Unlike most small children, my five-year-old has a near teenaged habit of sleeping late. I often need to wake him up for school, which starts at 9 a.m., and is five minutes from our house. But the other morning, he bounded into the hallway at 7:15 a.m. shouting “Mommy! It’s the best day ever!” He was so excited about a playdate happening that afternoon that he just couldn’t stay in bed.
I’ve been pondering his eagerness while thinking of how people structure their mornings. Morning routines are a perennial hot topic. There are good reasons to believe that what we do first sets the tone for the rest of the day. And yet many people struggle with hitting the snooze button. They try to establish morning routines, fail, and then decide that they are just not morning people.
But here’s the thing: A lot of kids become “morning people” on Christmas morning. Even my late sleeper was a morning person as he thought about spending time with his friend. Anticipation turns us into morning people, eager to get out of bed. If you want a morning routine that works, you need a reason to get up that is more compelling than your pillow.
If you don’t have a good reason to get up, you won’t. It’s as simple as that.
So what is that good reason to get out of bed? The first step to figuring this out is letting go of ideas of what you should be doing. Yes, mornings are a great time to exercise. You may admire people who get up and bang out a 5K before breakfast. But if you don’t like to run, you won’t be able to summon the willpower to make this a long-term part of your life. You’ll do it for a few weeks, and then life will get busy, or you’ll get sidelined with the flu, and you’ll never resume once you feel better. Humans don’t do well with suffering long-term.
Instead, think about what you, personally, love to do. Pay particular attention to sources of joy that get shortchanged in the rest of your life. Maybe you’d love to connect more with your partner, but the two of you tend to pass out on the couch in front of the TV at night. Would the prospect of a daily breakfast date compel you out of bed? Maybe you have a great idea for a novel but your brain is shot by 5 p.m. Would getting an uninterrupted 45 minutes to write be a reason you’d set your alarm for 5:45 a.m.? A guilt-free half hour spent reading a page-turner might be motivation for some, or time to paint, or compose, or blog. Even just spending some quiet time with some good coffee, contemplating life, can feel decadent in a world where somebody wants something from you every two minutes.
Or maybe there’s even a work project that you’re genuinely excited about, but can’t focus on during the work day. Spending time on long-term professional development beats what most of us do with those precious morning hours: hack through our inboxes, responding to things that don’t really matter. As the days get darker and colder, is it any wonder that our beds are more appealing?
Morning routines are great, but they only work if they’re the right morning routines–the sort that fill you with excitement over the day to come. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in futility, and a recipe for hitting snooze again and again.