Not sure what to do? Do nothing

Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

When something is not working, when we feel lost, or when we don’t know what to be doing in the present moment, our mind nudges us into action. It could be seeking a solution, talking to someone about our stressors, or just distracting ourselves with a TV show or food. Through some mechanism over time, our mind has developed this strong belief that doing is always the solution. However, as we have experienced over and over again, action does not fix everything. Watching TV doesn’t always cure boredom, and venting doesn’t heal anger. If we’re lucky, we may achieve temporary relief, but the root of the problem remains – we always feel the need to control things, and as a result, we feel the need to always do something.

The Art of Non-Doing

Yesterday, when feeling a bit restless and in a rut, I wrote a journal entry/note on my phone:

I gave in today and tried to logically get myself out of the rut that I’m feeling regarding my monotonous day-to-day routine. I googled for ideas, I went on Reddit, I listened to talks, I tried reading, and quite honestly, none of it worked. Had I not stressed over this, I could have least enjoyed the past two hours. It wouldn’t change anything, but it may have been relaxing, and that might have helped.

I experienced a challenging emotion (restlessness), but no amount of doing was able to fix this. As a matter of fact, it may have made things worse because I felt tired and like I had lost valuable time on my day off, and I had nothing to show for it. When we feel unpleasant emotions, we feel the need to get rid of them. What we fail to recognize and admit to ourselves is that it is okay, and it is human, to experience negative emotions. Not every negative moment or feeling has to be a crisis.

We do not know how to sit with our feelings. The art of non-doing is recognizing that it is okay to not try to fix everything. It is okay to feel bad and let ourselves feel that way. Oddly enough, this acknowledgment in and of itself is empowering and a mood lifter. Does this mean give up or stop trying? Absolutely not! It means learning to distinguish between what you can control and what you cannot control and being okay with what you cannot control.

Non-doing simply means letting go, letting things be the way that they are, and letting them unfold the way they are intended.

Practicing Non-Doing

“When we spend some time each day in non-doing, resting in awareness, observing the flow of the breath and the activity of our mind and body without getting caught up in that activity, we are cultivating calmness and mindfulness hand in hand”

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation, at its core, is an exercise of non-doing. However, it is not the only way to practice non-doing. I have found that non-doing is about absorbing what is happening in the present moment as it shifts into the next moment. It is also about making a conscious decision not to be pulled in several directions by our feelings, desires, or external pressure. Non-doing can also manifest through effortless action (i.e., things that induce a state of flow). This could be listening to music, going for a walk, or swimming. The key here is intentionality. Is movement enabling your ability to be aware and present, or is it just another thing you are doing?

More than anything, non-doing is something that results through the decisions we make in our day-to-day. When you’re bored, do you automatically grab your smartphone and scroll through social media, or do you sit with it and be okay being bored? When someone messages you from work in the evening, do you immediately respond or put it aside and respond during regular working hours?

Final words…

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”

~ Guillaume Apollinaire

If there’s a takeaway I can give from this post, it is this – the next time you’re in a rut, or you feel stuck, rather than jumping into action, take a moment to pause. Take just two minutes. Take a handful of deep breathes, analyze what is happening around you, recite a mantra to ground you, and/or ask yourself this question – do I need to be doing something right now and will it fix how I am feeling?

5 Quotes for Happiness

Tal Ben-Shahar states that there are five domains in our lives that contribute to happiness and well-being — spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, intellectual. Here are some quotes for some morning or evening inspiration:


“Part of spiritual and emotional maturity is recognizing that it’s not like you’re going to try to fix yourself and become a different person. You remain the same person, but you become awakened”

~ Jack Kornfield


“Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself”

~Naval Ravikant


“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words”

~ Roy T. Bennett


“Anyone can become angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”



“To know that you do not know is the best. To think you know when you do not is a disease. Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it”

~ Lao Tzu

The Problem With Gratitude

Over the past few years, gratitude has become a popular topic in the positive psychology and self-help space. Many researchers and coaches talk about the benefits of gratitude and why we should set aside time each day to be grateful for the things in our lives. We’re told to be optimistic, say thank you to the important people in our lives, and keep gratitude journals.

These are all great ideas and great things, but the problem is that many people treat gratitude as an activity or something you do once in a while. You write three things you’re grateful for every night, or you send a thank you letter to an old friend. You participate in the activity, and that’s it. If we wish to unlock the benefits and power of gratitude, we need to think of it as a lifestyle, not as an exercise.

Temporary things will only give you temporary joy.

Have you noticed how most of the things that give us joy in life are all temporary? Whether it is a meal, a movie, or a vacation – it is temporary, and therefore, the pleasure it provides is momentary. Similar to how a good meal gives only temporary joy, gratitude as an activity will only have short-term benefits.

Gratitude as a lifestyle is about appreciating what you have at every moment.

As people, we have this odd tendency to always be looking to the future or looking back in the past. Think about vacations. When you’re planning a vacation, you’re getting joy out of what is to come. As you get closer and closer to that vacation, work, and even life become more and more agonizing, and it’s as if you cannot enjoy anything until you reach that vacation. You want time to pass so that you can be hiking in California or sitting on a beach in Hawaii. When the vacation is over, you struggle to enjoy the present moment. Instead, you reflect and get sad that you are not there anymore, so you now shift your attention to your next vacation or time off. Unfortunately, even when we’re on vacation or experiencing that thing that is supposed to give us joy, we’re still longing for more. You’re dreading that there are only two days left before you go back home, or you’re upset that the lousy weather derailed some of your plans.

In moments like this, when we are stuck in the rat race of life or in this rut of continually wanting more, it’s in these precise moments where you need to remind yourself to be grateful. Each moment is a gift. Acknowledge and accept that what you have now is enough. Getting more of something is only going to give you temporary joy, if that.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Our false sense of control inhibits our ability to be grateful.

Too often, we feel that we have more control over our lives than we do. To be clear, we do have some control over our lives, and I am a strong advocate of taking charge of the things we can control. However, the universe is just so complex, and there are an infinite number of things that we cannot control (COVID-19 is a perfect example). Despite this, we often still try to control things. We can’t seem to let go. This constant need to control is what results in always being hungry for more and being unable to enjoy the present moment. This is why we still feel like something is missing in even the happiest moments of our lives. We always think that things can be better, and we try to think of how we can control the situation and reach this ideal that doesn’t even exist. As a result, we completely take away the focus from just appreciating what we already have. If you let go of this false sense of control, you will more easily be able to enjoy what you do have.

Happiness doesn’t come from getting more, but from letting go.

Final words…

We need to shift from the mentality of gratitude being an activity to the mindset that gratitude is a way of living. When you find yourself struggling to be happy in the moment, it’s important to ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What is this doing for me? Why am I looking for more? When you take a closer look at each moment in your life, you realize that you don’t need more. You have everything that you need and more. What a great feeling.

The Happiness Model

In his book, Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar came up with what he called the happiness model. The model consists of four archetypes that illustrate how we think about happiness:

  1. The first archetype is HedonismThis is when we act in accordance with the idea of ‘seek pleasure and avoid pain.’ This is when you opt for the pizza instead of the grilled chicken, or you don’t study for your upcoming exam and play video games instead. This is a situation when we seek pleasure in the present moment, but we end up sacrificing the future to some extent. On a more extreme level, this is when you embrace the ‘you only live once’ or the ‘seize the day’ mentality and focus solely in the present even when it can negatively impact the future.
  2. The second archetype is the Rat RaceThis is the opposite of hedonism as it focuses on future gain and sacrificing the present moment. This is when you opt for the grilled chicken and vegetables instead of the pizza and focus on studying for your upcoming exam instead of hanging out with your friends. On an extreme level, this is when you live under the idea that happiness is a destination. It’s when you say “When I get that promotion, or get into my college of choice, I will be happy.” However, of course, even if you get that promotion or into college, your goal changes and you want the next thing on your list.
  3. The third archetype is Nihilism. This is the worst outcome as you act in such a way where there is present detriment AND future detriment. This is when you have the pizza, but you don’t enjoy it or when you are playing video games and finding it very unfulfilling. This state manifests usually when you are feeling hopeless, unexcited, and/or apathetic.
  4. The fourth archetype is HappinessThis is when you opt for the grilled chicken and vegetables, but you turn the chicken into a parmesan that you love. This is when you study all day so that you can hang out with your friends at night. There is present gain, but also, there is future gain.

Below is an illustration that describes these archetypes. As you can see, there are four quadrants and each archetype’s placement is based on how it affects the present and future:Happiness-Model.jpg

You might think that we should strive to live in the happiness quadrant and avoid the trap of other quadrants, but that is only partly true. The reality is that whether we like it or not, we will spend time in each quadrant. It is absolutely unavoidable, so we shouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to achieve something that is unrealistic.

The key is balance, moderation and timing.

Every now and then, you’re going to opt for pleasure now without considering the future. That’s okay. Nothing wrong with having the pizza even though you might feel a bit stuffed after or feel bloated. But should you have it five days in a row? Of course not. Sometimes you’re going to skip class to play games, and that’s fine too. The key is moderation. Similarly, there are going to be times where you need to sacrifice present happiness for future gain. You will need to not go out with your friends after work to pick up your daughter from school. You will need to stay late at work to finish an assignment. But is it an everyday occurrence? Do you keep telling yourself that you’ll be happy as soon as you get that next big break? On occasion though, perfectly okay to sacrifice now for later. Just don’t make it a habit.

Being in the happiness quadrant, of course, is the ideal. You want to maximize the time here. What are the activities that are good now and the future? Find those things. Make them a part of your daily life. For example, if you find a job you love that compensates you fairly, that’s something for the present and future. That’s the ideal. If you like a sport, and you know that it’s good for your health, do that instead of playing video games.

Nihilism, you might think this quadrant is something to avoid at all costs. Well, you can’t avoid it. You’re going to have down moments. The best thing you can do is acknowledge that it is perfectly okay to have those moments. Accept that it is okay to be in that quadrant from time to time. If you do that, you adopt a healthier mindset which makes it easier to get out of that quadrant.

Final words…

Simply put, (a) maximize your time in the happiness quadrant, (b) focus on moderation and balance with the other quadrants.

Here’s how your thinking might be flawed…

As we all know, most of our thoughts and reactions are automatic. Think of all the times when you’re watching TV and your mind randomly drifts into that project you haven’t finished at work, or think of when you instantly get annoyed at that driver who isn’t moving when the traffic light turns green. The good thing about this process is that we don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of information our mind is processing. The bad thing, however, is that this process has some hiccups. According to David Burns’ book on mood therapy, there are ten cognitive distortions that many of us suffer from:

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking. This flawed type of thinking is when we see things as black and white. Either you succeeded or you failed, nothing in between. You’ve succeeded if you got a 4.0 GPA, but anything less and you’ve failed. All-or-nothing thinkers are perfectionists. The slightest mistake or flaw and they assume the worst of themselves or their performance. These thinkers are too hard on themselves (and possibly others as well). Their expectations are unrealistic, and as a result, they’re almost always going to fail to meet their expectations.
  2. Overgeneralization. This flawed type of thinking is when you treat a singular occurrence as a common occurrence. For example, you’re working on a project on your computer when the computer randomly restarts. You lost your work as you did not save it and say “This always happens to me! I’m always unlucky!” In actuality, this may have been the first time that it ever happened to you, or maybe it happened once before. It’s not an every day occurrence but you are treating it as if it is. When a friend doesn’t respond back to your text message, you might say “she never responds back” even though it was a rare occurrence for your friend to not respond to your message.
  3. Dwelling on the negative. This is when you identify a negative detail from a situation or occurrence and you dwell on it. For example, you have your performance review at work and get heavily praised, but are given one small piece of criticism. Rather than appreciating that you did so well, you dwell on that negative piece. As a result, you question how you messed up, or maybe you get annoyed at your supervisor because you felt that piece of criticism was unfair. Either way, you fail to put the situation into perspective because all you can focus on is the negative.
  4. Disqualifying the positive. This is when you take a positive situation and either fail to acknowledge that it’s positive or you disqualify it. For example, if someone gives you a compliment, rather than believing it, you might say “They’re just being nice” or “anyone could have done it.” If you do something well, you might say “I was just lucky.” This could be perceived as humility as well, however, what matters is the intent behind it. A humble person would say “I did well, but I acknowledge that there were other factors involved too and I was fortunate to be in the right situation at the right time” whereas someone who is disqualifying the positive would say “Anyone could have done it. I was just lucky.”
  5. Jumping to conclusions. This is when you make assumptions that are not justifiable by any type of facts or information. For example, if you’re talking with a friend who seems disengaged, you assume that you’re boring him, when in actuality he might just be stressed or tired and is finding it difficult to concentrate. Burns refers to this as a “mind reading” error. Another type of thinking error in the realm of jumping to conclusions is the “fortune teller error.” This is when you make an assumption by predicting something that is unrealistic. For example, if your left arm is hurting, you say to yourself that you must be having a heart attack even though you’ve had left arm pains before and it was never a heart attack.
  6. Magnification and minimization. You catastrophize small negative occurrences whereas you minimize positive occurrences. You make a small mistake at work and think that you’re going to get fired, or maybe you get into a small argument with your girlfriend and think she’ll never forgive you. Magnification and minimization is sometimes also called ‘unfavorable comparisons’ because this type of distorting thinking often happens when comparing yourself against others. For example, you might think “John’s so successful because he’s a lawyer (magnifying another’s strengths) whereas I’m not because I’m just an accountant (minimizing your own strengths).”
  7. Emotional Reasoning. This is when you think your emotions are the ultimate truth. This is when you say “I feel stupid, so I must be stupid” or “I feel guilty, so I must have done something bad.” You might think that you do not do this because the examples I have shown are a bit extreme, but ever think that you can’t solve a problem because you’re feeling overwhelmed? That’s an emotional reasoning flaw. “I feel overwhelmed so I must not be able to solve this problem.”
  8. Should/Must Statements. This can be either self-directed or other-directed. When it’s self-directed, you assume that you should or must do something and add pressure on yourself. You say “I must go to the gym” or “many people have it harder than I do so I should be happy and not sad.” Alternatively, when it is other-directed, you make assumptions as to how others should behave. You might say “He’s already overweight, he shouldn’t have eaten that brownie” or “she should’ve been here five minutes ago.” As you see here, you create somewhat of a faulty logic for yourself and others and operate under the assumption that you know what is right and how things should be done for yourself and/or others.
  9. Labeling. Burns states that labeling is an extreme form of overgeneralization. It’s when a negative occurrence happens and you label yourself for it. It’s when you say you are a certain why because of something you did. You don’t get the job and say to yourself “I’m a failure.” The labels are generally oversimplified and just wrong.
  10. Personalization. What defines this distortion is guilt. This is when you blame yourself or conclude that a negative occurrence resulted because of you. Your child got detention because he yelled at this teacher and you think to yourself that it’s your fault because you are the parent. In this circumstance, you’re operating under the assumption that you control others and other situations. You can influence others, but you cannot control them.

Final words…

In all of these distortions, you’ll notice some overlap. For example, most of these distortions are a result of faulty assumptions, false logic, and based on no real evidence. Furthermore, most of these have a tendency to either (a) fixate on the negative or (b) negate/ignore the positive. What Burns and most psychologists don’t usually talk about is individuals who have a tendency to do the opposite. These individuals are those who generally are overconfident with possibly an overinflated ego and are those who (a) assume everything they do is positive or (b) everything others do is negative. Either way, cognitive distortions exist and we are all guilty of them.

Which ones are you guilty of?

The ABCDE method for positive change

The idea of implementing positive change in your life is actually quite simple. Want to lose weight? Start eating healthy and exercising. Want to become a music composer? Start composing music. Want to find a better job? Look for one. The idea of implementing positive change is straightforward. The actual process, however, is not. More often than not, when it comes to implementing positive change, you already know what you need to do. However, despite knowing what you need to do, you often fail to do it. You don’t go to the gym. You don’t start that blog. You continue to waste money on luxuries that you cannot afford.

So what exactly is going on here? We know what we want to do, and we know what we need to do, yet we do not do it. There must be something getting in the way.  More often than not, it’s a mental barrier. Something is wrong with our mental wiring that prevents us from taking action. The good news is that we can rewire our brains and change the way we think, and this can help us turn our thoughts into action.

One method that is used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the ABCDE method. ABCDE is an acronym where “A” stands for activating event, “B” stands for belief, “C” stands for consequence, “D” stands for disputation or distraction, and “E” stands for energization or effect.

“A” stands for Activating Event

Activating event refers to a trigger in the environment or an event that occurs. You get into a fight with your best friend. You cheat on your diet. You bump into an old friend at the grocery store. These are all examples of triggers. As you can tell, the activating event can be positive, negative, or neutral.

B” stands for Belief

The activating event triggers a belief. Our beliefs are derived from past occurrences in our lives, and they are largely automatic and habitual. We may not even be aware of how they influence us. You may hold a belief that to be successful, you need to be perfect or stick to a plan 100% of the time. Alternatively, you may hold a belief that being perfect is unrealistic and that small setbacks are inevitable.

Many of our beliefs are strongly rooted within us and can be stubborn and difficult to change. They’ve been reinforced over and over again by our external environment and then by our internal thoughts. Some of these beliefs are good and constructive, while others are bad and destructive.

C” stands for Consequence

When an activating event occurs, it triggers a belief which causes us to feel a certain way and heavily influences what we do next. It’s the result of when you combine A and B.

ABC Combined

To a large extent, the activating event, the beliefs, and the consequences are all automated. Even if we don’t consciously focus on them, they will still happen. It’s how we are programmed. Below are a few examples of what this looks like. You will notice that the activating event is almost always the same, but based on the belief (positive vs. negative), the consequences are different:

Example 1a:

  1. Activating Event: Your friend hasn’t responded to your text messages in the past two days
  2. Belief: You think that your friend is not interested in talking to you.
  3. Consequence: You get upset and decide to have a few drinks to feel better

Example 1b:

  1. A: Your friend hasn’t responded to your text messages in the past two days
  2. You assume your friend is probably busy.
  3. C: You don’t give it much more thought and go on with your day.

Example 2a:

  1. A: You ask your sister a question, and she responds rudely
  2. B: You think she’s disrespecting you
  3. C: You get angry, yell back at her, and it results in a big fight

Example 2b:

  1. A: You ask your sister a question, and she responds rudely
  2. B: You assume she has had a stressful day
  3. C: You let it pass, give it some time, and ask her how she’s doing later on.

Example 3a:

  1. A: You’re jogging and you trip on something and fall. You sprain your ankle.
  2. B: You assume that you cannot train for the marathon anymore
  3. C: You give up

Example 3b:

  1. A: You’re jogging and you trip on something and fall. You sprain your ankle.
  2. B: You’re not thrilled about the setback, but you acknowledge it was a freak accident
  3. C: You continue to eat healthy, you focus on recovery, and when you get healthy in a few weeks, you continue your training.

How to change your beliefs

As you’ve noticed through these examples, it is our beliefs that influence these consequences (or outcomes). Some of those negative beliefs are stubborn, but the good news is that you can change them. The very first step to changing your beliefs is to become aware of them. Start to identify your ABCs. Similar to how I did above, think of a few activating events you’ve had this past week. What beliefs did you associate with them and how did that influence the consequences (your reaction and behavior after the event occurred)?

If you are trying to implement positive changes, but have been unable to do so, try to figure out why through the ABC framework. Keep in mind that an activating event can also be something that did not occur or something you did not do (e.g., not going to the gym, not waking up on time). Once you’ve mapped out a few of these ABCs from your past week, I’d encourage you to do that at least 1-2 times a day for the next few days. Get into the habit of trying to transition from ‘automatic’ mode to ‘manual’ mode.

Once you’ve become aware of your thought process, you’ll start to identify patterns and problems in your thinking that you want to resolve. That’s where the “D” and “E” part of ABCDE comes in.

“D” stands for Disputation

Disputation is when you identify a belief that you want to change and you attack it. You dispute it. Counter the pessimistic and/or irrational belief with a more optimistic and rational one. In his book on learned optimism, Martin Seligman states that there are four tactics that you can use to dispute your beliefs:

  1. Evidence – Show to yourself how your belief is factually incorrect. More often than not, you will realize that you are blowing things out of proportion. When possible, try to quantify the evidence to make it more impactful. For example, let’s say I cheated on my diet one day and consumed 1,000 more calories than I wanted to. My belief might be that I’ve broken my diet or failed, but in actuality, 1,000 calories equates to less than 1/3 of a pound gained. When looking at it that way, one singular day did very little to undo the progress I have made over a week or a month.
  2. Alternatives – Identify alternative explanations to justify the activating event. There can be multiple causes for the event. For example, if your friend hasn’t responded to your messages in two days, it’s easy to think they don’t want to talk to you. However, maybe they broke their phone. Maybe they’re working overtime this week at work and then coming home and taking care of the kids. Maybe they saw your message when they were in a meeting, but then forgot about it afterwards. There are a million other possible reasons.
  3. Implications – What if the negative belief that you have is correct? For example, what if you failed an exam and you know it is your fault because you deciding to hang out with friends all of last week rather than studying? When you know the belief is accurate, the best thing you can do is to focus on implications. For example, one failed exam does not mean you’re stupid. It doesn’t mean that it’ll keep you from getting accepted into graduate school or from getting a job. When you think about it, many negative occurrences that happen on a day-to-day basis have very little implications in the long run. Take for example the SATs. Think about how important they felt when we were in high school. However, now, years removed from high school, we look back and smile in amusement at how those were the simple days and how that exam had a very little impact on our lives.
  4. Usefulness – The last tactic you can use is to determine whether or not the belief is constructive or destructive. Maybe you hold a negative belief that is true, and the implications are also big. If that is the case, you need to ask yourself if the belief is constructive or destructive. In other words, is it useful? In his book, Seligman provides an example of a technician doing a bomb demolition who comes to the realization that the bomb could go off in any minute and kill everyone around him. The belief is true and the implications are huge. However, that added pressure on him is not necessarily useful especially if it leads to increased nervousness and decreases focus in that situation. In this situation, it is better to (a) focus on what you can do, and (b) consider having that internal dialogue later when the situation (or your emotions) are not as severe. Even if the situation is not as severe, you can still try to focus on what you can do and have the internal dialogue later when you’re calmer.

“E” stands for Energization

Energization refers to reflecting on having successfully dealt with negative beliefs. Therefore, when you have a negative belief that you were able to successfully dispute, you reflect on the implications and how that resulted in a more positive outcome. This reinforces this idea of disputing negative beliefs, and it also energizes you.

Final Words…

The key to the ABCDE method is to (a) become aware of your destructive thoughts, (b) challenge them, and (c) replace them with more constructive thoughts. You could use this same approach to stop negative behaviors and/or implement positive ones (more on that another day).

I wouldn’t say it’s feasible to do this for an extended period of time, but at least for a few days, I would encourage you to actually write down your ABCDEs. If you find yourself thinking destructively or struggling to implement a positive change, open up a memo and answer these questions:

  1. Activating Event: What happened (or what did not happen) that has me feeling negatively?
  2. Belief: What internal beliefs are causing me to feel/act this way?
  3. Consequence: What resulted from this activating event and belief?
  4. Disputation: How can I counter my beliefs? What would disprove my beliefs?
  5. Energization: What has resulted from me disproving my destructive beliefs? How do I feel? How am I acting?

Do this a few times a day for 2, 3, or 5 days. If you have the discipline to do it longer, do it longer. You’ll notice that after some time, you begin to do this automatically in your head. The ABC are automated as usual, but the “D” and “E” also become automated.









Stop failing the first task of the day

Imagine this.

The night before, you set your alarm to go off at 5am. You go to sleep but briefly wake up in the middle of the night. You look at your phone and it says 2:37am. Ah, still over two hours left to sleep! You quickly fall back asleep. Before you know it, that obnoxious sound is ringing loud. The alarm clock. You look at your phone, and unfortunately, it is 5am.

Time to get up? In a few minutes.

You play tag with your alarm clock for a bit as you keep hitting the snooze button every 5-20 minutes. Before you know it, it’s 6:53. 6:53? How did this happen? “I’m late for my workout! I’m late for my morning meditation! I’m late for (insert self-improvement/morning routine task you will likely not end up doing). Scratch that, I don’t have time for it. I’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

Sound familiar?

Maybe tomorrow you should put your alarm clock across the room because it will force you to get up to turn off your alarm. Maybe you should download one of those apps that requires you to do complex math problems to turn off your alarm. Or maybe you can get those fancy alarm clocks that rolls around and moves so you have to chase it around the room to wake up. Sure yeah, that’s definitely it.

Well, not really.

For the most part, those are just gimmicks. The problem is NOT your alarm clock. The real problem is YOU. 

Here’s the problem when you snooze:

  1. You’re setting yourself for failure for the rest of the day. By snoozing, you just failed your first task – waking up. What type of momentum is that setting up for the rest of the day?
  2. When we try to establish an early morning routine, we often have morning rituals or things we want to accomplish before the day starts (e.g., exercise, meditation, etc…). When you snooze, you miss out on the opportunity to do those things which means you likely failed again.
  3. You’re subconsciously setting yourself up for failure for the rest of the day. That’s a very extreme statement, but you’re certainly not setting yourself up for success by snoozing.
  4. Your sleep quality is likely being compromised. According to a Cleveland Clinic article, when you snooze, you’re likely interrupting your REM sleep state (which is synonymous with the restorative sleep state).

So what are some quick things (not gimmicks) that you can do to help you get up early without snoozing?

  1. Make sure you hit your target sleep range. If you’re sleeping less than six hours, you’re going to most likely hit that snooze button. Get enough sleep.
  2. Increase accountability in the morning. I’ve noticed that I’m particularly good at waking up in the morning (even when I’m sleep deprived) when I have some sort of commitment that forces me to get out of bed (e.g., getting up for work, having an early morning meeting, having someone depend on me for something).  If I have to get up because other people are depending on me, I feel an increased urgency to get up. I still might snooze a few minutes, but it’s very short-lived. Ask anyone who has to get up early for work. Ask any parent who has to make breakfast for their kids before they go to school. When someone is depending on them, they will wake up. Start scheduling things early in the morning or start making morning commitments to people. That will force you out of bed.
  3. Don’t schedule difficult tasks, tasks that you dislike, or tasks that require a lot of willpower early in the morning. When I tell myself that I want to get up early so that I can workout, it almost never happens. Why? Because I hate working out and my mind knows it. Sure, it’s good for me, but it’s not like I want to do it. I’d rather sleep. Therefore, it’s better to (a) schedule these tasks for later in the day so you have no excuse for not getting to them, or (b) find a way to increase accountability. I’m very unlikely to wake up in the morning and workout. However, if I have a workout buddy, I’m much more likely to wake up because I know their success depends on me. If accountability is there, it’s easier to wake up to a task you dislike.
  4. If you don’t do number 3 and schedule difficult tasks in the morning anyways, have a backup plan in case you snooze. The reason many of us want to get up early in the morning in the first place is so we can create time to do things for ourselves early in the day before other commitments take priority. Unfortunately, if you have a habit of snoozing and you schedule an early morning workout or yoga session, there’s always a chance that you might snooze and miss your morning session. The best thing to do in this situation is to create a contingency plan in case you are unable to wake up on time. For example, if I’m unable to get up at 5am to do yoga, I’ll do it after work around 6pm instead. This way, even if you fail to wake up, you don’t compromise your other goals that depend on you waking up early.
  5. Be realistic. If it’s 1am and you’re still awake, don’t expect to get up the next morning at 5am. Odds are not in your favor. Set the alarm for 7 am instead and plan accordingly.
  6. Slowly become an early riser. If you usually get up around 8am, don’t expect to magically be able to get up 6am the next morning. The key to developing an early morning routine is to slowly work your way towards it in increments. As I described in another post, it’s better to take baby steps. Start by waking up at 7:45am consistently for a week. Then drop down to 7:30am. Then to 7:15am and so on until you reach your target wake up time. When you take this approach, you gradually regulate your sleep in a way where you start becoming more of an early riser and it becomes habit.

With these suggestions, keep in mind that they’re intended for those who snooze habitually but want to stop doing so. The tips above are to help you get started and develop a consist routine of waking up at the time that you want to wake up. Once you break the cycle and develop a habit of NOT snoozing, you can start experimenting with these suggestions to further optimize your productivity in the morning.

Final words…

When we snooze in the morning, we are failing the very first task of the day. The occasional snooze is perfectly okay if you have no agenda for the morning and just want to catch up on some sleep. However, more often than not, we aim to get up at a certain time every morning for a reason. Maybe it’s work, maybe it’s for the kids, maybe it’s to focus on personal development/health, or maybe you just want to ease yourself into the day. Whatever the reason may be, when you become a habitual snoozer, you’re doing yourself a disservice. In addition to compromising your sleep, you’re likely delaying the inevitable.

Whether it’s 5am or 6am, you have to get up to get things done. The difference is that if you snooze, you often wake up feeling slightly disappointed because (a) you didn’t get up at the time you planned, (b) your morning is a bit more rushed than you would like, and/or (c) you may have failed other goals, such as exercise or meditation, that were dependent on you waking up on time. Alternatively, if you do not snooze, everything is reversed. You succeeded at your first task, you can ease into the morning, and you have time to complete your morning goals.