I have given hundreds of speeches at CAA, but this is the first time that I have given a speech or a talk with a title.
And the title of this talk is: The habit of waking up.
The habit of waking up is also the title of a book that you cannot buy. And you cannot buy this book because I am not going to write it.
As an english major, I had a dream come true; I sold a book to a phenomenal publisher, inspired by an idea that I will share with you… but why I am not going to write this book is at the center of my message to you. And, so I do not bury my lede, my message to you is this: wake up; take action; and, with a nod to the wonderful poet, mary oliver: do not miss out on your beautiful and precious life.
Of course, what a terrible mistake I am making right now by being so presumptuous with advice to this group; everyone here has already achieved so much. But only you know whether you are a success by your definition. And I can tell you this: I have so much work to do if I am going to be a success by my definition.
Let us start here. What precedes waking up is going to sleep; so, here was my routine: end of the day, in bed, too tired to read or think – but not too tired to be on my phone, to check emails, texts, news, and watch a couple of youtube videos. 30 or 45 minutes later, sleep – maybe with a little help from melatonin. And then, morning – here we go: alarm rings; I reach over on the nightstand and I grab my phone to check my emails and texts.
I know there will be problems and bad news in at least one of those emails or texts. And I am fully aware that I am using those little negative adrenaline bombs to wake me up and throw me out of bed into my day. I eventually realized that my morning habit did not support my happiness; what a lousy way to begin the day: adrenalized; reactive; weight and pressure starting before even getting out of bed.
So, I took action to make a change. I wanted to start the day positively, meaningfully, and on my own terms. So – a new habit: now, I get up, as sleepy as possible… I go meditate. After meditation, I write in my journal – mostly what is happening with my kids and thoughts about the previous day. And then, eager and ready to meet the day halfway, I turn on my phone and get started.
Thus, the title: the habit of waking up.
I am obsessed with habits, those things that we do every day. Habits are not neutral. Our daily habits are either in support of our success and happiness, or not. The obvious: a habit is something that we do mindlessly every day. We do not have to make a “yes or no” decision. We take a shower every day. We do not think about it. We do not think about the order of using soap, conditioner, and shampoo. We take our shower habit actions. The result: we look and smell clean and refreshed. We have eating habit actions; drinking habit actions; exercise habit actions.
We have a habit in the way we treat our assistant at work, the way we interact with our friends, and how we communicate with our significant others. Here is a question for you: will you call or text your significant other today? And if you do – will you be present? Will you connect, or will you simply be checking a box? The answer is likely part of a habit, and that action, that habit, will tell you a lot, of course, about the health of your relationship. So, let me pause for a moment and tell you that you are lucky people – you are lucky because later today you are going to hear from Arianna Huffington, who inspired a second key habit for me. Arianna spoke at our most recent CAA retreat, and she had a huge impact. In one of her remarks, she mentioned the idea of ritual at bedtime. And her inspiration made me realize that those 30 or 45 minutes before going to bed that I mentioned; the emails, texts, news, and youtube videos. Those are negative, empty calories with their own toxic adrenaline; and certainly do not contribute to my happiness and success. So, I created another new habit. Let us call it my habit of completing the day. And here it is. I power off the phone – which is not easy. I am addicted to that phone.
But, I power off. I meditate; I write in my journal, for just two minutes. I write the things that I want to accomplish the next day – not work goals or commitments, but just things like: practice guitar; call my parents; do an art project; advance my purpose-driven work; or whatever would create personal success. I get into bed and I read for pleasure. (another new habit of being able to read books again.) no more melatonin and no more crash landing. Now I have three new habits that support my happiness and success.
Let me tell you what this book was going to be about and why I am not going to write it. I was going to interview high-achieving, famous people about their habits and use celebrity as a magnet to cause readers to be interested. And then, I was going to give useful tools from the best habit experts about how to do that very difficult thing of breaking old habits and starting new habits. What I realized was writing a book, for me, was more work that would serve primarily to mark another achievement. I am certain I would have learned a lot and that the process would have value. But at this time in my life, in its own weird way, it would have just been a source of more emails, texts, and videos. It turned out that my habit of waking up is really the habit of creating meaning. And further, by taking repeated action, I had created the habit of making new habits.
There is a cliché that people do not change. I do not believe that.
I believe that when you make new habits, with all the momentum and progress toward aligning your actions with your personal, authentic priorities, inevitably you can change. You do change. This is a business and career conference, so let me say… I am very clear about the habits that support my work success… but I am more effective at work because I am now more attuned to how I spend my time and create meaning. My definition of success – and I have a long way to go – is to create more time; more freedom; more authenticity; more vulnerability; more day-to-day actions based on personal passion, which will inevitably lead to a more intriguing and interesting future.
So, these habits worked for me. Each of you must find your own habits. And you may be way ahead of me, and I would not doubt it. But I will tell you this: I waited longer than I should have to figure it out. So, I leave you at the beginning: wake up, take action, make new habits, and do not miss out on your beautiful and precious life. Thank you.
This speech was delivered at CAA Convene in July 2019.