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Wake Up: How Early Mornings Changed My Life

Throughout my life, one thing that has been really consistent is that I have definitely not been a morning person. During the first hour after waking up, I didn’t actually speak English (it was more of a grunt-based language). I dreaded early meetings, and avoided them like the plague. Often, I would wake up at the last minute (after snoozing 3 alarms), rush my way through the morning routine, and just make it to work on time.

All that is in the past now. I feel like a completely different person.

It all began during a particularly stressful week. I felt like I was spending every single day just playing catch-up. It was frustrating, exhausting, and overwhelming. I needed to change something. So, I started by taking a closer look at my day, finding the most stressful periods, and trying to find ways to alleviate them. The first target was my morning routine.

At first, I thought mornings would be among the more relaxed periods of the day, given that there are no meetings, work, or major responsibilities to the outside world. As I thought about it more, I realized my morning routine caused me tons of stress. Feeling rushed in the morning was easily one of the most stressful parts of my day. Furthermore, I realized that rushing first thing in the morning is a pretty heavy cost to pay, because it affects everything you do for the rest of the day. Your mood, energy, confidence and motivations are all impacted by it. It’s like having a poor start to a race — you’re going to spend the rest of the time trying to make up for it. Put simply: the morning matters.

The Morning Rush

Let’s analyze my typical rushed morning routine:

  1. WAKE UP. You angrily silence an alarm that you’ve just snoozed three times already. You slept late last night (as usual), so you’re really groggy.
    • You’ve been awake for about 15 seconds, and you’re already frustrated. Great start to the day.
  2. GET UP. Stumble your way out of bed. Hurry up! You’re already late!
    • 60 seconds into your day, and you’ve already managed to give yourself shit, and feel guilty. Nice.
  3. WASH UP. Rush into the bathroom and brush your teeth as fast as possible. Resent the fact that brushing takes this long.
    • You’re not wearing pants yet, but you’re already developing strong feelings of hatred toward inanimate objects.
  4. EAT. Who has time for breakfast? Skip it. I’ll buy a coffee at work. That’s the same thing.
  5. SHOWER. Seek to set a new record in fastest shower ever. That will mean I am productive, or something.
    • As it turns out, taking a shower can be one of the most healthy things to do (beyond the hygiene benefits). Because you can’t do much else (i.e. use your phone), you get time to think. It can be one of your most valuable periods of time for brainstorming and processing thoughts. Too bad.
  6. DRESS UP. I hate deciding what to wear. It takes too long. I don’t have time for this. I’ll just wear the same thing again. No one will notice anyway.
    • You’ve definitely made sure that no one will notice you today (#winning?). But choosing what to wear is not supposed to be stressful. Even if you allowed yourself 1 minute (a full, calm 60 seconds), it could be quite fun. Maybe you could even visit the corner of your closet and wear those clothes you bought a while ago. They still have the tags on them…
  7. EXIT. Do I have my keys? Where’s my wallet? What else do I need today? How does this happen EVERY SINGLE DAY?
    • It doesn’t just "happen"… you make it happen. Every. Single. Day.

You get the idea. For each of us, these steps are a little different, their impacts are a little different, but one thing is similar: we all suffer by rushing, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Now, we’ve all read articles like this, and heard the reasons why it’s bad. Heck, there are even age-old expressions about being the early bird, so this obviously isn’t new advice (seriously though, who the hell wants to eat a worm?).

What made me change?

Breakfast. Yes, consistent with foodie culture of today, the thing that really got me to stay consistent with my early schedule was breakfast. There are many benefits to my new schedule, but when I wake up in the morning and think about what I get to eat today, I get excited, and that gets me out of bed.

At the minimum, I eat an everything bagel with butter, turkey bacon, and a watermelon drink. Sometimes I vary it up, but the key is that it must be easy to make, and delicious. I don’t think too much about the calories in the butter (side note: margarine is not necessarily better than butter), or the turkey bacon. It really doesn’t matter that much, as long as you balance it with healthy meals (one thing I’ve done to balance out is cut out Coke entirely. That alone has a HUGE effect).

Before I started waking up early, I never even ate breakfast. I didn’t have time to eat it, let alone make it. I just wish I realized earlier in my life that I always had the time, I just need to prioritized breakfast as part of my routine, and ensure I wake up early enough to benefit from it. For me, breakfast is my way of rewarding myself for getting up early.

Everyone is motivated differently

Breakfast may not be the motivation for you. However, there may be something in your daily routine that, if given the chance, could really motivate you to get up just to experience it. Maybe you want to spend more time thinking in the shower, picking the right outfit, or doing some light reading. Whatever it is, it can be helpful to optimize around one thing that’s specific to you, rather than waking up early "because you should".

Morning 2.0

Once you do take control of your mornings, you’ll find that your routine is so much more relaxed and free. You’ll feel less rushed, less stressed, and less guilty. You’ll go to work confident, positive, and energized. Lastly, you will have much longer days, and will get tired earlier. For those among us that suffer from occasional insomnia (this plagued me for years), you’ll be less likely to have sleepless nights since you’ve had a full day.

Each of us will probably have a different time that works best for us. For me, waking up around 7:30AM gives me enough time to slowly wake up, wash up, make breakfast, eat, enjoy some morning media (a quick video clip, podcasts, etc.), before I finish getting ready and head off to work. It also affords me lots of "offline time" (e.g. showering, cooking) to think about my day and get ready for it. Furthermore, because I wake up earlier, I finish work earlier, and have more time to spend with my spouse at home. This is extremely valuable, even if it’s just a couple hours watching TV or reading together.

The benefits have been so great that I’ve been waking up early consistently for almost six months now — I’m hooked. This is a really big deal for me, given that I considered waking up around 10AM to be early for the previous three decades of my life.

So this week, give your morning routine a chance to be a friend rather than a foe. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to the rush. There’s no risk, really. Once you try it, though, I bet you’ll never look back.

Let me know if you tried the routine, and how it went for you by commenting on this post, or hitting me up at @daretorant.

Have a great morning!

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  1. Will anything beat the french toast from the wellness center though? Regardless, love the advice – definitely giving it a try.

    • Absolutely not 🙂 But, if anything, that inspired the idea that breakfast can be a motivator. On that note, I should figure out how to make that french toast at home…!

      Thanks for reading and responding 🙂

  2. Great post Salman — now that I think about it, pretty much all the most productive people I know are early birds. Every once in while I’ll get on a couple day streak of getting up early, but it definitely fluctuates — this article is some good motivation to have at it again!

  3. Awesome post Salman. I second the benefits of an early morning routine. There’s something about waking up early that sets the tone of a day. I’ve been following a routine of sorts too and I find it has a way of setting your mind and setting the context for the rest of your day. And if your repeat that every day you’ve got thousands of great days under your belt.

    For anyone interested in learning more, I’d recommend reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey or Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning.

    • Very cool! Thanks for sharing that 🙂

      Yeah, honestly, the list of reasons could have gone forever, but I needed to stop writing the post at some point 😉 Another thing I love (that isn’t applicable everywhere) is just being awake for more sunlight hours. Having spent so much time in east coast has really made me appreciate the sun in California, so I enjoy waking up, opening the blinds and feeling enriched with some rays!