My eyes shoot open and I check the dimly lit time on my phone, 5:33am. Time to begin. As if lost in a musical trance, I go through an elaborate morning routine. I am naturally a morning person, but never THAT morning person. You know the type. Chirpy, old guy taking his dog on a walk at 5am while whistling nonsense. I was a morning person, but never like those people. The occasional reading or watching TV, but as a college student being awake at 7am doesn't lend itself well to a lot of social situations. And waking up at 8am after a grueling night ending at 3am (at the library of course!) made me hate being a morning person.
One spring morning freshman year of college, I awoke at 7am and with 4 hours until my first lecture, I decided to do something productive. I went on a run. Well actually a half slow-jog, half-shimmy maneuver, but you get the point.
What happened next became the foundation for massive changes in my life. Despite how exhausting the daily jogs were, I always felt a unique sense of accomplishment walking back. Looking around at the tired and half-asleep faces of people scrambling to get class, I knew that I had accomplished one of my goals before they even woke up.
I had accomplished something they hadn’t. Not something they couldn’t, but wouldn’t.
And that fueled me. The idea that I could exploit my early morning-tendencies and accomplish more than others by noon excited me. I could do something differently, and do it well. So much so, that I then proceeded to lose 27 lbs. from March 2014 to October 2014, becoming within a normal weight range for the first-time since freshman year of high school.
Now that obviously required other lifestyle changes, but going on these ritualistic jogs was the first step, literally.
And from October 2014 until March 2015, I once again exploited my early morning-tendencies to fulfill a long-time passion of mine, power-lifting. By making productive use of the first couple hours that I was awake, I successfully gained 25 lbs. on my first bulk.
Before doing anything else normal people did in the morning, reading email threads, checking Facebook, or even my brushing my teeth, I made sure to go to the gym. I made it a point that every day started with me accomplishing one task that I wanted to accomplish. Regardless of preliminary exams, overbearing homework, or organizational work, I made sure to take 1 step, however small, towards my goals Every. Single. Day. Eventually I created a morning process whereby I could be out of my building, walking to the gym in the fierce Ithaca winter within 4 minutes. Yes, that includes using the bathroom.
So why not wake-up even earlier and do even more of what I wanted? I probably sounded like a lunatic to my DJ roommate who regularly slept at 3/4/5am, a time I would now be waking up. Carefully devising 5 year, 1 year, and 1 month goals across all aspects of my H.E.A.L.T.H., which I strongly advise everyone to do, I decided which actions and tasks, if done daily, would most help me reach my goals.
And then I did them. Every day.
For example, one of my personal goals is to present a TED talk within the next two years. I set a daily mini-goal of watching 1 TED talk per day. This has allowed me to become more familiar with presentation tactics and powerful speaking. During a class discussion on public speaking, I was asked to give an impromptu speech to be critiqued by an acting teacher. Now as a socially inept introvert, the prospect of speaking publicly is slightly daunting. My daily ritual of watching powerful TED talks helped me gain the confidence to present and when I stood in front of the crowd, I imagined myself at a TEDx conference. And I killed it. To the point where the acting coach was thoroughly impressed, left no critiques, and suggested I give a TED talk sometime in my life. If only she knew!
It’s not just the action of completing these tasks, but also consciously thinking about these tasks and their role in getting you your desired results. After I watch a TED talk (now watching 3 a day), I constantly picture myself on that very same stage, presenting my next brilliant idea. In Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (HIGHLY recommended), Hill explores how constantly thinking about a goal will seep passion from the conscious into the subconscious mind, making decisions more effective and turning thought energy into its physical equivalent. Basically, the more actively you think and truly believe that you will succeed, the more likely you are to succeed. Those who say they can and cannot are both usually right.
Perhaps the best outcome from this tactic was that I began everyday of my life doing something I love. If your daily mini-goals are a true and accurate representative of what you personally aspire to accomplish longer-term, then the satisfaction from completing a daily mini-goal will be overwhelming. You will go to sleep each night knowing that you are well along an established route to success, carefully mapped and revised through introspective moments.
So while I was not originally the biggest fan of waking up 1.5 hours earlier when I was already an “early bird”, that time has become almost an addictive drug to me. I actually crave that time. I have used that time to create 2 fully functional websites from scratch, read 6 books in the past 4 months, and watched hundreds of TED talks all in about an hour per day. Consistence can turn small into large. That growing pile of dishes you keep putting off? It can be accomplished with 10 consistent minutes of washing per day. That novel you always dreamed about writing? It can be had for less than 200 words per day across 9 months. Those 20 lbs. you want to lose? Can be done by eating 500 calories under TDEE per day. The journey may not always be the smoothest, but success averages out over the long term. If something is truly important to you, you will organize the time for it to happen. For me that meant sleeping earlier and using awake time not to keep busy, but productive.
Accomplishing multiple tasks early in the morning sets up a day for success and meaning. You no longer get the “It’s Thursday?” or feel as if life is simply going through the motions, eagerly awaiting the weekend. You are accomplishing your goals the same way you live, one day at a time.
And I now fully embrace the morning. Mornings are one of the most underutilized blessings of life. There are no distractions. No one on Facebook to message, no Instagram feeds to scroll through, no email to check. All that exists in those early morning hours are me and my passions. And it can be you and your passions as well.