Growing up, I was NOT an early riser.
I lived in a two story house with myself and my brothers and sisters and my parents. My dad had quite the commute, so he had to leave really early all the time. Everyday, he would call up the stairs and say, “Ed, get up!”
Again, he would call loudly, “Ed, you should be up right now!”
“O…K, Dad, I’m up!” I would yell. And go back to sleep.
Then, I would hear what would be the final call. I could tell by my Dad’s tone he was getting irritated, “Ed, I’m lea–vving!”
And like Flash, in about 90 seconds, I would get dressed, wash my face, brush my hair, run down the steep-as-hell stairs, and meet my dad in the car. This is the sort of conversation that happened all the time:
Dad: Ed, I thought you heard me? I heard you respond. You held a conversation with me!
Me: **looking down** Huh, well, I only remember the last one, Dad. You called more than once?
Dad: **laughing** Oh, yes.
Me: I’ll do better next time.
And this happened ALL the time. What I did not realize when I was a teenager or even into college was I had trained my body to hit the snooze button unconsciously. It was kinda amazing: I could have multi-sentence conversations with people that tried to wake me up, but would recall none of it.
A Sleepy Adult
Fast forward to college: 8 a.m. classes out the wazoo! Did I get better?
I repeatedly overslept and missed my classes. It was a vicious cycle:
- Set my alarm(s).
- I would wake up and turn off the alarms before I would realize what I did and go back to sleep.
- Really wake up. Freak out I was late, and run off to class/work feeling awful.
The conversation in my head would go something like this:
“Ed, you did it again! You’re late. You’re going to have to apologize. How can you be such an idiot? I’m pretty sure every person you’ve ever met can wake up on time. What will it take?”
Harsh. Acerbic and not kind. But, if anything I was always a reasonable person. My next series of thoughts would be like this:
“Ok, Ed, calm down. What will being angry at yourself accomplish? Just make the promise to yourself that next time you won’t do this. You will do everything in your power to wake up on time.”
Forgiveness and Frustration
This habit of mine, I would find later, would be the first great source of self-kindness to myself. I didn’t really realize I was doing it, but every time I messed up, I forgave myself, so I could try again. I was really starting to hate myself, but what stopped me from completing this loop was this forgiveness — this thought that no matter how many times I messed up, I could still love myself and promise to do better. But don’t think that this was without discipline!
I have always prided myself on my integrity and honesty: sincerity and authenticity were my most important virtues. So, I felt awful for the ripples I was causing: walking late into class, showing up late to work for my shift and causing unfair loads on my coworkers. But for every problem I caused, I tried to apply new ideas to my problem.
I kept increasing the obstacles to my alarm clock. A few examples:
- Alarm clock placed as far away from me as possible
- Multiply my alarms (five is better than 1 right? Remember this was before cell phones)
- Louder alarms (I’m sorry room mates)
- Ok, so sound wasn’t working, next was Pain. I put Legos ALL OVER MY FLOOR! My thought was, “The pain will wake me up!”
- I bought a sound amplifier for my alarm clocks
I remember this one time, I stayed the night at my dad’s house and my roommate said, “Holy Shit Ed, you forgot to turn off your alarms! It was like a room full of thundering bulls in here. Don’t ever do that again!”
At this point I was desperate. I was at the point in college where I realized I was terrible at playing the french horn. It actually was that I just felt worse than everyone else because I joined the game late, but the fact was my absence was causing me to nearly fail all my classes and get a reputation at work. I **needed** to fix this.
Then, I had this thought: I trained myself to turn off all my alarms without waking up, what if I could “untrain” that automatic response?
What if I repeated laid in bed, set my alarm for 10 minutes later, jumped up, got dressed, washed my hair and then…do it again?
What if, by doing that over and over again, I could break this habit of mine and replace it with a different habit?
So, I did it. One Saturday:
- I got in my pajamas and laid down and closed my eyes.
- I waited for an alarm to go off.
- Woke up Immediately and did all the same morning routine I did when I actually woke up.
- And repeat
For me, I did it 100 times. I suspect the quantity could be different for each person. I grabbed onto that hope with every little bit of emotion I had. Remember, I needed this.
And the next day…I woke up on time.
And the day after.
And each day after that. It was glorious! I felt like I had conquered the universe. I had tried to sooooo long and continued to fail. It was starting to feel like I could never succeed. I was still learning to not be afraid of failure.
But this trial taught me two very valuable lessons:
- How to be kind to myself even when I’m not perfect. I learned this early, thankfully, but it set me on the path to self-love and learning to like and be kind to myself.
- To not give up. By repeatedly trying new ideas, I was able to overcome my problem. If I had given up and given into despair, I would be a very different person today.
Overall, I always feel better when I wake early: it can set me into my routine and I feel more prepared for the day. It gives me confidence into the day and sets me up for success. If you really struggle with the snooze button, I cannot recommend this approach more!