Some things are predestined. Like how DNA ensures you get brown eyes from your mom and your dad’s double-chin. Or, barring the interference of a doomsday-sized asteroid, that ocean tides will be impacted by the moon’s gravitational pull. But one thing that isn’t set in stone is becoming a morning person.
Even if you don’t naturally rise before the crack of dawn, you can learn how to become one of those early birds that gets the worm, or whatever variation of a non-animal prize your heart desires. I certainly did.
Back in 1992, I consciously decided to become a morning person. This was after years of staying up way too late, skimping on sleep and fervently smacking the snooze button on my alarm multiple times when it dared to interrupt my slumber each day. I was fifty pounds overweight at the time and decided to try exercise to feel better. Determined to eliminate excuses, I realized working out before heading to the office was going to be my best bet.
It was painful setting the alarm clock an hour earlier at first. But the burst of energy and self-esteem I received, along with lost pounds, more than made up for it. I’ve kept most of the weight off by continuing that morning exercise habit for nearly 30 years now. Even better, becoming an early riser has also helped me activate my full potential.
There are a lot of distractions to deal with during the day, like family, friends, co-workers, deadlines, social media, bills to pay and much more. Our society gets so focused on “doing” that it is challenging to find time for just “being.” Waking up before everyone else does creates that opportunity.
My best thinking now is done most days before 6:30 a.m. I write in my journal and set goals for the day before heading to the gym for a sweat session and then ultimately, the office in person or virtually. Sure, while attending conferences in Las Vegas I’ve gotten the stink eye from late night owls still gambling before daybreak as my workout gear-clad self darts through the casino towards the gym. Rising early means that by 10:00 p.m., my brain is typically toast. I haven’t rung a New Year’s in at midnight in years. Those minor inconveniences aside, becoming a morning person has helped me truly thrive.
I hold a full-time, intense C-Suite job while working on a book project, writing articles and speaking on the side. There is no way I could do all of this, much less thrive in the process, without being a morning person. And I’m far from being alone in this early riser success mantra.
As reported in this Harvard Business Review article, morning people are more proactive in their career. Biology Professor Christoph Randler from the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany surveyed 367 university students, asking what time of day they were most energetic and how willing and able they were to change a situation to their advantage. “My earlier research showed that they tend to get better grades in school, which get them into better colleges, which then lead to better job opportunities,” notes Randler in the article. “Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them, my survey showed. They’re proactive. A number of studies have linked this trait, proactivity, with better job performance, greater career success, and higher wages.”
In my personal life, focusing on myself in the mornings lets me be more present with my husband and carve out quality time for friends. For Meredith Moore, her morning routine has literally become a lifeline.
Six weeks after giving birth to her son in 2005, Moore was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that took the life of John McCain. In the midst of experiencing three brain surgeries and a lifetime dose of radiation, Moore lost her mother to breast cancer. Her marriage unraveled. She went through a contentious divorce and surprised herself by falling in love with a close female friend.
“My life came to a screeching halt. I wondered if I would be alive a year from now,” said Moore. “I had to come to terms with being dealt a lot of trauma. But essentially, my metamorphosis was to become the person I am right now.”
Moore also defied the odds. According to the Brain Tumor Charity, only 25% of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year, and 5% of patients last more than five years — while she has been in remission for over 15 years. These days, Moore, the Founder and CEO of Artisan Financial Group, is a nationally recognized financial expert who frequently speaks and writes about issues related to gender, money and power. Living in the Atlanta suburbs with her wife Kathy, she relishes spending time with her now teenage son. With her dynamic personality, it’s easy to forget Moore ever grappled with brain cancer. She attributes much of her success today to building a Morning Success Ritual that is integral to her well-being.
Every morning, Moore reads her quarterly game plan, which is about two-pages long. It includes evaluating where she is in life, the people around her, her business and other factors that matter the most. She asks herself powerful questions, visualizes success and how she helps others, and evaluates her personal and business development goals. Moore also uses that time to repeat positive affirmations like a powerful mantra.
“I remind myself that I’m a highly competent expert in my field, a giving person who is admired by others and am capable of reaching my goals,” notes Moore. “That I’m a mom, spouse, leader, a driver of positive energy in every room and deserving of self-care time.”
Afterwards, Moore usually writes in her journal, might stretch a bit and aims to exercise five times a week. She gets more done in a morning than most people might accomplish in an entire day — and then manages an incredibly busy work calendar on top of that. However, fatigue is a real threat that needs to be managed. As a residual effect of the brain tumor, Moore can be susceptible to seizures that can be prevented through medication and diligent stress management.
“I’m so motivated, but I have to be careful with understanding my limits,” adds Moore. By diligently practicing well-being and listening to herself, she continues to thrive, explore new interests and live a fulfilling life.
Curious about how this practice could help you? Even if you’ve been more night owl than early bird for decades, it’s not too late. Here are four ways that I effectively used to become a morning person:
1. Plan a steady progression.
Suddenly setting your alarm for 5:30 a.m. after rising at 7:00 a.m. for most of your life is probably going to hurt. Instead, consider arming your alarm for 10 –15 minutes earlier each day for a week or so to get used to the new time. When it feels normal, dial back another 10 –15 minutes each week until you reach your goal. Keep your alarm, whether it’s on your smart phone or an old school clock by the bed, out of reach so you don’t opt out and snooze instead.
2. Fill that time with goodness.
You may want 30 extra minutes in the morning to savor a great cup of coffee and contemplate life or try to carve an hour out for a high energy spin class that revs up your mind and body for the day ahead. The point is, fill that morning time you are claiming with something that makes you feel great. Starting the day focused on yourself helps you ultimately have more time for everyone and everything else.
3. Track progress.
At the end of each week, make a list what you’ve done for yourself with the morning time you’ve claimed. Whether it is four hours of weekly exercise, writing a book chapter, designing that app you’ve been thinking about, scrapbooking or proposing a new business initiative that puts you on the fast track for a promotion, the wins are going to add up. Acknowledging everything you’ve done is going to motivate you to do more.
4. Learn to savor the quiet.
I can hear birds chirping in the morning before the sounds of traffic and the bustle of everyday life intrude. You get to see some amazing sunrises. Wow, sounds like I’m narrating a National Geographic special, right? However, those experiences reinforce how great it feels to be an early riser.
Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Smart advice indeed from a prolific scientist, inventor, founding father and morning person extraordinaire. There’s a lot to be gained from becoming a morning person.