The Wake Early Habit Plan

By Leo Babauta

Rising early can be a tough habit to form, because sleep patterns are difficult to change. We feel tired, and this is suffering, and we don’t want to suffer. We continually rationalize why we should just quit this habit and go back to bed.

I recommend three things:

  1. Gradual change. Change your sleep patterns very slowly, and the habit will be much better. Wake just 10 minutes earl ier at first, then another 10 minutes. You’ll adjust each time you make a small change, and then eventually the small changes will add up to big ones.
  2. Sleep earlier. This is really a second habit, but it’s so important that we need to bundle it up with the first habit, or the first one won’t work. Gradually go to bed a little earlier.
  3. Practice self-compassion. When you’re tired, you’re suffering, and as we learned last month, self-compassion helps with this suffering. You can ease your suffering but still work on the Wake Early habit.

With all of that in mind, here’s the plan I recommend for this habit:

  1. Start with just 10 minutes. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier, and wake up 10 minutes earlier. If you don’t have a regular time, just guesstimate an average. For example, if you’ve been waking at 9:10, 9:35, 9:42, 8:45, and 10:11 … drop the latest time, and then say that your “normal” waking time is about 9:15, and your new waking time is 9:05. It’s not important that you be precise about this … just start somewhere, because this is really a long-term habit that you’re forming, and what you start with is not that important. Pick a new wake-up time, and a new bed time, but not too much earlier than normal.
  2. Set alarms for bed-time and waking-time. If you’re going to go to bed at 10:45pm now, I recommend setting an alarm for 10:15 or 10:00. For your morning alarm, I recommend having your alarm somewhere across the room.
  3. Have a bedtime routine. When the evening alarm goes off, shut off all electronics … no more Internet reading, no more email, no more TV. Now brush your teeth and floss, get anything you need for the morning ready to go (including checking your alarm), and maybe read to bed (a book or Kindle, not computer).
  4. Have something important to do in the morning. Something you’re looking forward to. Something that will make a great use of the 10 minutes of quiet morning time you’re going to have. I like to write. If you know what you’re going to do the night before, then when you wake up, you can move into doing it.
  5. Commit to someone else, and report every morning. I recommend joining an accountability team in the forums, including the beginner’s habit group or the open group for this month’s habit. Commit to waking at a certain time and going to bed at a certain time, and report every morning after you wake up.
  6. Each week, wake 10 minutes earlier … but only if you were successful in waking early for 5 days in the previous week. Do a weekly review at the end of each 7 days (on the 7th, 14th, etc.) and if you did well, go to bed and wake up 10 minutes earlier the next week. If all goes well, you’ll be waking 40 minutes earlier on the 4th week and 50 minutes earlier next month. If you didn’t succeed, during your weekly review, think of what obstacles you faced and figure out how to overcome them — and put those in your plan.

Know that you’ll make mistakes, and need to adjust this plan based on obstacles that come up. This is part of the habit learning process — adjust each week after reviewing how you’ve done and what got in the way. Put the adjustments in the plan.

Enjoy the morning. This is a wonderful, quiet, productive time of day. Wake a little earlier, and savor the peace.