how to wake up early

i took this photo sometime before 7 am, one fall morning

i took this photo sometime before 7 am, one fall morning

When I was seventeen, a dear friend and I would wake up at five-thirty or six am, knock on each other’s dorm rooms, and walk in the dark to a coffee shop a block away to warm up with the sun, a cup of strong coffee, and long conversations about love and life. Once a week, we’d meet to talk from six am until eight or eight thirty, when one of us would pack our bags and head to our first class of the day. Years later, I still associate the early morning with a feeling of sacredness, spaciousness, creativity, and meaningful, soul connection.

The world feels different in the early morning. There is a stillness in the air that gets diffused sometime after eight am, when the world structures itself into old habits again. Before then, anything feels possible. The sunrise and morning quiet is a daily gift. I take my time to relish those hours, and the mornings become my most focused, creatively fruitful time. The best days are when I manage to wake by six and have already completed a day’s worth of work by noon. Anything I do after that just feels like a bonus.

It’s been years since I’ve had any external pressure forcing me to wake up early, so I’ve mostly relied on intrinsic motivation. And while I’ll admit that I am naturally a morning person — I believe that anyone can wake up early regularly — with the right mindset. Here are some things I’ve learned to help you on your early rising journey.

(1) Know the deeper reason why you want to wake up early

I wrote in my post about going to bed early how the first step to any change is to keep asking “why” until you get to the root why — what’s the real reason motivating your desire for commitment? Identify that and you’ll solidify your commitment. While I do believe in the magic and spaciousness of the early morning, there are more tangible reasons, too: I want to wake up early because starting early puts me in an abundance mindset, which allows me to be my best self, which allows me to do my best work. For me, waking up early = doing my best work. As a result, I feel happier, more productive, more focused, more inspired, more alive. What are your reasons?

(2) You need to fall in love with the idea of waking up early

Staying up late sounds very romantic (…until it’s not). Staying up late has the cultural association of late night philosophical debates, wild artistic affairs, and an edge of existential coolness. We’re passionate if we like to stay up late, prim if we like to wake up early. Early rising has too long been associated with needing to be at the bus stop, classroom, or office at a certain time to meet certain standards.

So for people who resist the mornings, we must undo those years of conditioning, and become totally enamored with the idea of being awake while it’s still dark outside. Because it’s largely mental conditioning that’s causing us to hit the snooze button, causing our bodies to cling onto sleepiness and convince us that we’re not made to be morning people.

How do we recondition ourselves? Examine your associations with waking up early. Sift for your best memories of early mornings. Ask your favorite morning people what exactly it is that they love about the mornings. Give yourself permission to become one, even just for a week, and permission to love it.

(3) Go to sleep early

Of course! For advice on how to do that, read this post.

(4) Never snooze

Snoozing is procrastination on waking up. Except you procrastinate when you’re barely conscious, which makes it harder, and will engrain in your brain that you don’t want to wake up; that the act of waking up is unpleasant. It becomes a self perpetuating cycle, because then you’ll look for ways to delay it. The more you snooze, the harder it is to wake up. Instead, see waking up early as a joy and a gift. If you’re feeling tired, make sure to go to bed earlier.

(5) Get up within 1 minute of the alarm

This is my biggest trick to waking up early. When the alarm rings, I turn it off. I bring awareness to myself and my body, and then I get out of bed. It seems counter-productive to wake up while you’re still in bed — an environment that is designed to put you to sleep. You can let your body wake up as you’re walking to the bathroom. The longer you stay in bed while awake, the longer you’ll want to stay in bed, or to fall back asleep. If you have trouble being active immediately, try sitting upright within 1 minute first, and start moving soon thereafter.

(6) Avoid using the social media cycle to wake yourself up

Why? Not only does it put you in a reactive mindset, it makes your body reliant on the social media complex to wake up. Here’s a post I wrote years ago about why I don’t use email or social media before noon.

(7) Make first few minutes up soothing, peaceful, delightful

When it’s winter and cold and you have another warm body waiting for you in bed, the odds for being up early are not in your favor. How do we stack the odds in our favor? Simple things. Putting on a warm bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, making yourself coffee or tea, going outside for a breath of fresh air, catching the sunrise, listening to calming music. Taking a shower. Those are things that the waking world can offer us, which the sleeping world — however tempting at the moment — cannot. Remember that we are subject to inertia. You’ll want to keep sleeping because that’s what you’ve been doing for the last seven, eight hours. Give yourself things that you’ll look forward to doing when you wake up, and do it consistently enough that you’ll remember.

(8) Drink a glass of water immediately

I read somewhere that we often feel tired when we wake up, but actually, this is when our bodies are most dehydrated. I’ve noticed that drinking a glass of lemon water replenishes me, energizes my mind, and starts clearing my system. Try it consistently and see how you feel.

(9) Get really excited about what you’ll do when you wake up

A big part of the journey is the pure anticipation. Get excited the night before. What will you do with the wide open morning that you gifted yourself? Mediate? Write? Do yoga? Read? Take an online course? Watch the sunrise? Journal? Make it something nourishing and pleasurable, something that brings you closer to your truest self. Here’s where a morning routine could be your blueprint to having an inspiring, energizing, productive morning — everyday.

This weekend, I woke up around 7 am on a rainy Sunday and spent three hours writing in my notebook, my mind brimming with ideas and inspiration. The rest of the house was asleep. By the time everyone else had woken up, I felt like I had already lived a full day. I felt nourished, peaceful, and totally in love with my work, with life, and with the quiet beauty of the morning. I wish for you to experience this too.

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Thanks for reading! For more writing on building habits for a creative life, check out my project Camp Kening. In March, I’ll be launching a 7 day morning routine course. Sign up for my newsletter below for monthly updates.