Becoming a “morning person” has changed my life.

Only time will tell, but it could go down as a top five factor to my future success.

Learning how to wake up early wasn’t easy.

Until the second half of 2018, I’ve been a notoriously late sleeper.

It started as a kid:

I wanted to finish my dreams.  Xena and I used to swordfight on an asteroid.  Winner still undecided.

It got worse in high school:

I used to sneak upstairs and play video games all night—often until 3 or 4 in the morning.  Waking up everyday to my school also seemed like torture.

It continued into adulthood:

My friends and I always stayed up late.  You don’t have to wake up early for restaurant jobs.  I also kept an awful 5PM to 5AM shift for almost a year.

It even kept up as I became a professional:

Work from home junkies can work any time.  Often, my highest productivity came after midnight.  It’s also easy to have never-ending work days online.

I’m thirty years old; that’s over 10,000 days of living.  I’ve probably woken up after 12 for a good 1,000 of them.  I’ve gone to sleep after the sun came up about the same number.  I’ve slept in past 2, past 4, even past 6 PM.  Waking up when it’s already dark outside is not a pleasant feeling.  I know from experience.

Now:

I rarely sleep past 9:00 AM.  I usually wake up between 7:15 and 8:45 AM.  I “beat the sun” about half the time.

I never use an alarm.

Eventually, I’ll be a card-carrying member of the “5 AM club.”

(Still, no alarm required.)

Why, Though?

There are a ton of good reasons to wake up early.

I couldn’t see any of them for the first 25 years of my life.  But I’ve been working on becoming a morning person for the last five or so.  It’s been a tough battle, going toe to toe with my brain chemistry everyday.  Rewiring the circuits in your brain is not for the faint of heart.

I was introduced to the idea of the “5 AM Club” several years ago by Robin Sharma.  Since, I’ve heard other heroes of mine like Gary Vee, Brian Johnson, and The Rock talk about beating the sun every single day.

Per usual, I did some research.  Then I did some experimentation.

Between them, I’ve found several benefits of waking up early:

  • Competitive Edge.  Dwayne Johnson talks about getting up at 3:45 AM and completing two workouts before everyone else has woken up.  I’ve heard similar sentiments echoed by many of my heroes and other high performers.  It feels good to play on this side.
  • Physical Health.  Matching your schedule with the sun is good for you.  These bodies have been walking the Earth for 10-200 thousand years, depending on what you consider “human.”  Evolutionary biology says to respect your circadian rhythms.
  • Mental Health.  Much like the rest of your body, your brain does best on a Sun-based schedule.  Science says erratic sleep schedules are connected to anxiety and depress in the short term and diseases like dementia in the long term.  I notice less mental fog.
  • Primed to Peak State.  I use my first hour or two for one thing—awakening the best Zach Bradshaw.  If I don’t, I’m more likely to be someone I’d rather not be.  Priming before the days starts boosts my discipline and willpower.  It also helps me be more kind.
  • Better Business.  My janky sleep schedule used to put pressure on my work timelines.  Considering both the difficulty and importance of maintaining deadlines as an Internet marketing consultant, it’s no surprise how helpful this change has been.
  • My Stuff First.  Starting to produce before everyone else affords me a luxury I’ve never felt before.  Now, I make progress on my own most important projects before dealing with the flood of calls, emails, text, and social activity that come my way daily.  (Today, I wrote the first half of this post before dominating my client work.  I finished it tonight because, ya know, Daily Content Challenge)

I’m sure I’ll discover more great reasons to be a morning person as it continues to solidify within my identity.

Enough “why’s” though.

Let’s talk “how’s.”

How I Became a Morning Person

Waking up early has not been easy for me.

It has required a tremendous amount of effort.

This may sound crazy to you.  But I consider this new habit a real achievement.  It’s taken some serious biohacking.  I’ve done a lot to get here.  I won’t give these gains back easily.

I will never be a “night owl” again.

Parts of my brain still aren’t on the bandwagon.  So I continue to keep my strategies for waking up early in place.  Over time, they evolve from strategy to habit.

How do I know?

Well that’s because my first habit, is to track my habits.

Sleep Tracking

Speaking of life-changing habits…

Habit tracking may be number one.

I’ve been tracking every hour of my day since my trip to Arizona in August.  I’ve been trying to do so since sometime in 2017, when I first discovered Bullet Journaling.  I have everyday mapped since August 2018 though.  I’ll get everyday of 2019 and 2020.

I use four colors to record my time:

Purple for Sleep.  Blue for Productive But Not Work.  Green for Work.  Red for Bullsh!ttin’.

Here’s today so far:

I also track different groups of habits everyday.  This is laced throughout my collection of daily, weekly, and monthly todos.  Together, it’s easy to look back and map habits to outcomes.

A few sleep-related observations:

  • My Morning Routine is by far the most important factor in the success of my days.
  • I am less prone to excessively “red” days when my schedule matches the Sun.
  • It’s easiest to hit 10-12 work days when I avoid all “red” time in the morning.

I’m sure this list will grow as well.

Affirmations

Another life-changing habit:

You’ve probably already heard of affirmations.

They used to be a bit like pulling teeth for me.  This tooth ended partway halfway through 2018.  Affirmations are a crucial part of my morning routine.  At the beginning of 2018 I created a massive list of goals, boiled them down into about 40 clever little catchphrases and tried to write them in the morning.

It was hard.  Eventually, I switched to a much more pleasant system.

Still, many of those early affirmations came to fruition by the end of 2018.

Now, I write freestyle affirmations every morning.  I just have to fill up a page and include gratitude.  I also try to do them at night.  But I am much less likely to pull it off.

However, a certain brand of nightly affirmations has a direct impact on my mornings.

Example 1:

Example 2:

99% of the time I write affirmations, I also listen to…

Moticuts

I just love motivational compilations.

They are one of the best self-brainwashing tools known to man.

At the very least, they are one of the most easily accessible.

I start almost every day with one of my favorites.  From there, I usually let YouTube find new ones for me.  But I’m usually strategic about which ones I start with.  Sometimes I decide the day before.  Other times I wake up and figure out what I need.  Still other times I end up playing a newly found heavy hitter for a week or two straight.

Many of them are built for the mornings.

At the beginning of 2018 I had my roommate put this one on blast every morning.

“Rise and Shine…”

Still today, it hits about 1:20 point and I feel my brain want to do push ups.

It’s wired in…

I just let it play and banged out a set!

This is self-brainwashing at it’s finest.

Morning Wins

I believe motivation has to be manufactured.

It’s not easy to wake up everyday with a fire in your belly.  You have to make sure to stoke it.

Momentum is one of the best ways to do that.

Having consistent wins in the morning has helped me beat back the night owl still buried in my brain.

Funny enough:

My first daily morning win was something I rebelled against up until the day I decided to change it.

Making my bed.

This was one of my first tracked morning habits.  It was also one of the first habits I had to remove from my tracker because it never got missed.  Now, it’s pretty much impossible for me not to make my bed.  I even make my own bed in hotel rooms now!

🤷‍♂️🛌😂

Beyond that, I usually hit a few other morning wins.

I’ve already hinted at a few others…

  • Working on my own projects first
  • Hitting a morning workout
  • Affirmations and moticuts

I track habits across 5 domains.

My morning bucket consistently posts the highest weekly totals.

The higher the total the better the week.

Going to BED!

This is was really the missing piece.

I had to start going to bed before the sun came up!

Duh.

Alarms simply don’t work on me.  I could sleep through anything.  So one of the most important changes I had to make was to start going to bed.  Elementary enough but used to try to power through it with an alarm—or the mix embedded above above.

No longer.

“Go to Sleep Today.”

That’s the habit that allowed me to make the sun my alarm.  Now, I can work past midnight and still wake up with (or before) the sun.  That’s because I’m actually well-slept.

Amazing how that works.

I often get to sleep by ten.  Eventually, I may say the same about eight, like my boy Brian Johnson.

That’s because I’m chasing the Rock’s 3:45 AM.

Early Bird Getting Earlier

What inspired this post today?

Yesterday I “slept in” until 9:45 AM.  It felt awful.  The day before, I had an almost unbroken work session from 9:00 AM to 1:45 AM.  I only took a single 15-minute break for food.  That’s a solid 16.5 hour work day.  I knew I’d sleep a little late.  In the end, it was too much.  I failed to really hit my stride during yesterday’s workday.

But:

It was easy to go to bed early.

Today, I woke up at 6:15 AM.  I laid in bed for about 15 minutes, thinking about my dreams and considering rejoining them.  I was out of bed by 6:30.  I was journaling by 6:45.  I was working out by 7:30.  I started this post by 9:00 AM.

This is literally a small miracle in my life.

Over the course 2019, I’ll be looking to make “Beat 6” a consistent habit.

Maybe by 2020, it’ll go the way of “Make the Bed.”

Automatic.

I know one thing:

I could never go back.

Thus, the only option is forward.

And that’s the direction I’ll be going.

Thanks for following that journey.