Bite the Bullets
- Anyone can become a morning person, even “night owls.”
- The keys to success start with taking stock of what is working with or against you.
- Setting the bar low and raising it incrementally reduces likelihood of failure.
Welcome to the first installment of “Odes,” a series delving into examples where practical advice has worked for real-life people. The goal is that through helping one very specific person, the example can be more helpful for the many as opposed to speaking in generalities.
Today we’re focusing on “Jim”, a unique individual grappling with the common challenge of becoming a morning person. Jim’s story is not just his own but is a tale as old as the struggle to change sleep habits.
Specifically, we’ll be walking through:
- the problem he is working through and the goal he is working towards,
- his behavior tendencies or personality traits, and
- the life circumstances, or constraints, he is working within.
Problem and Goals: The Night Owl’s Dilemma
Jim, like many, aspires to wake up earlier but mentioned he IS a night person. He even kicked off the conversation mentioning how he disagreed with the idea that anyone can become a morning person. Despite his attempts, the habit of waking up early has never stuck. To simplify this, the way he stated the problem broke it into two components:
1) he is not a morning person, and
2) he’s tried before and it didn’t work because he is not a morning person.
Does this sound familiar?
Beyond waking up early, his true goal relates to how he will use that time. Jim has lofty goals and most of the people he admires attribute much of their success to having the habit of waking up early. He also values his morning Bible readings as they make the entire day feel and flow better, but these have recently taken a backseat to his sleep schedule.
Life Circumstances: Navigating Life’s Constraints
Layered on top of Jim’s goals are his life circumstances which make things more complex. Jim is married and he and his wife typically go to bed and wake up together, meaning he will likely need to get his wife on board with the change (or at least support it).
Jim’s wife also wants to go to the gym in the morning with him. However, to make this possible, she needs to be there by 6:45am at the latest to ensure she can get to work on time. Since they are currently waking up after 7:00am that means he’d have to start waking up at least 30min earlier than usual. On the positive side of things, Jim’s wife wanting to wake up earlier could be just the boost and support he needs to make waking up early easier.
Behavior Tendencies: Navigating Personal Constraints
Beyond life constraints, Jim also has internal constraints that he has to consider when crafting his approach. A quick personality test revealed that Jim tends to be creative and open to trying new things, which is great for attempting a new approach towards being a morning person. He is also quite extraverted, so making the first morning activity of exercising a social one (with his wife) can help make it more enjoyable and thus more likely to stick as a habit.
On the other had, Jim tends to get quite anxious and is lower in self-discipline. Most people can conjure up self-discipline in the short term, but relying on it for long-term success is a sure-fire way for the habit to break down in Jim’s case. Similarly, anxiety is actually an extremely powerful motivator. But if anxiety or stress is related as a negative motivator to wake up early for too long it will also lead to burnout.
Beyond Our Conversation: Personality, Sleep, and Identity
Jim also self-identified as a “night person” which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This label reinforces his current sleep habits. On the flip side, creating the identity of an early bird can start pulling him in the direction he wants to go.
Additionally, his personality plays into this cycle, influencing his sleep and dietary habits. For example, stress eating is something we’ve all done when anxious, and rarely do we stress eat a salad. We reach for the good gunk, sweets and carby treats. Being prone to anxiety, this is a risk, which compounds into worse sleep as his blood sugar being higher can make it harder to fall or stay asleep.
Basic Tips for Better Sleep and Mornings
Depending on where you’re at, these sleep and waking tips may be old news but they are tried and true. Jim hadn’t rolled these into his habits when we first spoke, but the ones he has used since started helping him immediately. So if you are like him, take this as your sign to add these tips to your sleep toolkit:
- Sleep Tips: Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed and start winding down 30 minutes prior. The former gives your body less to digest when sleeping so it can rest deeper, and the latter gives your mind less to race on so you can fall asleep faster. Also, my number one prescription as an easy starting point is to make room adjustments like adding blackout curtains and removing TVs. Even if your eyes are closed, light still stimulates us in a way that we don’t get as restful sleep as we could. TV’s/phones used in the bedroom tell our bodies “this room isn’t just for sleeping,” which makes it harder to shift into sleep mode.
- Waking Tips: Make waking up easier on yourself. Prepare for the morning the night before by setting out gym clothes and whatever else makes it easier to grab and go to the gym. No one wants to wake up to an unpleasant/boring morning. Also, Jim involving his wife in the wake-up process as an accountability partner can reduce the likelihood they hit the snooze button. Finally, our bodies use water for everything, and over night we become somewhat dehydrated. Start the day with water to give your body and brain the basic fuel it needs to kickstart in the morning.
The Challenge: Setting a SMART Goal
To make the habit forming process real and measurable, we set a SMART goal to facilitate this change, focusing on getting to bed earlier as the lynchpin for becoming more of a consistent gym-goer:
- Specific: The goal must be specific enough to allow him to aim at something. E.g., go to bed at the same time nightly, gradually moving towards 10 pm.
- Measurable: The goal also must be measurable so he can tell what is a success versus a failure. E.g., start by getting to bed by 10:45 pm.
- Achievable: The goal must be realistic. E.g., this is just 15 minutes earlier than usual which is manageable, as opposed to shooting straight for going to bed by 9:00pm.
- Relevant: There must be an important reason to achieve this goal. E.g., early rising supports Jim’s Bible reading, his wife’s gym routine, and overall well-being.
- Time-bound: To make the goal even more measurable, it must be time-bound. E.g., target getting to bed at 10:45pm 4 times within the next week.
Supporting Steps: Collaboration and Rewards
Jim’s wife plays a crucial role in this plan, so gaining her support is vital. Any time you add another person to the equation of creating a new habit it has the potential to become exponentially more difficult. Getting on the same page early is likely to be one of the highest leverage activities Jim could engage in to kick off his approach.
We are also wired to strive for rewards. Setting up rewards for achieving this goal can provide additional motivation and begins to hardwire this habit as leading to joy.
Jim is all of us in some ways. His story is a reminder that developing new habits is about understanding oneself and setting realistic, incremental goals. For those similar to Jim, the playbook works for everyone. Consider your unique circumstances and personality when crafting your path to change, and starting by setting a low bar for success eventually leads to breaking all of your personal records.
If you’re inspired by Jim’s journey and want a personalized “Ode” or want to speak with Tyler/Peter, join our community or attend one of our live workshops.