For years, I’ve got out of bed at a time most would consider “early”…but anything from a few minutes to an hour later than I’d planned.
I tried every “hack” to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button, up to and including an alarm app that forces you to solve maths problems before you can turn it off.
Nothing worked. I’d either deliberately hit snooze a couple of times, or turn off the alarm completely without noticing then wake up with a shock an hour later.
This wasn’t what I’d consider a conscious act of laziness to start the day: it felt like before my consciousness had a chance to boot up and impose its will, my unconscious had decided it quite fancied an extra 15 minutes’ kip and undone every trap I’d laid for it.
Last week, I decided I’d hit the “snooze” button for the last time, and things had to change. Since then, I’ve leapt out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off every day without fail – and it hasn’t felt like an effort.
(Yes, it’d be better to wake up naturally without an alarm at all. I’ll consider that the next level, once I consistently wake up properly with an alarm.)
Here’s how I did it:
- Get angry. Maybe this isn’t a healthy starting point, I don’t know. But I was almost embarrassed that I couldn’t get out of bed when I wanted to (I guess being a disciplined person is part of my identity), and kept losing time to do things I valued (like writing).
- Turn off all backup alarms. I used to have three alarms set, about five minutes apart from each other. The logic was even if I managed to turn off the first one in my sleep, I wouldn’t oversleep too badly because I’d hear the second one. This was a terrible idea, because I’d conditioned my unconscious that it was OK to turn off alarms – so I frequently turned off the third one too.
- Change the alarm sound. I don’t know if this matters, but for my one remaining alarm I picked a sound I’d never used before – so I didn’t already associate it with something that was OK to ignore.
- Decide a “first action”. Momentum is important, and time spent deciding what to do first is time when you can fall asleep again. I decided that as soon as I got out of bed, I’d step out onto the balcony to take some deep breaths and do some stretches. This is probably a bad choice, because the habit can be affected by things like travel. But hey, it’s working for now.
- Set the intention. When I’m setting my alarm before going to bed, I remind myself that I’ll be springing out of bed as soon as it goes off, and stepping onto the balcony to stretch. Then once I’ve turned out the lights and I’m starting the process of going to sleep, I mentally run through what that first 30 seconds of the day will be like – so it’s the last thing I consciously think about.
- Do it every day. I believe this whole exercise is about training the unconscious, so any inconsistency is going to mess with the automaticity. That doesn’t mean the alarm can’t be set for a different time – just that turning it off and snoozing at weekends isn’t a good idea.
And that’s it. Overnight, I’ve ended my years of erratic mornings and started getting out of bed exactly when I want to. It’s essentially a lazy version of this advice from Steve Pavlina, but it was enough to do the trick for me.
Update, a year on: April 2020
These steps did the trick for months, and I used the extra hour each day to write a best-selling novel and selflessly volunteer to help the needy. OK, I didn’t really, but I did yoga at least several times.
Then, as I semi-predicted, my routine got messed up by going to live abroad for a bit. Whether it was my “first action” being disrupted or the general change of environment I don’t know, but I went back to my oversleeping of old – and it persisted even when we moved back home.
Then after a while, I got angry with myself, started all the steps again, and sorted it out.
So, I’d still say it worked – but like all habits (except bad ones, annoyingly), it’s vulnerable to changes of context.