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.

Find your ideal self

In Positive Psychology, there is a concept called the “ideal self” or “best possible self” which refers to creating a picture or visualizing yourself at your best. Many research studies have found that when you visualize your ideal self, it increases your mood, increases optimism, and is associated with decreased illness.

This makes sense.

It promotes a positive mindset. Rather than worrying about the future, you focus on the potential for your future to be better than your present. Also, similar to visualizing yourself cross the finish line, it gives you a temporary boost of motivation and encourages you to work towards achieving your goals.

If you want to try the formal intervention that has been developed and validated by researchers, here is how you do it.

Best Possible Self Exercise:

  1. Start off by brainstorming and writing down some sentences that describe what your ideal self looks like in the future. Focus on attainable goals and try starting the sentences with “In the future, I will…” Organize your brainstorming by writing about these three domains of your life:
    1. Personal (how your ideal self is physically, spiritually, and psychologically)
    2. Professional (how your ideal self is in terms of position, accomplishments, level of expertise, occupation, skills, etc…)
    3. Relational (how your ideal self is in regards to relationships and contact with loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc…)
  2. Using what you created in number one, write a detailed and coherent personal story. It does not have to be super long, but it should be realistic and make sense.
  3. Perform a 5-minute imagery exercise where you imagine the story you wrote. Perform this imagery exercise once a day for as little as four days or as much as two weeks.

In this exercise, you are generally given about 20 minutes to complete steps 1 and 2. Here are some excerpts from the prompt that is given to participants:

Your best possible self means imagining yourself in a future in which everything has turned out as good as possible. You have worked hard and you have managed to realize all your life goals. You can envision it as satisfying all your life dreams and development of all your best possible potentials… think of and write down your goals, skills, and desires you would like to achieve in the far future for each of the three domains, and finally merge these into a personal story like a diary.

The problem with this exercise (and its solution):

Before I discuss the problem with this exercise, I would like to highly encourage you to give this exercise a try. You don’t have to follow all the steps, but I would recommend at least spending a few minutes to perform the imagery exercise and imagine your ideal self. Go out for a walk, put on a nice soundtrack in the background, and visualize. It’s a form of introspection and helps to put things into perspective in terms of where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

However, there is just one problem with this exercise — it gives you a high and a taste of a positive future, but it does not bring you any closer to it. Don’t get content with the momentary positive feelings it gives you. If you want my opinion, here are the three steps you should take for this exercise to be successful:

  1. Visualize your ideal-self
  2. Use the positive emotions and temporary motivation it gives you to create an action plan to achieve that ideal future
  3. Execute the plan