Many of the self-help and productivity books I’ve read over the past few years highlight the importance of a morning routine for getting the day off on the right foot. The idea behind this is that most people drift through their day, starting from the moment they get out of bed: from bed to bathroom, throw on some clothes, have some breakfast, go to work. Sure, it’s a routine of sorts, but it doesn’t deliver benefits beyond getting you dressed, fed, and out the door.
However, high achievers typically have deliberate routines to help them focus on their goals and energize them for the day ahead. And everywhere I turned, one book kept cropping up: Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. I decided to give it a go, and it’s short enough that I read it in a few bite-size chunks before going to bed. My attitude was one of doubtful pessimism and a constant stream of thoughts (“I am not a morning person.” “I just can’t get up any earlier than I already do.”) bubbled around at the back of my mind as I read it.
To some extent, I have taken on the wariness, if not cynicism, of my adopted country. Although the first self-help book was published in the UK in 1859 by the wonderfully named Samuel Smiles (the title, appropriately enough, is Self Help), it is America that really ran with the idea, with people like Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and Stephen Covey leading the way to betterment. Elrod’s enthusiasm and talk of miracles right there in the title seemed to promise far more than it could deliver.
Yet the Amazon reviews were so positive. And it is really a very simple concept: wake up earlier, drink water*, and focus on what Elrod calls SAVERS: Silence, Affirmations, Visualisations, Exercise, Reading, Scribing (a.k.a. Writing, but that would ruin the acronym). What jumped out at me from his suggestions was that several were alignment with the conclusions I made on my Welsh adventure, things I was still working hard to put into practice.
I thought about it for several days. Did I really want to move my start time forward, waking up at 5:00am? I looked at my list of goals, both personal and professional, and the one thing they all had in common was needing more time. I just hadn’t been able to manage to fit them in during the evening after my day job. So I did it: I changed my alarm, prepared what I would need in the morning so I wouldn’t have to think about it, and set about designing my own miracle morning.
That was three weeks ago and I am still doing it. The first thing to note is that I am not bounding out of bed as Hal, or some of the reviewers on Amazon, describe. I am not filled the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning (a description repeated a few times), nor have I noticed a rapid rise in energy levels. But I have been consistently getting out of bed earlier since I began, which is in itself rather miraculous.
The real miracle, however, is carving out time for myself at the beginning of the day. I am literally putting myself first. I hadn’t realised how important it was to have this buffer between waking up and the work day. I am no longer waking up to go to the office (after all, how is that thought supposed to propel me out of bed?!), but rather I am waking up to do some yoga, focus on my writing or designing, and clear my mind to prepare for the day ahead.
Don’t underestimate the power of this simple mental switch: the past several blog posts–and this one–have almost entirely been written first thing in the morning. Another aspect of the early wake-up call is that it makes you challenge your own mindset and self-imposed limitations. I have written on this blog a number of times that I am most definitely not a morning person … but I am starting to realise that this definition is to some extent in my own head. Yes, my natural circadian rhythm and chronotype is that of a night owl, but I can get out of bed early. And once you realise that you can do something you previously thought was impossible, everything else starts to look within reach.
Then there is building upon the momentum that can carry you through the rest of the day. It feels great to have accomplished something before I even set foot out the front door, and to know that I’ve managed to squeeze in a workout, a spot of writing, and perhaps some reading all before 7:00am.
The downsides? I admit it was probably easier for me to start now than in the depths of winter since light is beginning to filter in at 5:00am and the early birds in the dawn chorus have begun to sound their own natural alarm. Whether I can continue this once the time changes is still to be seen. I also find myself tired in the afternoon/evening, but I honestly don’t know how much of that is down to my day job rather than the early wake up call. But the biggest problem I’m finding at the moment is that an extra hour still isn’t enough time; I just find myself getting into flow when I have to stop to get ready for work. Perhaps 4:00am is next on the schedule?
* If you take nothing else from this blog post, please give the water a try: one glass before you get out of bed is a surprisingly useful wake-up tool and is a good way to get in one of your 8 a day. I’m managing to get in 2-3 before I even leave for work and it has made a big difference in how I feel in the mornings.