The morning is a glorious time, full of possibility. You have rested well, the demands of the day haven’t worn you down, and you can be uncontactable should you choose to be. You can resist any non-urgent task or mindless distraction and focus on exceptional output; the work that only you can do, that adds the most value to those you serve.
I interviewed The 5AM Club’s bestselling author Robin Sharma about the five methods by which entrepreneurs and business leaders can wake up early.
Make it a habit
According to University College London, it “takes sixty-six days to wire in a new habit.” Sharma advises budding early risers to start the habit then “allow neuroplasticity to work its magic.” Neuroplasticity is when neural networks in the brain change through growth and reorganisation. Rising earlier creates adaptation in the brain, forming new neural pathways. Waking up earlier changes how your brain works and soon feels effortless.
Until you make rising at 5am a habit, it’s not going to be easy. But easy isn’t the goal. Sharma adds, “We want the rewards but we’re unwilling to do what’s required to get them. Everyone who succeeded did the work to get the results.” The first day will be difficult, make no mistake. But then it will get easier and you will get better. It will become a habit.
Do it in a group
In order to create positive habits, you should join a group where the desired change is the default one. Do you know people who already practice the 5AM Club’s methods, or self-proclaimed early risers? To them, it’s the norm. Subconscious, effortless, just a part of who they are. In creating the change you seek, these people are your heroes.
Second best is doing it with friends or family members, even better if they live with you. The value of group dynamics and accountability should not be underestimated; it’s a proven tactic. Also incorporated in the methods of Alcoholics Anonymous, Sharma advises entrepreneurs to seek peer support in waking up early. The 5AM Club has followers all over the world, many of whom have set up groups in order to help and support each other along their early morning endeavours. Rather than relying on the group in the long term, use it to kick start your efforts until accountability is no longer required.
Log daily victories
“Habit researchers advocate a pre-commitment strategy,” where you decide what you will do in advance, and then intentionally make it happen rather than letting things happen to you. Sharma also advocates keeping a visual log, perhaps in the form of a paper checklist where “every morning you check off the little daily results” in order to build sustainable habits including waking up early. He showed me his weekly plan, neatly laid out and set in stone, with no chance of being ignored. Wake up at 5am: tick. Every single day.
The goal is to string good days together, strategically converting a series of actions into an automatic routine. Soon, those daily activities that took so much energy to tick off happen without conscious thought. Your physical records mirror your efforts back to you, reassuring you of your progress. It starts with waking up early and owning your morning, it ends with planning your week every Sunday, bringing your best self to every endeavour and going to sleep each night feeling satisfied with your input.
Give yourself permission to fail
Until the habit is cemented, you might fail in your practice. It’s important not to beat yourself up about it. “Give yourself permission to fail” advised Sharma. “A few slips on the road to excellence and mastery are not the end of the world.” As long as the general trajectory is up, you can withstand bumps on the journey. Not every day will be perfect, but there’s never a need to give up and start from scratch.
Humans don’t get everything right first time and should not put undue pressure on themselves to do so. If fear of failure is stopping you from starting, make it OK to fail. Assign no meaning to sleeping through your alarm once in a while. Focus on when your morning did happen as planned and not when it didn’t. Failing is viewed in different ways across cultures, but without great leaps there are no great results, and falling every now and then is inevitable. Pick yourself up and go again tomorrow.
Use a clock
Sharma carries an old-school analogue clock that he often sets ahead, to trick his brain into thinking it’s a different time. He might set it, say, 45-minutes ahead and then be pleasantly surprised when learning that it’s actually earlier in the day. Tricking your brain in the early days of creating a habit can help make the habit stick.
Not only is this clock great for avoiding the rabbit hole that can ensue when checking the time using a digital device, but it can be carried around to maintain the early morning habit when on the move. Whilst many software programmes can hinder habit creation, specific hardware can help.
Waking up early brings countless benefits. Making more of the day, succumbing to fewer distractions and increased productivity are just a few. Experiment with tactics to start the routine and keep going until it happens without effort. 7am then 6am then 5am. For those serious about making their mark, earlier is undoubtably better.