyday for 30 days?
I have now come to look at waking up early every morning as mental conditioning. Despite having a few setbacks and not nearly enough sleep, pushing yourself to get out of bed every morning trains your mind to be tough and helps you neutralize any excuses that your crafty mind might think up every morning. With alarming rates of mental illness in young adults across the world, resilience and mental strength is something that we all need to build.
A good friend used to love the words “Show Up” so much that he got it tattooed on his forearm just to remind himself what he had to do everyday to achieve his goals. Waking up early definitely teaches you to be consistent in what you do. No weekend breaks or excuses. Your achievements are the sum total of the individual pieces of effort that you put in everyday.
- Listen to your body
Waking up early has positive effects on your body. Your metabolism has a 4 hour head start which means that an early nutritious breakfast gives you a window of digestion to allow for a blood-sugar level spike just as you start your work day. This energy is a part of what I like to refer to as the “morning momentum” that I harness to power through my work day.
Sleep is important to the human body so at times when I have worked a full day on 2 hours of interrupted sleep, the effects are very apparent. Inadequate sleep results in poor productivity, poor metabolism and even poor muscle repair and healing. In hindsight, I may have contributed to the slow healing of my knee but let’s just say that I did it for science and so you don’t have to ;)
So am I going to continue waking up every morning at 5 AM?
Yes, for me I see that the pros of waking up early far outweigh the cons. I’ve got to work on catching up on my sleep deficit and injury recovery so I might just treat myself to a nice lazy weekend but it’s straight back to the grind for me starting next week.