Dear Crucial Skills,
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to wake up early every day and start the day with a planned schedule. I have read about the benefits of getting up early and would like to put them into practice. I am very motivated to do so, mainly because I do not have enough time during the day to complete things that are really important to my personal growth and development.
And yet, I am still struggling to stick to this resolution. I have tried all sorts of tricks like adjusting the clock ahead of time, doing affirmations before going to sleep, and going to bed earlier. My problem is I feel so good and lazy in “sleep mode” when the alarm rings that waking up is not a priority for me in that moment. How do I get myself to wake up early?
Dear Snooze Button,
I get up pretty early to exercise. Getting up isn’t my problem, it’s getting myself to start exercising. I read for a while before I go to our home gym so it’s pretty easy to lay on the couch five minutes longer, then ten minutes, then . . . So I know the feeling.
The good news is that you’re thinking very creatively in exactly the way you need to in order to change this habit. In Change Anything, we point out that those who succeed at changing tough habits are those who begin to act like both the scientist and the subject in their change challenge. You are the “subject” in that you are the snoozer. You need to be the “scientist” by standing above snoozer-you and experimenting with ways to get the snoozer to act differently. So let me talk to your inner scientist.
First, think about a variety of sources of influence that might get you moving. For example, could you get social support by committing to do a first-thing-in-the-morning activity with another person? Not letting your friend down might be enough to get you up and start your day. For example, if you’re trying to exercise, you could join an online group that checks in virtually before exercising as a way to support one another.
Could you create a little reward or punishment for when you get up or for when you don’t? For example, create charity and anti-charity jars and place them on your counter. When you get up on time, put a quarter in the charity jar. When you don’t, put a quarter in the anti-charity jar. At the end of the month, send the charity money to a cause you love and send the anti-charity money to me. Just kidding. Send it to a cause you don’t like—perhaps a political party you disagree with.
Thursdays are my hardest workout day. I used to dread that day until I created a special reward at the end of my workout. I bought some chocolate protein powder and I mix it up with a banana to make a shake that I only drink on that day. It’s funny how much I’ve come to look forward to Thursdays because that is “shake day” for me. It’s also funny to note how easy it is to change our experience of even unpleasant behaviors by adding in the right source of influence.
My inner scientist came upon another solution that has worked well for me. I notice that you’ve tried motivation strategies like affirmations. I discovered that you don’t need more motivation if you make it easier to follow through. For example, I realized I dreaded the treadmill because I tended to start my run as fast as I could to get it over with sooner. So I changed my workout to start with a pleasant walk, then a slow run. Just allowing myself to enjoy the first few minutes while I warm up changed how I felt about getting started. If you decrease difficulty, you don’t need as much motivation. Perhaps you could schedule something pleasant and easy to do first thing in the morning. For example, you could read a chapter of a book you enjoy.
I hope these ideas spark something useful to you. Don’t worry that your plan isn’t working yet. Turn bad days into good data by telling yourself, “That strategy was insufficient. Now I know I need an additional or different source of influence to accomplish my goal.” Check out Change Anything for lots of easy ideas. If you continue to approach it like a scientist, you’ll crack the code for sure.
And for the rest of you who have conquered the snooze button, feel free to comment on this article with your ideas as well!