After Years of Sleeping in, I Started Waking up at 5 a.m., and I'm Blown Away by How It Changes my Day
"The early morning has gold in its mouth." — Benjamin Franklin
A couple of weeks ago, I got my hands on "The 5 a.m. Club" by Robin Sharma. A fan of his work -- his bestseller "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" is my go-to gift for friends -- I was enthused to read it, despite thinking a 5 a.m. start could never apply to me.
My typical wake-up time has been 8 to 8:30 a.m. since I started working for myself full time in 2014. As a pretty productive person, I never thought there was anything I needed to change and had only ever woken up at 5 a.m. to catch a flight (feeling crabby as heck).
After we heard about all the benefits early risers receive — plus that fact leaders like Richard Branson, Tim Cook, and Michelle Obama rave about waking up early — my husband and I challenged ourselves to do it. We're now on week two of waking up to a 5 a.m. alarm, and we've noticed some rapid shifts already.
For me, this is the biggest one. As a coach, I know how self-discipline affects self-respect. Sharma says, "Getting up at dawn is perfect self-control training … Increasing self-control in one area of your life elevates self-control in all areas of your life."
After nights when I'd sleep restlessly, I'd sometimes snooze till 9 a.m. (or even later) and was behind on my day the moment my feet hit the floor. I'd switch stuff around, delay items on my to-do list for another time, and even incur ClassPass cancellation fees for my workouts.
Now I look at my to-dos and feel relaxed because, hey, I'm up at 5 a.m. each day -- there's tons of time! Trusting yourself to do something hard, like obeying an alarm clock that goes off when it's pitch black and cold outside, is making my life easier. I'm proud of myself every time I fire up the Nespresso machine at 5:05 a.m.
Healthier habits develop (no 3rd glass of wine!)
This is a happy and unexpected side effect. Because my goal is a 9:30 p.m. bedtime -- Sharma preaches that sleep is essential -- I don't stay out late or overindulge because I don't want to be tired the next day. It took two or three nights to adjust to this sleep time, and I'm really liking it. I'm switching dinners with friends to brunches wherever possible. Seven and a half hours of sleep seems to be enough for me too, even though I'm used to more than that.
Capacity to create expands
Producing has never been a problem for me. But getting additional hours and focus from an early start is like adding gasoline to your day. Applying Sharma's "60/10 method" -- working for 60 minutes straight without interruption, followed by a 10-minute refuel in the form of a quick walk or just making tea and sitting on the sofa -- has helped me complete projects faster.
I found myself adding stuff to my to-do list that doesn't have to be completed for weeks. I sent over 50 holiday cards this year.
And I find myself grocery shopping and cooking at night (typically we eat out or order in). So it's saving me money too.
Clarity and calm ensue
Sharma says that "digital interruption is costing you your fortune," and I'm familiar with the depleted feeling of checking social media frequently throughout the day and constantly being reachable via email and text.
Fully waking up first and applying the "20/20/20 formula" -- 20 minutes of moving, 20 minutes of reflecting, and 20 minutes for personal growth -- ensures you start the day device-free while setting self-directed intentions for the day ahead (not living from the inbox out).
I've been spending the 5 to 6 a.m. "victory hour" journaling, tapping (an emotional freedom technique), goal-setting (another suggestion from the book -- writing down five things you'd like to achieve that day), reviewing my longer-term goals, and reading a few pages of a personal-development book.
As Sharma says, "Tranquility is the new luxury of our society." In the tranquil early moments, you're not rushing. You're not reactive. You're able to think clearly, instead of having a rushed, stressed mind first thing in the morning.
There's just something too about dawn that makes you feel a deeper connection to yourself. No one is calling you at that time. Most of the world still sleeping. It's clear thinking time just for you.
While I'm celebrating this challenge, I know that life as an entrepreneur without kids lends itself well to this 5 a.m. formula. I asked Sharma what he'd tell new parents, side-hustlers, and employees with nontraditional 9-to-5 schedules, and he said:
"Customize the 20/20/20 formula and 5 a.m. club to suit your lifestyle and read the chapter on the essentialness of sleep! Maybe you don't do it nights you're up at 3 a.m. nursing the baby — give yourself a break. Doing the 5 a.m. club only three days a week is better than not at all."
The 13th-century poet Rumi said: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep." Understanding the magic of the dawn is ancient. And like so many of the thriving early birds out there, I like being in on the secret.