First, let me preface this by saying that I am not a morning person. While I do feel a pang of anxiety when I wake up and see that it is well past noon, my eyes rarely see the 8 a.m. sun. Without prior commitments planned for the next morning, my body clock will set itself to sleep for an automatic ten hours without fail (and that’s not even on days when I’m actually tired). In turn, this means that I’m a bit of a night owl. I’m much more likely to see 3 a.m. than I am to see 8 a.m., or let’s be real, 9 a.m. I might only be 22 years old, but there are certain parts of myself that I already know very well—and one of those things is that I love to sleep.
Now, that’s not to say I’m not trying to change. There are so many testaments to the obvious good that can come from picking up new habits like cutting out added sugar or meditating on the daily, but I think it’s actually working up the nerve to incorporate these new habits into my routine that trips me up the most. You can tell yourself all day that you want to begin something new, but putting your thoughts into action is a completely different thing altogether, and let’s just say, that’s not really my forte.
The real reason I decided to embark on this journey was actually a story by Amelia Diamond over on Manrepeller. Diamond says herself that she was never a morning person. Keyword “was.” She now wakes up at (shock!) 7 a.m. Her story was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Armed with an arsenal of advice from around the Internet, I grabbed my phone, set my alarm, and never looked back. Here’s how it went.
The First Half
My journey began on a Wednesday, which is actually my favorite day to test new habits. It happened to coincide with a pretty lucrative side hustle (it was babysitting, okay?) that required me to wake up at 6:30 a.m. in order to both make it there on time and have at least 20 extra minutes to myself in the morning. It’s not a whole lot of time, but it’s a big step up from having zero. This gig would last me until Friday, so I figured it was a solid start to get me into the groove of becoming a morning person.
This actually worked pretty well for the first two days. Wednesday’s morning was fueled by that adrenaline rush you sometimes get when waking up unusually early. You know, like when you wake up for a 4 a.m. flight? Because of this, I was looking at the city with new eyes. My walk to the subway felt like a stroll rather than the classic “go as fast as you can without breaking a sweat” walk (if that can even be considered walking—at least in New York it is). I loved how quiet the city was when it was just waking up. The sky was light and the air was cool. New York City almost felt still, and I really appreciated seeing this hidden side of it. (Well, hidden for me.)
Thursday’s morning went similarly well, but it was the afternoon where everything started to change. The day just felt so long; I had been awake for so many hours and my brain felt like it was running on empty. Nothing could help make this feeling go away and all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed as soon as I got home. On Friday, that is exactly what I did. As soon as I finished my errands, I face-planted onto my mattress (I’m exaggerating but… not that much) and fell asleep instantly in the middle of the afternoon. My unplanned nap left me feeling groggy, confused, and ultimately, still tired. I managed to fall asleep around 12:30 that night, which was about an hour after I had been forcing myself into bed (night owl, remember?) but by then, nothing seemed to make a difference.
Forcing myself to keep this lofty expectation without any sort of preparation caught up with me. I was exhausted, and by my fourth day, I was burnt out. Lucky for me, it was a Saturday and I didn’t have any plans. So when that 6:30 a.m. alarm went off, without even thinking, I shut it completely off and slept for two more hours.
When I woke up at 8:30 a.m., I felt defeated. Why couldn’t I hold onto this resolution for one whole week? I thought I had failed. This was just another goal that I couldn’t bring to fruition. I had missed the morning sun, I had missed the quiet NYC vibe that I had just been introduced to, and I simply missed the mark. So I pulled myself out of bed and began my day, albeit slowly. It was only a few hours later, after I had made breakfast, cleaned my kitchen, taken a shower, and completed some unfinished errands, that I realized, it wasn’t even noon yet?! I had already accomplished so much—and it felt amazing. I had forced myself into something that was harsh and unrealistic. The day I gave myself a break and relaxed my arbitrary rules a bit, I realized it didn’t have to be as huge of a shift as I told myself it had to be. I could do this gradually, I could do this how I wanted, and really, I could do this.
The Second Half
The next few days could not have been more different. I changed my alarms from a rather unreasonable 6:30 a.m. to a much more realistic 8 a.m. This might not sound early for some, but remember, my baseline wakeup time is a cool 10 a.m. With those extra hours, I was able to have real “me time” in the mornings, which up until this point, had basically been the stuff of legend. I emphasize the word “real” because this time around it wasn’t rushed or clouded with the lingering exhaustion of sleeping so much less than usual. I took advantage of the fact that it was Sunday and really extended my “me time” if you know what I mean. I just let myself stay in bed, scrolling my phone longer than I normally would. And that’s totally fine! Me time, baby! So by the time my morning chill-out was over and I was getting out of bed it was about 9 a.m. To me, this was awesome. I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely up and ready by 9, and on a weekend too?! Like I said, this might not be the “earliest” time, but my progress was now measured on my own terms. I had spent three days accidentally turning into a zombie before I realized that.
My Monday and Tuesday mornings were simple in nature. I was able to wake up slowly after my new 8 a.m. alarm, make myself a good breakfast and eat it at home (instead of on the street, while dodging other commuters), and check up on the morning news (read: Twitter) before work. I could have used this time to take a morning shower, but I personally prefer to do that at night so that just meant I had even more time to ~chill~ before starting my day. What was interesting to note was that I still retained most of the same buoyant energy I had from the Wednesday before, but it was far more natural; I would say it was organic. It wasn’t fueled by a lack of sleep, but, get this, by being well-rested? Wow, a concept.
By the end of my first week, I felt great about my new decision, and I felt comfortable enough with it to know what did and didn’t work for me. Was it still hard to immediately rise out of bed every morning way earlier than my body wanted to? Of course, it was. But this was actually where one of Diamond’s best lessons came in. Right when she started what she calls her “Big Morning Decision,” she made a plan and set small goals. The deal she made was that “For one week, I just had to open my eyes when my alarm clock went off. The second week, I actually had to sit up. By the third week, I had to get my ass out of bed.” If this was a habit that I wanted to keep, then I had to understand that there would be days where it would be hard, especially in the beginning. I was doing this to change myself for the better, after all, not just to try it out and then decide it wasn’t for me because I didn’t immediately fall into it the first go-round. I couldn’t rely on the instant gratification that I’m sometimes accustomed to receiving. This was something that I wanted, so I knew I had to work for it.
So after a week of doing what had originally felt impossible, what did I learn? Here’s my biggest takeaway: Don’t be too hard on yourself! Set realistic goals and understand that they can be changed, or even broken, in order to find what truly works for you. Even if it doesn’t feel like the huge, life-altering change you thought it would be, it will happen before you even notice. Five minutes earlier turns into ten minutes earlier, and ten minutes turns into twenty—pretty soon you’re standing in a 6:30 a.m. yoga class you never thought you’d make it to! Getting to work with enough time to not arrive sweaty, even after a morning workout? Now that’s what I call real, concrete, progress.