Racing the sun

Sunrise by Nathaniel F

There is definitely something worthwhile in getting up before the sun.

Starting the day before it feels like the day actually starts, conveys a pretty amazing sense of momentum and achievement. It kickstarts your sense of what’s possible and worth doing in a particular day – making other tasks less daunting and allowing you to approach them with a wider toolkit of options.

I haven’t done the work to understand all the mechanisms at work behind this, but irrespective of whether this is individual or universal, it’s well worth taking a week to experiment to find out for yourself.

Getting up early is not without its costs, but I think we often discount the idea without even considering the potential benefits. And making a choice when you can’t see all the options, means you’re not really making a choice.

If you do want to race the sun up in the morning, then there are a few things you can do to make the process easier:

Get to bed early the night before
This seems like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying. If you want to get up early, make sure that you got to bed early enough to get your normal amount of sleep in the first night or your body will be grumbling for two reasons (it’s too dark and you’re too tired).

Arrange to do something enjoyable
One of the best things about racing the sun is that you get some time when nobody has expectations of you, so use it for something you like. Find something you enjoy, but normally don’t feel you have enough time to do. You’ll discover that using this time for something you like is like finding money you had forgotten about in your jacket pocket, but every day. It also means that if you have challenging day ahead full of tasks which aren’t so fun, you’ve managed to do something for you, first.

Make getting up as easy as possible
Prep as much as you can the night before, it will make the world of difference when the alarm goes off and your body wants to fight the urge to get up. Lay your clothes out, get the coffee stuff on the bench and ready, sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door. It means you can take the first few steps on autopilot and build up the momentum required to bust through the fog of sleep.

Protect your time
Don’t let the world dictate what you do with this time. Whether you want to use it to write, run, cook or play xbox, the only thing that matters is doing what you set out to do. Don’t wake up and decide to do the laundry instead – unless it will bring greater satisfaction.

Watch the sunrise
If you actually beat the sun up (difficult at some latitudes in the summer), then take a few moments to watch it rise. The day never looks as good as it does at sunrise, so take a second to enjoy it.

Don’t get too ambitious
Committing to waking up at 4am is only great if you can reliably get to bed early enough to make it viable. Your body will punish you if you try force a new habit on it and simultaneously deprive it of the resources required to cope with the change. Start small if that makes it easier and just get up 30 mins earlier at first.

If it’s not working, ditch it
If waking up early is painful, makes you want to murder those around you and doesn’t seem to confer any benefits, then don’t do it. I’m fairly sure that this won’t be something that works for everyone, but unless you’ve tried it for at least 3 days in a row, I don’t think you’ll have given it a proper shot. Your body will need a day or two to adjust.

How to hack waking up

Have trouble waking up when you want? Yeah, me too.

When I set the alarm, my brain is like Mr Spock – full of logic, reasoning and good intentions. I’ll get up early because it makes sense and will be good in the long run.

When the alarm goes off, I’m in Homer Simpson mode and I become a lazy, snooze-button-hitting, hedonist.

In a situation like this, it’s good to have a few tools to hand. At the very least, I like to have a carrot and a stick.

My carrot is a great little trick which I embarrassingly can’t cite (if you know where is comes from, ping me and I’ll update the post), but which is amazingly effective.

“You can’t make any decisions whilst lying down”.

That’s it.

It sounds nuts, but it really works. Want to sleep in? Sure thing, but in order to make that decision, you have to get out of bed and stand up first.

Once you’re actually out of bed, you can generate a little more momentum (make a coffee, wash your face) and then staying up is easier, no matter what the time.

It’s a nice little hack which acknowledges that you’re not likely to be in the best decision making mode when horizontal.

If that doesn’t work (and it does 90% of the time) then, I tend to deploy the stick of shame.

For waking up, it comes in the form of this quote from Marcus Aurelius who, when he wrote it, was probably the most powerful man in the world. It’s from the Gregory Hay’s translation of Meditations and was probably written by Marcus Aurelius, in his tent while on military campaign.

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’

If the leader of the world can get himself out of bed to fight Goths in a cold, wet, field – then surely I can get up to make coffee.

If that 2000 year-old stick doesn’t work, then you can always got to Defcon 1 and set a super-loud, back-up alarm that will wake up your partner, and place it in the next room. But then you’re risking all manner of hell and not being able to wake up is going to be the least of your issues.