For many years of my life, my weekends were marked by a defining characteristic: waking up later than everyone else in my family. Throughout middle school and into early high school I was typically the person who slept the latest in the house. During the school week, I would arise early enough to have the proper time to shower, eat breakfast, and get ready for school. I would not complain, despite the fact that I was tired and would pull myself out of bed while sucking up my fatigue. Then, over the summer between ninth and tenth grade, I found something that would forever alter the course of my life: running.
The love for running that I developed redefined all aspects of my life, from my meals to my routine. While I had already been vegan for about a year and a half, running taught me that the way I was being vegan, eating copious amounts of sugar, bread, and processed foods, was not healthy. I reprioritized what I put on my plate and cleaned up what I fueled my body with. I also committed to a daily practice of yoga and meditation. While I will admit that it has not been a perfect road ever since I found running, I don’t always meditate, I don’t always eat well, I don’t always practice yoga, it has nevertheless taught me to make the consistent effort to recommit to those practices when I stray from the path.
One key way that my life was shaped by falling in love with the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other was through the responsibility that I then found myself having: needing to get up early to run to fit the activity in with the rest of my day. My father, who became my running partner, has always been an early riser so sleeping in on the weekends was summarily eliminated from my routine. If I wanted to have ample time to prepare for school on the weekdays and run with my dad on the weekends the only solution would be to rise early. At first, it was a jarring reality, coming from a history in my life of maximizing sleep and minimizing effort. However, I soon came to realize the benefits of such a routine.
Benefits of Getting Up Early:
Teaches you discipline. At the beginning of the journey committing to the practice of rising earlier than you’re used to builds perseverance, you condition your body to push through that fatigue fog and cacophony of mental reasoning that tells you to stay in bed. This practice may not always succeed, you may ignore the alarm and roll over under the covers, but that is why it is called a practice, you are building the skill day by day. Eventually, when the skill becomes second nature you will find that the practice will instill confidence in your routine because of what you accomplish in the morning before anyone else awakes.
Builds presence. The practice of waking up early provides you with the opportunity to begin your day with meditation, yoga, and reading. These practices are effective ways to establish a present mind for the following day. Added benefits like seeing the sunrise and the quiet of a morning alone allows your mind to settle in for a mindful day, focused on the task at hand. It has been found, by a study examining the relationship between personality and circadian rhythm, that “morning people are stable people”. With an early morning start, you calm the waves in your mind and make for smooth sailing throughout the day.
Allows for a more productive day. By providing yourself time to accomplish activities that positively benefit both your personal growth and outlook you allow for yourself to attack the day with focus. When you rush because you woke up late your mind throughout the day is not ready to concentrate on what must be accomplished at that moment. In a 2009 study researcher Christoph Randler defined proactive as “the willingness and ability to take action to change a situation to one's advantage”. Randler found that morning people are more proactive than evening people. This ability to propel yourself forward through your goals stems from building a mind that is driven, focused, and perseverant, all of which are built through the practice of getting up early.
Provides you time to fuel your body well. As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When you arise late and rush out of the door to work you feel that you do not have the time to eat a healthy breakfast. That dilemma plagues many in our society but the solution is simple: make time, don’t find time. You hold the key to whether or not you better yourself and in most cases that betterment stems from what’s on your plate. By arising early you provide yourself ample time to consume a fueling, filling breakfast that will give your body the energy it needs throughout the day so that you can perform at your best.
Provides you time to get out of your comfort zone. With the time that you have in the early morning it is vital to go out to workout in some form, whether that’s running, riding, swimming, or whatever else that you may do. This time of exercise will allow you to begin your day by getting out of your comfort zone, sweating, and establish yourself so that you’ve built perseverance right into the beginning of your day.
Solitude allows you to work on you. When waking early you will most likely be the only person up, so take that time to better yourself. Take that time to work on you. Instead of being beholden to a rushed schedule, family, friends, or other aspects of life that may become roadblocks to your betterment you have the time available to work on practices that better you, such as exercise, fueling your body well, meditation, yoga, and reading.
Now, you might be musing to yourself that these benefits sound wonderful but how do you actually implement an early rising habit? The answer, one often seen here on Touching the Trail, is simple: practice. If you are consistent in your practice of getting up early you will find that, as time passes, the act becomes easier and easier. You begin to shift your body’s rhythms away from your old habits and into the new habit that you’re building of waking up early. You might counter with the argument that you are simply not a morning person. However, I will advise that you should nevertheless implement an early rising habit because it can benefit everyone. Early is up to your interpretation, all I advise is that you implement a waking habit that provides you the time to be solitary and work on yourself. This does not have to be three or four in the morning but it should be earlier than the time that you awake currently, to build perseverance and discipline, and with ample room to work on you.
Now honestly for most of us, myself included, that may seem like a tall order because often we simply want to sleep and we argue with ourselves, often successfully, that we need the rest. Keep in mind that the call for getting up early does not negate my support for the concept of listening to your body. Taking a step back, breathing in, and listening to what your body is telling you is a vital tool in your skillset. As such, when you are grinding your mind and body continuously and excessively down to the nub, listen to your body and take the rest. If, after a particularly difficult week at work or a late night dealing with an unforeseen issue, you determine that the extra rest will benefit you in the long run, then sleep later. However, if the reasons for staying in bed are simply that it’s comfortable, that it’s warm, that it’s easy, or that you need the rest but you have no concrete reason why then get up and suck it up.
When it comes to practices that are difficult to execute, as most are otherwise they are probably not pushing us forward, I often return to what the wise David Goggins, arguably the “hardest man on Earth,” says on the concept. Goggins reminds us that we don’t need motivation, in fact, that motivation is pointless because it is temporary and fleeting. Instead, we need drive, we need a fire lit beneath us, that keeps us pushing through the ups and downs because we have a purpose, a focus. From the core of my being, I agree with this idea because it is what I have found in my own experience and it applies directly to the idea of waking up early. If you want to change your life to a fulfilling path, if you want to better yourself, then there will be an onslaught of obstacles but you must keep your drive towards betterment in mind always and suffer through. When the morning comes and you’d rather lie asleep in that bed, remember that fire under you, the preparation that you’ve put into the path, and get up.
Lay out clothes, gear, and food that night before. One of the key ways that you eliminate excuses that you may have in the morning and help the morning move quicker is to set up what you will use for the day the night before. For example, every night before bed I lay out my running clothes and day clothes so that they are setup for me to grab and go. I also pack my backpack with school supplies and other items that I will bring for the day such as my electronics, snacks, water bottle (filled), and so on. In the kitchen, I will lay out my breakfast without cooking it and lunch if I am going to be out for the day. So for example, I will setup my oatmeal in a bowl and my coffee in my cup, all ready to make in the morning. Preparing all of this beforehand maximizes your time in the morning and allows you to be less encumbered by responsibility come the time when that alarm goes off.
Ease into bed. Going from a fast-paced day filled with activity straight into bed in no way leads to a restful night of sleep. The key is to provide your mind time to calm down, take a breath, and ease into bed. The tip really boils down to the basic idea that you want to eliminate distraction and noise until you slowly fall into the peaceful ease of a restful sleep. Some ways to achieve this are:
Having light conversation
Listening to music
Listening to a calming story (such as Calm’s Sleep Stories)
Practicing a gratitude session by listing 3-5 things, people, or areas of your life that you’re grateful for
Practicing a loving-kindness meditation by intentionally repeating the phrase, “May I/you/they be present, May I/you/they be grateful, May I/you/they be true,” towards yourself, a loved one/close friend, and an adversary or difficult person.
Ideally, you want to avoid bright lights, screens (phones, computers, TVs, etc.), and loud noises. However, in our chaotic world avoiding those things can sometimes be extremely difficult or impossible, so do your best to simply associate peaceful rest with your bed.
Go to bed early. Part of the mission here in training your body to get up early is to shift your rhythm to going to bed early and getting up early. You will find that you are more focused and productive in the morning. With a dedication to working on yourself in the morning, you will be less likely to spend your time late into the night making bad decisions, fueling yourself detrimentally, or draining your energy.
Don’t rationalize. When it is time to wake up in the morning do not begin to make excuses or reason with yourself why you should stay in bed, stand up and get moving with your day. A cheap tactic is to place your alarm clock on the other side of the room so that you must stand up to turn it off. I don’t particularly like that tactic because it is almost a cheat. I would recommend keeping your alarm near you and training yourself to persevere through the excuses and to shut down the whining mind, that way you will be working on teaching yourself that skill of endurance.
Even with well-thought preparation and a mind full of positive benefits that stem from waking up early, it can still be difficult. Matthew Grills, this week’s podcast guest, explains that, when it comes to small daily challenges like pushing your body to wake up, the solution is one of mindset and of your willingness to accomplish the task at hand. For Grills, “it’s pretty black and white, if you have a goal and you put steps in place to achieve a goal, you do it. You don’t make excuses, you don’t say it’s hard to get out of bed, or that it’s too early. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” In most cases, the route through the challenge that blocks your path is to simply put your head down, grit your teeth, and push through.
This simple sentiment of get it done or don’t is not new, it echoes throughout the ages. One of my favorite Zen Buddhist parables speaks of it:
There was once a dedicated student of Zen who deeply desired to achieve enlightenment. He looked at his teacher, quiet and wise, as the epitome of that quest and wondered, each day, how the teacher was able to do achieve it.
So the student asked, “Teacher, we talk and talk of paths and tools and the like but I am curious, in the simplest way, how do I achieve enlightenment? How did you do it?"
The teacher replied, “When I am hungry I eat, when I am thirsty I drink, when I am tired I sleep.”
Through my experience, in the mountains, on the meditation cushion, and in daily life, the solution to most challenges is to simply be there with, to be present with, the task at hand, minimizing or eliminating distraction. The more that you build your mind and body into a focused tool that can persevere through the mire that fills your path, the more successful you will be at pursuing a life that truly fulfills you. In reality, that is what waking up early comes down to the simple fact that it conditions your mind to endure, provides you time each day to better yourself, and helps you establish your day so that you can blaze the trail most honest to yourself.
Call for comments:
How will you use the tool of waking up early to better yourself each day? What challenges do you think that you might face? How will you overcome them?