My early experiences and what doesn’t work Firstly, a little background information on my own struggle with this surprisingly complex issue. Getting out of bed has not always been easy for me. In fact, for a substantial part of my life it was the source of subtle forms of dread, shame, disappointment, and self-sabotage. Looking back, I struggled with early rising from around the time I started secondary school (age 13) right up until my late 20s. Just think about that for a second. For roughly 15 years I started my day in subtle (and often not so subtle) negativity. I now see this as wholly unnecessary and for that reason I am writing this article to invite others to address this issue and resolve it peacefully
The fact that it took me about 15 years to resolve this issue says something. For one thing, it could mean that I am a slow learner with sadomasochistic tendencies. I won’t rule that one out entirely, but for now I’ll focus on another point. Because this negative perception of early rising often starts from such a young age, we tend to accept it as a part of life. It is not until we finally get sick and tired of starting each day in negativity that we decide we want to change.
This is a good start. This willingness to do something is, in fact, the most important thing. However, it is not the whole picture. Unfortunately, much advice that is given on this issue, while being well-intentioned, misses the key factors involved. Most advice centres on behavioural solutions to the problem. Suggestions include things like placing your alarm across the room, not eating heavily before bed, taking regular exercise, and getting up at the same time every day. Now, I am not knocking this advice. These are all perfectly fine strategies to take. In fact, we will be looking at specific strategies that can help you personally a little later. However, in my opinion, the ‘strategies approach’ does not address the real issue. The real reason many of us find it so difficult to get out of bed at a time we would like has little to do with the techniques we employ.
My scepticism about using techniques and modifying behaviour comes from direct experience. I must have tried dozens of approaches and behaviour modifications to remedy this problem, all in vain. Near the beginning of my efforts I was convinced that it was my smoking and drinking that made it so difficult to get out of bed. With great determination, I successfully stopped smoking and drinking. However, my self-sabotaging behaviour and negativity towards getting out of bed persisted. Even with the health benefits of my new lifestyle (which also included an improved diet and regular exercise) I still hated getting out of bed. I would set my alarm for 7am and sleep until noon on a regular basis. Sure, I had some modest success every now and then but nothing seemed to work for very long. More importantly, there was rarely any sense of fun or joy in what I was doing.
Another reason I grew sceptical about the techniques approach was that friends of mine who had terribly unhealthy lifestyles seemed to have absolutely no difficulty getting out of bed at the crack of dawn. This baffled me at the time. They would smoke, drink, eat fast food at 2am, and then somehow manage to get up early the next day, even on weekends. I knew I was missing something.
Ultimately then, in my experience, the behaviour modification approach was ineffective. Looking back, in a way I’m glad it didn’t work. This is simply because all my efforts using this approach felt like hard work. There was no real sense of fun or ease to these endeavours. I was always conscious of the clock. I felt like I had to sacrifice things like staying up late with friends or going out to clubs in order to master the battle against the snooze button the following day. It always felt like a battle. This was bearable when my motivation to change was particularly high, but eventually if something seems like a continual battle, it becomes draining. I eventually gave up on this approach. I hoped for another way.
Identifying the real issue
In my opinion, the real problem is totally mental. If you fix your thinking about this issue, everything else will correct itself. Firstly however, in order to understand better, it is useful to look at how this issue typically manifests itself. If there’s one thing I have come to realize it is that there is no such thing as a ‘morning person’. We are not born with an underlying predisposition regarding early rising. Rather, it is the beliefs we hold about early rising that are all important.
As very young children there is usually no problem. We love getting out of bed each day. Anyone with young children will attest to this! There are cartoons to watch, toys to play with, and friends to meet. We are full of the joys of life. Inevitably however, the world tries to impose structure on us. We are told that we must get out of bed at a certain time. We are continually told this throughout childhood. We have to be on time for church. We have to get up and go to school. ‘Have to’ is a term we begin to associate with early rising. Suddenly, any sense of freedom is removed from early rising and if there is one thing humans fear it is having their sense of freedom threatened.
Slowly but surely, as this sense of ‘have to’ grows within us, we begin to harbour resentment. This resentment is a natural response to the feeling of being coerced. Even as small children we long for autonomy. Being told that we have to do certain things, when we have no desire to, is not an easy thing to hear. We feel coerced into this form of behaviour. We feel that we have no choice but to comply. We determine that our conscious resentment regarding this behaviour must be ignored if we are to exist peacefully with others and get along. However, resentment can never be repressed or ignored. Exiled from our conscious mind, the resentment enters our subconscious mind. Now, we still have a lot of resentment but we have actually forgotten about it on a conscious level.
How does this play out in our day to day behaviour? Chances are you already know. Consciously, we comply with the external requests. All resentment is totally unconscious. We now firmly believe that we want to get up early and even that our happiness depends on it. We believe that it would be a wonderful thing to do. We long to become early rises. We imagine the wonderful things that will happen when we finally become early risers. Notice however that this longing has little to do with the enjoyment of the actual act of getting up early. It is always about what we can get if we struggle through the pain and form a new habit. Then, and only then, will we be happy. All the while however, what we are actually trying to do is gain the approval of those people who years ago berated us for staying in bed.