How to Make Yourself a Morning Person

Mornings are the one window of time which, if mastered, can change your whole day—or even your life. At least that’s the message offered by the productivity industrial complex, which churns out books, videos and articles about the secret to executing a perfect morning. We’re regaled with the routines of important people who all seem to be competing to wake up earlier than their peers. It’s not enough to rise, shower, get dressed and commute to work on time: The world’s powerbrokers are doing daily affirmations, meditating, setting intentions, eating a balanced breakfast and, of course, exercising—often before sunrise.

As someone for whom waking up is more chore than joy, I’ve always felt inadequate next to these people. How could an owl like me ever achieve the success of a Indra Nooyi, Tim Cook or Michelle Obama—or even come close?

Our new podcast, Works for Me, was the perfect opportunity for me to find out if I could change my evening ways. Along with co-host Rebecca Greenfield, I attempt to solve our productivity problems using the solutions touted in blog posts, TED talks and bestsellers. My first experiment was called RISE-UP, a method devised by Alison Harvey, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. The acronym suggests six steps designed to rouse you quickly from sleep and keep you awake: Refrain from snoozing, increase activity, shower or wash face and hands, expose yourself to sunlight and upbeat music, and finally phone a friend (at 6 a.m., that last one’s tough.)

Nevertheless, I committed to try all six, every day, for six weeks. If I could pack these steps into my routine, surely I could unlock the time and energy to add true meaning to my mornings. Daily affirmations and healthy breakfasts were just around the corner.

It didn’t quite work out that way.  Read on for three lessons I learned, or follow my whole clumsy journey on this week’s episode, where, as a bonus, you can hear Rebecca laugh as I grunt my way through a predawn yoga workout video.

Snoozing is the enemy

No matter what time you choose to wake up, you need to quit your snooze button to gain momentum for the day. 

My snooze habit had become so ingrained over the years that I regularly gave in. I spoke to Noelle King, a morning news anchor for National Public Radio, whose job requires her to maintain the absurd wake-up time of 1:30 a.m. If anyone could teach me the secret, it’s her. “In the morning I am a little mean to myself,” said King. She revealed her internal monologue: “There’s how you feel, which is your problem, and then there’s the day that you have to get done. And if you don’t do it, you make that everybody else’s problem.”

I turned King’s words into a personal mantra that I repeated internally as soon as I woke up. I traded my phone alarm for a wake-up light, made by Phillips, that I set to go off at 6 a.m. The device slowly fills the room with imitation sunlight, mimicking the sunrise. Finally, I made sure the light was at the far side of the room, adding another obstacle to sinking back into bed.

A good night makes a good morning

You can’t wake up early and feel rested without getting enough sleep. This may sound obvious, but the night before I started this adventure, I was so preoccupied with preparing for it that I stayed up until 11 p.m. I was exhausted when my alarm went off seven hours later. The amount of sleep everyone needs varies, but I think most people aren’t being honest with themselves. It turns out I need a little more than eight hours to get up early and avoid a mid-morning crash.

Find your thing

I found myself really enjoying step two of the RISE-UP routine. My interpretation of increase activity was to do 15 minutes of yoga, which I gradually upped to 30, and then 45 minutes. As the mom of a young son, I hadn’t been fitting regular exercise into the rest of my day, so unlocking time to do it, and actually going through with it every day, felt like a magic trick.

Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, said we should ask ourselves whether there’s something we want to achieve that we haven’t been able to fit into our schedule.

“You don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. and run a half marathon, meditate for an hour and cook a breakfast,” she said. It just needs to be “something that creates a positive momentum for your day and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something before you go into that hamster wheel.”

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