“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end’ – Robin Sharma

The most important habit I have developed over the years that has given me more time in my day, more ‘me time’ and more energy, it’s this – waking up earlier. This is sacred time when no one else is awake and it’s the only gap I have in my day to truly focus on developing myself. Self-leadership can’t be found in a one day webinar or a book you read a few years ago, it is a daily discipline and intention. Now, no one is going to give you this time. It has to be consciously carved into your day.

I know you are thinking ‘It’s easier said than done’ or ‘I have kids with me at home’ – fair enough. However, if you don’t get this right, the duration of lockdown is going to become more challenging because as it is, there is not enough of you showing up in the calendar. Your days are most likely spent in front of Zoom or Microsoft Teams in between school work, house work and unexpected interruptions. I’m sure you have great intentions to make time to work on yourself or take some down time but it’s just not happening as consistently as you would like, right?

Here are some tips on how to actually get yourself to wake earlier because this will make the difference between self-destruction and self-leadership:

  1. Manage the self-talk

“If you want to do more, be more and have more – it all begins with the voice no one hears’ – Tim Ferriss

When the alarm goes off twenty, thirty or sixty minutes earlier than you’re used to, it’s going to feel uncomfortable in the beginning. But the way you manage your self-talk will make the difference between you sustaining the habit or giving up after a few days.

Author and psychologist Marisa Peer teaches that the mind likes what is familiar and dislikes what is unfamiliar. When the alarm goes off – tell yourself ‘I am making waking up earlier familiar’. Even if you know you are somewhat lying to yourself, the mind will do what you tell it to. Your alternative is to tell yourself how terrible this is, it’s a punishment and you deserve to lie in.

You can link your self-talk to the goal in question – ‘I am making being more productive, healthier, fitter – familiar’ – fill in the appropriate words that resonate with you. You can say ‘super successful people wake up early, I am making being successful familiar’.

2. What’s your why?

“Your future self is watching right now through memories. Do yourself a favour and make it something worth watching’ – Aubrey de Grey

When the alarm goes off early, it will be difficult initially BUT only for about 90 seconds. Now those 90 seconds will feel like eternity and you need a driving force to push you through it. Remind yourself – this is why I am making waking up earlier familiar. This is what I want to achieve and what it means to me. Is it that ideal job? The body you want? A more disciplined and less stressed way of being? Know the reason and it will steamroll those 90 seconds. You can even have a label on your phone alarm reminding you of your reason or perhaps a picture of what the end goal looks like as your screen saver. And if you don’t have the motivation for yourself, do it for your future self.

3. Make the choice the night before

Decisions are the hardest thing to make, especially when it is a choice between where you should be and where you want to be” – Unknown

Decide the night before what time you are waking up and allow no room for debate. In this way, you will not need to rely on willpower or motivation. Benjamin Hardy wrote a brilliant book called ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success’. This is what he says on the power of decision:

‘To be frank, willpower is for people who haven’t decided what they actually want in their lives. If you’re required to exert willpower to do something, there is an obvious internal conflict. You want to eat the cookie, but you also want be healthy. You want to focus at work, but you also want to watch that YouTube video. You want to be present with your kids, but you can’t stop looking at your phone. You don’t know what you want, and are thus internally conflicted. Your desire (your why) for your goals isn’t strong enough. You aren’t invested in yourself and your dreams.’

4. Prepare

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success” – Alexander Graham Bell

This tip is a game changer. Whatever the task or activity you choose to do for yourself in that time slot must be thought out in advance. For example, if you want to exercise, have your clothes laid out and the specific routine you want to do. That could be the correct equipment, specific app open or the yoga mat set up.

If you want to study something, have the link ready on your computer or the book next to your bed. If you want to journal, have your book and pen waiting for you. At that time of the morning, you need to be one step ahead or else that time will disappear quickly if it’s spent locating these things in the dark. It is also a gateway to losing focus to something else ‘more interesting’ than the task at hand.

5.Focus on process, not outcome

“If you don’t prioritize your life, something else will” – Greg McKeon

You need to take this special time for yourself seriously with no guilt attached to it. Treat it with the same respect you would any other meeting. Schedule it into your calendar as a daily or weekly occurrence. For example, if you want to work on a new writing project, then schedule it 6am to 7am so there is no guess work when you are going to fit it in. The most important part of scheduling is to create the ritual first. It is less about what you achieve in that time slot but rather you showed up to yourself and you wrote. Don’t make success dependant on quantity of words but on the fact you made progress on your goal. You need the habit established first before you can start to improve it.

6. Internalise your new identity

“True behaviour change is identity change” – James Clear

When you are tempted by the snooze button, remind yourself of who you are becoming. The way to do this is to give yourself permission to internalise your new identity. If you want to write, then you need to be comfortable saying out loud ‘I am a writer’ or ‘I am a meditator’. Or perhaps you have pivoted your business or gone into something completely new like catering. You need to be comfortable saying ‘I am a caterer, a marketer, a designer’ – even if you have never done it professionally before.

When you start something new, it’s uncomfortable because there’s a feeling of inadequacy starting a new skill. It’s almost like you need to earn your stripes and be doing something for months before you can call yourself a writer. Or you feel like you need to have something to show for it and that will validate you being able to finally call yourself a writer or meditator. As Chase Jarvis, author of Creative Calling says –

“Creators create. Action is identity. You become what you do. You don’t need permission from anybody to call yourself a writer, entrepreneur, or musician. You just need to write, build a business, or make music. You’ve got to do the verb to be the noun.”

7. Do not pick up your phone

“Technology should Be Your Servant, Not Your Master” ― Ludovic Tendron

The worst thing you can do is to pick up your phone unless it’s to turn off your alarm. The quickest way to sabotage yourself is to look at your emails or check the socials when you first wake up. Why? You will immediately set yourself up to be in a state of reaction. You are allowing other people’s priorities to overshadow your time. Remember, you allocated this time for your own goals and dreams, not to make progress on other peoples. Finish the activity and then feel free to pick up the phone.

Also if you spot a mail that is perceived as urgent, you will most likely ditch your sacred slot because you will start imaging worst case scenarios of what will happen if you don’t reply within the next 10 minutes. Never mind that its 6am and most of the world are still sleeping.

8. Get up – do not hit snooze

“The moment you accept responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you gain the power to change anything in your life” – Hal Elrod

Do not hit the snooze button. Even if you think ‘it’s just 5 more minutes’. Most likely, the warm bed will win over your own projects and goals. Hitting snooze doesn’t give you 10 more minutes to dream, it destroys your dreams. Put your phone on the other side of the room if that will get you up. Just push yourself out of the bed and do not question, do not think – just move as quickly as you can.

Confidence begins by honouring the promises you make to yourself. If you hit snooze just this ‘one time’, it will haunt you the entire day because you let yourself down and you broke the agreement you made with yourself. This downward spiral follows in other sneaky ways like procrastination and giving into the donut and mindless web surfing. Remember, when the alarm goes off and your mind starts to argue with you – and it will – it will remind you it’s cold, early and you deserve to rest.

Just ignore it and take the first step of action.

9. Celebrate yourself

“Belief without talent can take you further than talent without belief. But when you have both, you’re unstoppable.” Marisa Peer

When you set your alarm for an earlier time and you do get up and make some progress towards your goal – that is a micro win. It is the first Lego brick in the sequence and the first step of many to achieve your long term goal.  It could be doing 10 minutes of yoga or exercise or reading.  It so crucial to acknowledge the victory no matter how small. Celebrate yourself! You proved to yourself that you are worthy of getting up for and you can achieve what you set out to do. When you show up to yourself, make progress on your goal – you win the day! Even if your day turns completely pear shaped, you know you can get through it. You showed yourself you can do it even though it’s difficult.

BJ Fogg is a Stanford Professor and author of Tiny Habits. He advocates that celebrating your victory immediately after is the missing ingredient to habit formation. It is the intensity of the emotion linked to that behaviour that locks it in. He calls this feeling ‘Shine’. You have experienced it many times like when you did that great presentation and everyone clapped or you aced a really tough exam.

Examples of celebration could be a positive phrase like ‘That’s what I’m talking about’ or visualizing fireworks going off or give yourself a high five. Fogg lists 100 ways to celebrate so pick one that feels authentic to you.

This step cannot be missed even if you feel silly because it is critical to your brain encoding a new habit. BJ explains that ‘Your ability to ignore self-criticism and embrace feeling good about your successes will ripple out into your life in positive ways that go far beyond the Tiny Habits you create and celebrate’.

Apart from the habit you are cultivating, you are training yourself to be kinder to yourself and acknowledge the person you are becoming along the way.

10. Change your story

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  ― Steve Maraboli

Before the start of 2020, I was in the gym at 6am. I never ever thought I would become a ‘5am person’ – as in arriving at 5am. I used to think it’s for ‘those’ people, it’s a ridiculous time to get up but my kids started primary school which changed my entire routine. I didn’t have any other slots available in my day to train other than the 5am slot and truthfully, it really wasn’t so bad. I was so proud of myself and it made me think ‘well if I can do this then what other story I can shift?’

What dream have I been putting off because I thought I could never do that or be that person? Something seeming so insignificant like waking up early can have such huge impact in every aspect of your life.

During Covid-19, now more than ever you need to cultivate an extra reserve of resilience to navigate the uncertainty and tough times. It is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the stories you have been telling yourself that could really impact how you move forward.

What story do you need to shift or let go of in order to thrive during this period?

This simple habit of waking up earlier provides you with the platform to make progress on your goals, boost your confidence and truly lead yourself.

It all starts with one micro decision to wake up earlier.

Here’s to showing up to yourself,

Warm wishes,