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How I became a 5AM-er the delightful way

Before we all got confined to our homes during this pandemic, the idea of waking up at 5AM seemed totally insane to me. It was something that only the elderly, obsessively-ambitious people, or parents of young children do, and I am none of those. What encouraged me to make the change was a desire to invest […]

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Before we all got confined to our homes during this pandemic, the idea of waking up at 5AM seemed totally insane to me. It was something that only the elderly, obsessively-ambitious people, or parents of young children do, and I am none of those. What encouraged me to make the change was a desire to invest more in my own self-care. As a therapist, I am fully aware of how important investing in self-care is to well-being, especially during a pandemic, and yet my full schedule of what was now all online teletherapy sessions was leaving me depleted at the end of the work day.

When we feel depleted, ironically, one of the first things we give up is our self-care, which can rapidly create tsunamis of overwhelm and whirlpools of despair. So I took a step back and looked at what was available to me: mornings. 

I decided to challenge my objections and come up with rebuttals for each one. Here’s how my inner dialogue went for my top 3 objections:

– Waking up at 5AM seems impossible.
– Other people do it, and it’s not because they have some special power you don’t possess, so you can definitely do this.

– If I want to get enough sleep I’m going to have to go to bed at 9:30. That’s so early!
– What are you doing when you stay up so late anyway? Is it worth the tradeoff?
– I guess not, mostly aimless surfing of the internet, while not really retaining anything.

– I’m going to be so tired in the morning. What’s the point of being up if I’m exhausted?
– Ok, so you’ll prioritize your rest and go at a pace where you don’t feel tired waking up that early. There’s no rush!

This last bit made all the difference.
Hmm, maybe this isn’t as impossible as it first seemed.

Baby Steps
When we were little babies, every little action we took, particularly our first step was something worth celebrating.

In the adult world, baby steps get a bad rap. The underlying message is that baby steps are for people who aren’t courageous enough to “go big or go home”. That cringey sentiment actually just perpetuates a see-saw cycle of success and failure that wears away at self-worth.

I’ve worked with tons of people who were so weary of this roller coaster ride that they had chosen to opt out, settling for a sense of safety, perhaps even security, but sacrificing satisfaction.

So many of us have absorbed delight-crushing beliefs that feeling good about our small signs of progress is “stupid”. That it’s “silly” that it’s “ridiculous” to cheer for ourselves along the way. That it means we’re not taking something seriously.

This contempt toward grown-up baby steps is truly tragic. It’s corrosive. It’s the dismissal or outright rejection of an extremely effective instinct-based system for cultivating a fulfilling life.

The Delightful Way
When a baby begins to stand on two shaky legs, this is an exciting development! Are they ready for that first step? We celebrate the potential of something delightful happening. Then, when baby actually takes that first step (really more of a stumble), we are again excited! They are doing the thing! How wonderful! And when baby tumbles into their parent’s arms, they celebrate this momentous milestone together.

This breaks down to pre-action delight, mid-action delight, and post-action delight. The whole darn process is delightful. This is an absolutely brilliant design by nature to keep our motivation levels high! It encourages us to keep stretching our limits, to try new things. When we string together these moments of delight, they soften and blend together into a sense of glow.

What is ‘glow’ you ask?

Glow is that warm feeling that spreads throughout your body and fills you with a sense of relaxed eagerness and possibility. Glow is a steady hopeful energy. The texture and quality differs for each of us based on our special mixture of energies, (for me it feels light, like chiffon, and tingly like champagne bubbles), but it always includes an undertone of warmth. I believe glow is our birthright.

Contrast this with the typical adult way to change (a.k.a. Should-ing): (Please don’t beat yourself up if it’s the method you’ve been using. It’s the one I used for many years-until I discovered the delightful way!)

Pressured pre-action: “I should have done this already.”
Go big go home mid-action: “This is terrifying. What if I fail? Should I even try?”
Punishing post-action: “That was terrible. I should have done better.”

Where is the delight in that? Where’s the room for glow?

To clarify, no you don’t have to champagne toast yourself every step of the way (though if you want to, go for it!). What is absolutely vital is that at the very least you acknowledge your pre, mid, and post actions. That is a huge part of what makes any new behavior sustainable.

Withholding credit doesn’t make us more grown, it makes us miserable and insecure.

Making a plan
Another major mistake I see people make is prioritizing their time. It’s far more effective to dial in our energy, because energy is a time multiplier.

With that in mind, I committed to this delightfully easy-to-do baby step:
I will wake up just 5 minutes earlier each day until I get to the 5AM mark. 

Sure, I could have just committed to forcing, willing, and pushing myself, to suddenly begin waking up at 5, but first off, just waking up at 5 wasn’t the point. Besides, that would have made the change process miserable. If it’s not already obvious, I generally say no thanks to misery when it’s an option. 

It’s easy to lose sight of our deeper desire when we focus on more measurable objectives. We can reorient by reminding ourselves that our objectives are actually just promises of a particular feeling. I stayed focused on the desire I most wanted to fulfill: that feeling of ‘glow’.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I am thoroughly delighted with being a 5AM-er, but more importantly, I was glowing up the whole way.

What’s a change you’ve been wanting to make in your life?
What’s one delightful baby step you can take today to get started?
How will you give yourself credit?

Let me know with a comment!

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