The Epic Guide to Waking Up Early
I used to wake up at 5 p.m. Now I wake up at 5 a.m. and love my early morning time, especially for creative work.
I used to wake up every day at 5 o’clock — in the evening.
The bar I worked at closed at 5 a.m., and we’d have the whole crew at the neighborhood diner by 7. By 9 a.m. I was dropping into my bed and feeling grateful for my blacked-out windows, after taking the train with all the 9–5ers that were headed in to work.
Fast-forward to today. I’m self-employed and running my own business. I wear what I want, work when I want, sleep and wake up when I want — freedoms that I’d always wanted and are as awesome as I thought they’d be.
Surprising to many, including me, I now use that freedom to wake up at 5 a.m., and getting up early has been one of the most rewarding decisions of my life.
Here’s how I went from “not a morning person” to early bird extraordinaire, the practices and insights that helped me do it, and why I’ve fallen in love with the early rise. There’s truly nothing like it.
Stop Saying You’re “Not a Morning Person”
“I am” are two of the most powerful words in our language, and following them with “not a morning person” is the equation for mornings full of smashing the snooze button, feeling groggy, and asking yourself why you began this.
Or it will flat out keep you from really trying from the start. Because hey, you’re “not a morning person,” right?
This subtle mindset difference makes a difference. Another example of a subtle mindset change is when I tell people who want to change their diet to say “I don’t eat xyz” instead of “I can’t eat xyz.” Subtle difference, but the first one helps you feel in power instead of being restricted. When we’re restricted, a part of us often fights back.
To make this easy, we must start here and make sure that all parts of ourselves are on board the decision-to-get-up-early train. Choo-choo!
Start saying “I am a morning person.” Recognize that you are who you decide to be. This isn’t some nonsense motto to put on top of yourself as you stand in the mirror feeling like “not a morning person.” Treat the statement as a reflection or confirmation of a decision you’ve made. This is a tool to help you feel the change you’re making. You can add to the new feeling by picturing yourself having enjoyable mornings and continuing to say statements that reflect that experience.
“I am a morning person”→ “I love sipping my coffee in the early morning quiet” → “I always feel so rested and peaceful as I start my day.” Etc.
Ask yourself how else you can help yourself feel like a morning person. That’s all this is: helping yourself to feel different.
And if “I am a morning person” feels too uncomfortable or farfetched, start by saying “I can be a morning person.” Because it’s true, you can! Then follow the same steps.
Get Clear on Why You Want to Wake Up Early
Here we answer the ever-important, age-old question: “What’s in it for me?”
Two reasons this step is a big deal:
- It gets rid of the shoulds.
- Having clarity on a real why (not a should) gives you the meaning needed to do anything new, but especially to change a behavior. Not only does it give you meaning to inspire and motivate you, but your new why needs to be better than your current why for getting up later in the day.
While each day I lean more and more toward the opinion of “waking up at 5 a.m. would be amazing for everyone,” I’m still going to tell you the same thing I tell every coaching client, every workshop attendee, and every Uber driver that I invite to share their aspirations with me:
Only do it if you really want to, if you feel excited about it.
Why? Because we’re here to live a life we enjoy, so why would we spend it doing anything else but what we really enjoy doing?
This needs to be for you.
And there are two main reasons people fill their lives with things they don’t want to do or don’t enjoy:
- They believe the situation doesn’t get better than it is now (“Work is meant to suck.” “Mornings suck.”)
- Because they think the thing they don’t want to do is something they should be doing.
Operating like this doesn’t make for a happier life, just as it doesn’t work for changing our behavior. If you don’t actually want to do something, it’s way, way harder to do it. And if you change the behavior despite not wanting to do it, then it will be harder to maintain and will have a higher chance of reversing down the line.
So step one, ask yourself, “Do I want to wake up early?”
And if you get a yes, it’s time to answer: “Why?”
- Do you like the idea of having your work done by noon?
- Have a book you want to write and could use the quiet space to write it?
- Want to see what all these people that wake up early and are living successful lives are benefitting from?
- Want to carve out time to start working out, start a daily writing habit, or finally nail down that luxurious morning routine?
- Want to feel like your mornings are yours instead of your employer’s, that you’re not existing only to get to work on time?
- Want to feel happier, eat a regular breakfast, or enjoy the benefits of a consistent sleep routine?
- Did you read a Medium article on ten reasons why you should wake up early and internally shouted, “I want this!”?
And once you have your why, write it down alongside:
- How you want to feel (both in life and at the start of your day)
- Who you want to be (for yourself, for your loved ones, for society)
- How you want to live
- What you want to do in life (start a business, travel the world, get married, invent a new garbage can — nothing is off limits here, so be sure to list every wild thing that comes to mind)
Take your time with this. It’s important that you start to make these morning plans from a place of being connected with what you really want, because getting up early needs to help you achieve these things. When you’re able to connect all of this, your motivation and commitment will skyrocket.
To enhance the results from this step, you can ask yourself why you currently wake up at the time you do. Do your answers have anything to do with the life you want to live — from your goals to how you want to feel? Chances are they don’t. You’re waking up because you have to, or you’re waking up later because you “hate mornings.” Hating mornings is a choice, the choice we change in step one. Seeing that your current why for getting up later doesn’t help you in the big picture can help you drop the behavior and make it easier to pick up the new one.
As you take your time doing this step, make sure you’re paying attention to any shoulds that come up in your why. This is a time to remove them. Keep your whys should-free.
Set Up Your Best Nighttime Routine
At first, my nighttime routine was created to help make sure I got up on time the next day, but that’s not really its purpose. While it certainly helps, if you follow the steps after this one, then your nighttime routine won’t determine whether or not you get up.
What your nighttime routine will affect is:
- How you feel as you end your day
- How you feel as you wake up
- How much sleep you get
Your nighttime routine’s primary function is to make sure you get enough sleep. And it doesn’t start an hour before bed.
I’m still making changes to my evening routine to better accommodate this. For example, I now view 4/4:30 as a time to start making dinner. That may sound ridiculous to anyone under 60, but hear me out.
Dinnertime used to be 6 or 7, with some time to eat, relax with my wife, and go to bed. But I didn’t end up with much time to relax because at 8:30, I’m cleaning up from dinner and doing final chores. Before 8:30, in the back of my head, I’m paying attention to the fact that I need to wrap things up at a certain time to take care of things up before bed, from cleaning the kitchen after cooking to brushing my teeth. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but it actually sucked. One, I don’t want to spend the last minutes or hour of my day doing that. Two, when your body gets used to a 9 p.m. bedtime, you’re sleepy at 8:30. I was spending the end of my day feeling tired and cleaning. Who ends their day tired and doing chores by choice?
It felt defeating, so I changed it up. Now I’m eating by 5 o’clock, everything is done and put away by 6 or 7, and that’s it. I coast until bed. I love it. I even look to have my teeth brushed by or before 8 (this also helps me be more mindful about eating before bed.) Cooking and dinner are also considered part of my wind-down — I really enjoy them. Really, I’m relaxing from about 4:30 to 9, and I feel so good going to bed.
This might look different for you. That’s where the clarity on how you want to feel and what lifestyle you want from step two is important. It will inform how you craft your routines.
Envision how you’d like to feel throughout the evening and when your head greets your cool, plump pillow. Then ask yourself what you can do in your evening to feel this way or what needs to happen for you to feel this way as you end your day. Plan it out, try it out, refine, and repeat.
Make It Non-Negotiable (or, Commit)
Let’s talk about this in two parts:
First, the most challenging part of this change is how different it might be from your friends’, family’s, and partner’s lifestyles. Here are some insights to help get past this:
- The most important thing in your life is your relationship with you and your happiness. Period. Acknowledge this. It’s not selfish, it’s self-loving.
- Is your new bedtime causing a constant calendar mismatch with your friends and loved ones? Well, there are weekends, or whatever days the people in your life have off, or the time before or after work. Have ’em come over for dinner immediately after 5, or start an activity at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. There’s always a way around it. Plus, those that are a match for your happiest and most fulfilling life will naturally still fit in somehow, and those who aren’t will naturally drift away. It’s the easiest way to filter out the people that aren’t truly a match for you and the life you want to live.
(Side note: pursuing your dreams? Getting up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday is a great way to complete the projects you’re excited about and still have 10 a.m. — 6/7 p.m. with whomever you want, doing whatever you want.)
- Take a look at people living a lifestyle reflecting the one you want. What time do they get up? It’s probably early. Guess what friendships have opened up through the ease of a daily-routine match? All of them. Brené Brown, Gary Vee, whoever it is, they’re all up early. When I take a look at the people I most look up to, that I love having in my life or would be thrilled to have on speed-dial, they all wake up early. I’m inviting those relationships in. Not just through getting up early, but by firmly making decisions that align with my ideal life experience.
- Know that as you commit to your new schedule, the rest of your life will fall in line to complement it. Trust: Anything you do for yourself that is aligned with what you truly want, especially a habit or lifestyle change, will have miraculous results for the rest of your life. You just have to stick with it.
Which brings us to our second point…
Pick what time you’re going to wake up. For this article, we’ll stick with the example of 5 a.m. Again, this is about what aligns for you.
Now, say to yourself: “I get up at 5 a.m. every day, no matter what.”
This new time is non-negotiable. So is your evening routine. Get clear on your clock-related benchmarks for this lifestyle, and follow through.
Dinner at 5 is dinner at 5.
Bed at 9 is bed at 9.
Up at 5 is up at 5.
This is how you live your life now. Everything is scheduled around this.
(Special occasion? Eat dinner at 7, stay up until 11:30. Get up at 5 a.m. Things can be flexible for those meaningful occasions, but be sure to get up at 5 a.m. the next day.)
This isn’t a maybe. It’s not “if you feel like it.”
(We’ve already determined that this is a lifestyle you actually want. We’ll talk about how to deal with resistance to getting out of bed in a moment.)
This is the change. This is the thing you do every day now.
Up at 5. Up at 5. Up at 5. No matter what else happens, up at 5.
And if you wake up at 5:30 one day? It’s totally okay. Up at 5 the next day. You didn’t fail, just keep going. People who wake up at 5 a.m. every day don’t “start over” if they wake up at 6 a.m. one day, or feel that they’ve failed their 5 a.m. lifestyle. They just get up at 5 a.m. again tomorrow. Mirror that.
Put Your Alarm Away From Your Bed
This is probably one of the most popular tricks out there for getting yourself out of bed. Do it.
Make sure you don’t say “I know this one” and then put your phone on your nightstand next to you. Put it out of reach of your bed.
I lived a week of spending 30–60 minutes in bed after my alarm went off, even after getting up at 5 a.m. for weeks. Each day I thought about putting my alarm away from me, and each day I thought, “Nah, I don’t need to. I can get up.”
I started getting up at 5 again the day I put my phone away from the bed.
This tactic works, it’s timelessly tried and true, and there might be that one day it helps, or you might need it every day for a while. There’s no reason to wait on it; just do it.
Honor Your Energy Levels
Getting up early does not mean starving yourself of rest. Ever. Not even at the start.
One key practice I employed when making this change was making sure I was up at 5 a.m. every day, but if after an hour or two I was still feeling really tired, I would go back to bed and take a nap. This way I built the habit of waking up at 5 a.m. but never starved myself of rest when I was tired. Sleep is important.
If you don’t have enough time to go back to bed after getting up early — maybe it would make you late for work — grab a coffee or tea and head out to what you need to do. When you’re done for the day, grab takeout, and have your dinner eaten by 6 (or as early as possible.) Go to bed earlier than your new bedtime. You’ll feel better the next day. You might even wake up before your alarm. On the weekend, you can take a nap if you’re still tired after getting up.
And if you don’t want takeout a few nights in a row just because you’re tired, you can get frozen meals or simply reflect and ask yourself how you can help yourself get to bed earlier and make your evening easier. Make sure you go to bed if you’re tired. Skip the Netflix, watch it tomorrow as you wind down. You’ll feel better and enjoy it more.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can adjust to your new schedule, especially when following these steps. Make it easy on yourself by honoring your energy levels and making simple adjustments along the way.
Remember: “Up at 5 a.m.,” no matter what. Have a glass of water, go to the bathroom, then do at least one more thing. If you’re still exhausted, use one of the solutions we just mentioned or come up with your own. Wake up early again tomorrow.
Start Listening to Yourself
Pay attention to how you feel when you first get up.
Maybe you notice an underlying anxiety: “I did it, I’m up at 5! I must make the absolute most of every minute, every second!”
Take a deep breath. You don’t need to write a novel or live out some idea of a “perfect morning” the first time you get up early. Let yourself know you have plenty of time. If you aren’t able to joyfully accomplish your ideal morning, joyfully accomplish what you can and then let that build.
Additionally, your idea of a perfect morning today might not be your idea of a perfect morning tomorrow, so don’t waste time feeling stressed about it. The most important part of creating these mornings is that you’re enjoying them. Always, always, always, the joy comes first.
My mornings change slightly every day. Some days that might mean sitting in the quiet for a bit, doing nothing. Some days I get straight to work, others I clean a bit. Sometimes I eat breakfast right away, other times not until 9. For me, I really enjoy that flexibility. My morning is mine. Some people thrive with a more exact routine. These parts are all personal.
Take your time. Get up at 5 a.m. or whatever new time you’ve set. If you only get to three parts of your new routine, it’s okay! Get up again tomorrow, see how it goes. Reflect daily, and take a look at why something isn’t happening if it keeps not getting done. Do you feel good? Are the things you’re consistently not getting to a should? Do you need a clearer why? What’s the underlying reason for the delay? Make the necessary change. You can also try going with the flow for a few mornings. See what routine develops.
Paying attention to how I feel helped me discover a fun trick to help you get out of bed when the alarm is going off and you’re fighting the new day.
Ask yourself in that moment: How do I want to feel this morning?
You’ll immediately change your situation because your answer, guaranteed, doesn’t match “lying in bed slightly miserable.” You’ll also notice that your misery is being created by your response in that moment and that self-awareness helps you not choose it again in the future. Even if you feel that misery the next morning, your response now is to simply change it.
Know That It’s a Process; You’re Truly Changing Your Life
And you are changing.
This process can be a profound experience. If you’ve ever made a big habitual change before, take a look at what it’s done for you and how changing even just one action changed everything. This is the same. And if you’ve never had this experience, you are about to hand yourself the absolute best gift, wonderfully delivered with a ton of life-changing insight.
Take your time. Commit. Observe. Be kind to yourself. Shift as needed.
Get Excited About It!
At this point, you have plenty of material to help you with this.
Making your morning yours, making it joyful, and being clear on why you’re doing this and the life it’s helping you create make getting excited about it easy.
So now, actually take time to feel excited about it! Go beyond thinking “that’s exciting” and take some time feeling the excitement. Let it expand. Feel the excitement everywhere in your body. If there’s an area the excitement doesn’t seem to spread to, breathe into that space while focusing on that excited feeling and allow it to flow to that area as it opens up. As you let this expand, you may even notice new ideas come in about this process or other things that excite you, or you may get really excited to go to bed just to wake up early!
Getting excited makes a huge difference in getting started. You can take time to do this every day while picturing the life waking up early is helping you create. Watch as your life changes drastically.
Things I Ended Up Loving About Waking Up Early That Helped the Habit Stick
- There’s this interview between Robin Sharma and Marie Forleo. This is what prompted me to give this whole thing a solid go. I’m not a big fan of “wake up early and become an elite human being!” type of language, but this mostly stayed away from that tone. Marie and Robin shared a few things that really resonated with me, including things I’d already thought about but had never heard anyone else say, like really only needing five hours of focused work each day.
- I love the quiet of the mornings, same as I loved the quiet of late nights. Now I get that same experience but feel refreshed. I could operate late night, no problem, but it still isn’t the same as waking up in those wee hours instead.
- There is an energy within the world when the sun rises that is unlike anything else. I mean it. It’s like you can feel the vibrations of the planet rise in this very steady, present, and full way. There have been mornings where I’ve felt completely wiped but then felt as though the world lifted me out of it as the sun rose and the planet came alive. It’s incredible to experience. Don’t worry if you don’t notice at first. I’d been getting up for a few weeks before noticing myself.
- The first time you finish your work for the day and you look at the clock to find it’s 10 a.m. is life-changing. I experienced it the first day, and that sealed the deal pretty quickly. (But again, pay attention. In the morning, do you get up the next day with anxiety to produce the same results? Take a deep breath. Take your time and have the day you have while approaching it joyfully.)
- Didn’t get to something today that you wanted done by tomorrow? Even if it needs four hours to complete, you can have it done by 10 a.m. If I’m releasing a podcast on Sunday that still needs finishing touches, but I want to go out with friends or family Saturday, I can. I get up early enough to finish what I need to do to still release that episode Sunday morning. Late for you is now on time or early for everyone else.
- Uninterrupted work. It’s my favorite time of day to get anything done. Especially creative work or things that are important to me.
- Even though you have the same amount of waking time (assuming everyone is sleeping eight hours), when you wake up early, it always seems like you have more time than everyone else.
In the interview I just mentioned between Robin Sharma and Marie Forleo, Robin mentions to just give it 66 days, and that after 66 days it’ll be easier to wake up at 5 a.m. than not to. So I thought, “Okay, Robin. I’ll take you up on that.”
Sixty-six days can sound like a lot, but you lose count quickly. I found you shift a lot in just the first week and a half. I downloaded his 5AM Club app, which helped me keep count when I wasn’t counting (it just keeps moving ahead without you touching it.)
Even without waking up at 5 a.m. for all 66 days, by the end, it was certainly my new MO. But really, the change happened within the first couple of weeks. Once you experience some of the benefits, you’re hooked. From there it’s just about it getting easier and easier.
Give yourself, and the life you want, a fair shot. Take responsibility for the life you’re creating, and establish your habits based on what you really want instead. And remember, always, enjoy yourself!