I am not a morning person. At least, that’s what I always told myself, and my proclivity to staying up late and getting up as late as possible has borne that out. I resisted the thought of getting up earlier than I had to as a form of unreasonable torture I could not possibly put myself through.
But the single best thing I did for myself to increase my overall happiness and creative productivity was to become a morning person.
I had to change my identity, from “night owl” to “morning person.” It was hard. I had a lot of positive associations with being a night owl, including the feeling of being a creative person who worked on her own time, unconstrained by schedules outside of the ones imposed by the workplace. Freedom, independence, the illusion of being “a real artist…” all came into play. This, and my personal history of being, since childhood, so reluctant to get out of bed in the morning my mother constantly joked it would be easier to just put wheels on my bed and roll me to school.
But when I started to get up early consistently, a number of remarkable changes happened:
• Now that I get my creative work done first thing, I no longer need to tell myself all day, “I’ll get to it later,” only to find, at midnight, that I’m just sitting down to write, and I am tired, and cranky, and oh well, I should go to bed and try again tomorrow…
• I get a great surge of energy and self-esteem from doing it. Even if I know I have a busy day coming up at work, I can go with a smile on my face because I’ve indulged my creative self, and accomplished my goal. I’ve kept my promise to myself, and that feels good.
• It comes with a built-in time boundary. I have to stop writing at a particular time in order to get ready for work. This helps me focus faster, and eliminate distractions. If I only have an hour, I’m not going to be as tempted to waste it on email. Whereas if I have all day, I can easily say, “just this one more thing…” and spend three hours surfing the net.
• It makes it easier to accomplish other tasks. Once I had the identity of someone who got up early, honored her creative self, and got things done, it spread to other areas, like exercising, building my business, etc. For me, it was a “keystone” habit, which habit-building experts say is a habit that, once set, makes it easier to develop other good habits in other areas of your life.
I also start with a routine that makes it easier to slip into the habit. The thought of facing the blank page first thing in the morning was previously enough for me to stay in bed and vow to tackle it tomorrow. Now I have a ritual of meditating for a few minutes (on weekdays it’s maybe only 10-15), getting my coffee (the smell of coffee being the trigger to entice me to get out of bed), then going to my journal and writing a few notes about what I’m going to do that day. Sometimes it’s a word goal, sometimes it’s a revision goal, but making some notes about that is a way to ease my mind into writing mode, to get back into the story, and get me excited to proceed. I used to do Julia Cameron’s recommended full 3 pages of Morning Pages (and I still recommend it if you’re facing a stubborn block). It’s all about what works best for you. Starting with something small and not-scary and manageable is a lot easier than sitting down cold and expecting the words to flow.
Once I started experiencing the benefits of it, I used that to help me keep the good habit – I think about how good it would feel having done it. The trick to keeping any habit going is to be consistent. Now, even if I can’t get the full amount of time in, I still get up and put in as much as I can. Can’t do an hour? How about 15 minutes? How about 5? Anything that keeps me on track is better than nothing. It took a while to be consistent, though, and it didn’t just happen. I still struggle from time to time, and there are some days where I legitimately need more sleep. On those days, I make the conscious decision to let myself sleep, because that is what my body and mind need at that time. If I don’t beat myself up about it, it makes it easier to come back with a better frame of mind the next day, rather than feeling like I’m pushing a boulder up a hill.
If you’re not writing as consistently as you’d like, try being a Morning Person. Commit to just one week. See how it feels. If necessary, make some adjustments so it works for you. Remember that action leads to motivation, not the other way around, so commit to taking the action, and the energy and motivation to write will follow. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!