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The hardest part of waking up really damn early

This post is part of a series detailing my experience with Damn Early Days (more on that here) and what I’ve learnt attempting to wake up really damn early every day.

Many people would cringe at the thought of waking up at 5:00 am for no reason other than to work on personal projects. And they’d have good reason to. Waking up before the sun rises is unpleasant on most days, and downright painful on others, especially in the winter months when the sun is still hidden beneath the horizon until well after 7:30 am. But what I’ve learnt through Damn Early Days is that the hardest part of waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t the act of forcing yourself out of bed.

I don’t care if you’re a night person or a morning person, if you have an intention, a goal that you want to achieve more than anything else in the world and that you’re willing to sacrifice for, then pulling those sheets off at 6, 5, or even 4:30 am isn’t all that difficult.

No, the most difficult aspect of waking up at that hour is getting into bed by 9 pm. Let me explain.

As soon as we wake up our willpower is at its peak. You may have noticed that getting to the gym is much easier in the morning when you’re feeling determined than after your energy has been depleted by a full day at the office. It’s easier to make excuses and to rationalise your inner sloth when you’ve already put in a solid 8-hour day. In a similar fashion, it’s much easier to convince yourself that staying up past your bedtime by 30 minutes isn’t going to do you any real harm; after all, you’ve worked hard all day, you deserve a bit of R&R. But 30 minutes quickly becomes 60, and then 90, and then good luck getting up at 5 am.

Part of the reason DEDs has been so transformative and that I’ve been so productive during my early mornings is that there are far fewer distractions competing for my attention at 5 am. No one’s texting me, no one’s inviting me out for “just one beer,” no one’s trying to convince me that right now is the perfect time to go on an adventure (although as I connect with more and more DEDers, that’s slowly starting to change—when’s our next sunrise meetup, guys?).

Yet my evenings are pretty much the opposite. Not only do I have countless distractions competing for my attention, but my willpower is such that it can be a real struggle just to get dinner going. It’s an uphill battle to do anything productive after 7 pm. Which is why I usually reserve my evenings for downtime. Why fight against the current, right?

Regardless, Netflix, Facebook, social events, even a good book or my phone can keep me up well past my bedtime, and it’s taken me weeks and some serious self-discipline to find a bedtime routine that ensures I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night.

Even now on my fourth round of DEDs, I still find it easier to get up with my alarm in the morning than to force myself to bed by 9 pm.

The power of preparation

This got me thinking about how I could apply this lesson to other aspects of my life.

Sometimes the hardest part of performing some task isn’t the task itself, but the preparation required of us to perform that task at our peak. Take giving a speech in front of a large crowd. The act of giving the speech—like waking at 5 am—isn’t all that difficult. You stand up, you open your mouth, and you talk. But how you perform and how you feel after your performance is directly linked to how much preparation you’ve done for your speech—just like how you feel in the morning is going to be directly influenced by what time you fall asleep the night before.

Adequately preparing for the talk may take 5 to 10 times as much effort and time as actually giving the talk, yet we seldom spend half as much time fretting over how we’re going to prepare for the talk than we do over the act of public speaking itself.

That is to say, if we spent less time worrying about sleeping-in past 5 am, and more time focused on getting to bed by 9 pm, then we might find that there’s really nothing to be worried about at all, and that we’re actually quite good at public speaking.

I haven’t had the opportunity to fully test out this approach, but I’m excited at how this mindset shift might help me tackle new fears.

So, if you find yourself faced with a 5 am wake-up call of your own (or some other equally intimidating feat), try to focus on what really matters: getting to bed by a decent hour.

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