Skills require time to attain. There's no magic pill to become stronger; we have to go to the gym consistently. If you want to learn Russian, you need to study, practice, and probably spend some time in Russia. If you want to become a better writer you can learn some good practices, but you ultimately have to produce a lot of writing before you'll be any good.
But what about habits like diet change, sleeping habits, and introversion? While we may not all be able to speak Russian, we all have the innate ability to wake up early in the morning. Our mouths will all accept healthy food. We all have the physical ability to walk up to a stranger and begin talking.
Why do these switches often take so long to flip? Why is it a gradual struggle, rather than an instant change?
Two Sundays ago I woke up at my usual time: noon. The following Monday I woke up at 9am, and since then have not woken up after 10am. Most days I get up around 8:30. I'm an early riser now, and expect that I will be for the rest of my life. Instant change.
If you're an early riser, this probably doesn't sound like a big deal. But if you know me, it's huge. I haven't had any sort of job or school that required me to wake up early for ten years. I consistently stayed up on my computer until four or five am. I tried to become an early riser before, but it never lasted more than a few days and it was a constant struggle.
It wasn't until this recent change that I realized the two key components required to make instant lasting habitual changes.
A Good Reason
I never had a good reason to wake up early before. My only real motivation was that my parents made me feel guilty about waking up late when I was younger. That lingering guilt, pitted against no real logical explanation for the benefits of waking up early, was never enough to motivate me.
The same is true of when I first tried to eat vegan. I did it on a lark and lasted two days, until a waiter put cheese on my salad. Oh well, I thought, there's no point to being vegan anyway.
I found my good reason for waking up early in an unexpected place. One of my favorite things to read online is the IamA section on Reddit, where people say what they are ("I am a dog trainer" or "I am a really fat person") and people ask questions. It's really fascinating to read things from different perspectives and think about how other people live.
Two weeks ago I was reading an IamA from a guy who was severely depressed and cured himself without using any sort of medication. I have strong thoughts on depression, including the idea that treating it with medication is a bad idea, but since I have no personal experience with depression I don't really talk about it. I was interested to hear from someone who had experience and dealt with it the way I would.
His advice was good, and one thing he said really struck me:
"Going to bed a little earlier and getting up a little earlier does wonders. You wont feel as exhausted, which is paramount in feeling good. Plus, you'll have a few more hours of daylight."
That last sentence hit me. There are more things to do when it's sunny out. Sunlight is the best way to get/synthesize vitamin D. Operating hours for things like ski slopes and restaurants are focused during the daylight. I try to eat in as natural a way as possible, but my sleeping was going against nature's cycle.
Waking up at noon meant that I was sleeping through approximately HALF of the available sunlight it my life. Yikes!
Diet change was the same way. I'd always heard that it was important to eat healthy, but since I was always skinny I figured I was healthy. Wrong. I read a couple good books that explained why eating healthy was so important, and completely changed my diet within a day.
If you have a reason but it isn't exciting, compelling, and urgent, you probably need to keep looking, or forget the habit. I saw a lot of guys get into pickup for the wrong reasons. Most don't want to be "players", but they saw that as the end goal of pickup. Instead of realizing that they actually wanted a girlfriend and pickup was an efficient way to get one, they'd break when things got tough, justifying it by saying "I don't want to be a player, anyway."
Pick the right reason.
Clear and Unbreakable Rules
Instant habitual change requires the motivation that a good reason provides, but it also needs clear and unbreakable rules.
When most people decide to eat healthy, that's as far as their planning goes. Then they're faced with a wonton salad buried under fatty dressing and think, "Well, it's a salad... that's healthy enough..."
That doesn't work. A better set of rules is:
Those were my rules, which I followed religiously for two years. It made the transition easy, because I made the decision on what to eat ONCE, rather than wrestling with it every single time I sat down at a dinner table.
For my goal of becoming an early riser I looked at the root of the problem. Why was I sleeping so late? Mainly because I would stay on my computer until I couldn't possibly keep my eyes open anymore. This was doubly bad: in addition to staying up late, I was also messing with my circadian rhythms by exposing my eyes to the bright light of my laptop.
My rule is simple: no computer after 11pm.
I stick to this rule no matter what. If I'm mid sentence on a post and the clock flips over to 11:00, I shut down the laptop and put it away. If I have tons of work to do but have dinner with friends from 9-11, I don't get back on my computer.
Exceptions do more harm than good. Once you break a rule once, it's easy to break it again. One night I was in the middle of fixing a bug for my new software (announcing soon...) and knew that if I stopped working, my beta testers were going to get weird messages until I woke up the next morning. Still, I didn't break the rule. The incident actually helped overall because it made me mindful in the future to plan my work better.
Breaking the Habit
I won't always stick to my no computer after 11pm rule. In the beginning it's important to stick to your rules 100%, but as time goes on it becomes less important. Once a new habit replaces the old one, the old "bad" behavior becomes the exception to the habit, rather than the other way around.
A good rule of thumb is to only break the habit once you don't want to anymore. When I first started eating healthy food, all I could think about was eating egg rolls. Now I eat unhealthy food 1-2 times per month to retain my ability to process bad food, and I dread these "cheat meals". Eating a cheeseburger is no longer a threat to my healthy eating habit.
In the future I'll dislike using my computer after 11pm, but may occasionally allow myself to do it if a project needs to be finished or an email has to be sent.
Today could be the last day that you smoked, ate unhealthy food, woke up late, read junk web sites, or swore. It could be the first of many days that you cooked for yourself, exercised, wrote part of a book.
Coming up with good reasons to change requires the ability to look into the future. What will your life look like with this new habit? What will it look like if you don't change? Think about those two images, and understand that the only way you get to choose which one becomes reality is by changing habits.
Defining clear and unbreakable rules requires looking into the past. What rules could have been applied to your past to make this habit as easy as possible to stick to? I knew that requiring myself to set an alarm for 8am every day would be difficult, but that turning off my computer early would cause me to wake up early consistently.
Don't be afraid to make your rules a bit easy, especially if you don't have experience sticking to them. A foundation of easier rules makes it easier to build up with harder rules. I imagine that within a year I'll be turning my computer off at 9pm and waking up at sunrise.
Great post. I came to the similar conclusions couple of years ago but never had a chance to put it into words. What's more, waking up earlier than most people gives you all benefits that come with the sunlight while limiting time wasted in traffic, queues, etc.
Great post, Tynan! I love the advantages of getting up early, when I make myself do it. Unfortunately, I'm not great at it, because it's so easy to stay up later at night. I'll have to implement your suggestions.
Being moderate does increase your productivity and pleasure value.
Economically speak, marginal value is a measurement of pleasure and pain in marketplace. For instance, if I had a cup of coffee. It is good. I have second cup. It is ok. I am shooting for third, it is not good as first one. The more we do and the more it diminished.
To get more benefit being a early riser get up at 6.
i personally get up everyday at 5 o clock. maybe ill change it to 4.
Great post, Tynan. I've been eating semi-healthily for the last six months. Since then, I've lost 85lbs. I've been really happy with the results, but my losses have kind of bottomed out recently, because I've been making a few too many of those exceptions you mentioned. I think this post has helped me get my head on straight, again.
Also, I'd like to thank you for that link about depression. Depression--or what I think is depression, at least--is something I've been struggling with for some time, now. I like living a straight edge lifestyle, but I've been considering medication, more and more. Hearing someone else's story is a real confidence booster, and it's inspired me, for the first time, to read more about the subject.
I very much agree with the concepts here. Especially the part about making exceptions.
When I was in college, if I ever skipped class because I said to my self, "just once won't hurt," the mental barrier against doing it again was gone for the rest of the semester!
However I do love sleeping in late! Professionals say that you only need 15 minutes of sun a day to get the right ammount of vitamin D. Anything more than that just contributes to skin damage, as most aging is due to sun damage. Plus most of my friends are night owls so whenever I do have to get up early I end up having to go to bed early and I miss out on all the fun.
Nice article but 8:30 is not early. If you want to start your day energised try to get up at 7:00 at the very latest.
I know the point of the article is not how to get up early - but as you know Ty, Steve Pavlina's article(s) are widely considered the best http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/05/how-to-become-an-early-riser/
Also, from reading your blog I've become vegan, got rid of everything and am living out of a backpack (3 t-shirts, 2 pair of underwear, etc.), and made a few other permanent changes. As I look at the things that you do that I've decided to adopt, it has ultimately been because it just made 'sense'...which I guess could be translated to 'having a reason'.
@Dave H One of the books Tynan read (actually, I think he said he read this book and went vegan the next day) is The China Study by Dr. Campbell http://www.thechinastudy.com/about.html
I think that some might be surprised to hear how much I sleep and how important it is to me. I average right around eight hours per day (tracked for a few months), and prioritize sleep very strongly, even over most work.
Once ten pm comes around, I have four options for things I'm allowed to do: I can play violin, read a book, work, or sleep. Computer is off at midnight every day, at which point I usually read for an hour or two, and then go to sleep.
The other night I was tired at ten, but I was really excited about my work so I tried to push through and keep at it. I was stuck trying to fix something, but I managed to try five or ten solutions out before getting in bed. At the time, it felt like a good choice.
I woke up the next morning, took one look at the code, and spotted the solution instantly. Within five minutes it was fixed. Once is a fluke, but I've noticed this pattern over and over again with work when I'm tired-- it feels like I'm working, but often I'm just spinning my wheels.
Another good question. I'm paraphrasing here, it was something like, "How do you know you're fixing the right problem if things seem wrong? In relation to habit change, improvement, changing moods - how do you know you're solving the right thing?"
My answer -
Well, I think the first thing worth saying is that most people don't fix most of their problems. I don't say that as a pessimist - they could fix their problems. But they don't. Most people don't change much after their early youth is over. If they overeat, they overeat their whole life. If they're an alcoholic, they're an alcoholic their whole life. If they work at some shitty job they hate, they work there their whole life.
I say this just to give you an idea of how hard it can be. In my experience, it takes me a lot longer than I want it to to change fundamental aspects of my character and habits. Oftentimes, it takes 6+ months of regular focus on it, if the old habit was burned in a lot. That sucks and it's hard, which is why most people don't change.
I think fundamentals are typically the way forwards. When feeling low, unproductive, frustrated, annoyed, angry, whatever - typically, the answer is fundamental stuff. Eat right, stretch, breathe, get into motion with some exercise or at least some walking, spend time in nature, spend time around people you respect, read good books, get on a normal healthy sleep schedule, take vitamins, clean up the area around you, things like that. Wash all the clothing, clean up computer/email files, shave (for a guy)/cut fingernails/cut toenails. If in a country where it's inexpensive, go get a massage. Go sit in a quiet cafe or on a beach and fully relax if very tired. Do planning/goal-setting type stuff in a notebook.