I was never a morning person. I studied and later worked all day, with my team training set after everyone finished work, usually around 20:00 and lasting 2 hours. I then got home, ate and usually caught up with studies (I continued to study even after I started working). Bed time usually meant around midnight, and I was usually knackered.
So when kids came around and I decided to get home at a decent hour, I also had to quit team sports because of injuries and the continuous inability to keep a schedule with work, I switched to individual training. The problem became getting up early to get it all done before my usual day started. I really struggled to sleep early and wake up early enough.
On the odd occasion I did have to wake up early, perhaps for an early flight or a restless night, I always found the beauty of pre-dawn tranquility alluring. The empty roads, quiet streets and silence gave me the feeling of being in another world. Somehow those days always turned out to be less stressful, because of the way they started. I needed to make this early morning a routine.
I decided to hack my evening routine and get to bed an hour earlier, to wake up an hour earlier the next day, so as not to affect the time asleep. I stopped answering emails after dinner and made sure I got these done and dusted before dinner. Meals became more protein and fibre based, low in fats and easy to digest. I had cold showers to lower my body temperature (and since I wasn’t training at night it was already much lower than usual) and kept the bedroom cool all throughout the year. I stopped reading my e-books on iPad, which wasn’t a real problem because I love to read ‘real’ books and switched my bedside light to a yellow hue.
Initially, until my circadian rhythms reset, I used some mindfulness breathing (you can use the Headspace app) to help me transition into deep sleep quickly.
As a result of these ‘hacks’ I actually improved the quality of my sleep, needing less time than previously. This allowed me to gain at least an extra 30 min of time in the morning, besides the hour already gained. To ensure I woke up fresh, I used Sleep Time, an app that times your wake up within a planned time-slot to ensure you wake up on the ‘upswing’, coming out of deep sleep. The app uses your body movement to sense your awakening, and lets the alarm off at that time. I also use a nature sounding alarm rather than one that wakes you up with a jolt.
It was still hard to get up at times, especially if the weather is foul. I used to prepare my running or cycling kit the evening before and get dressed as soon as I get out of bed, before I see the weather, this was a weak form of self-denial as I knew perfectly what the weather was from common sense and the forecast, so I decided to sort this out.
Now I look forward to running in the rain so it actually doesn’t bother me at all. I have reframed, or ‘flipped’ my mind on uncontrollable forces like the weather. It is no longer a factor in my emotional state; just a rational trigger to determine what type of clothing I need to wear for my training. I use the same technique for other uncontrollable forces, such as steep hills on a ride. Instead of getting demotivated, I see hills as training opportunities. Technical malfunctions on the bike, terrible drivers, bad roads, and other unpredictable issues are opportunities for me to test my emotional resilience, bike handling skills or my physical and mental preparation.
Reframing can be also used for a range of issues that come at as throughout life. Anxiety is caused by such issues triggers chemicals like Norepinephrine and Cortisol, making us feel on edge or upset. These are the same chemicals that cause excitement or exhilaration – the brain can’t tell the difference. So you can decide to reframe the state of mind as one that has a positive outlook and use the chemicals to your favour. It may sound simplistic, but with practice you can reframe, or ‘flip’ your mindset quite easily on common things that usually wear you down; traffic, bad news, grumpy colleagues, inclement weather and such ‘depressing’ or anxiety-causing aspects of our life that grind us down.
A simple method to use is the C.I.A approach.
C is for Control. Take responsibility for what you can control. I can make sure my bike is in good working order so it won’t break down easily. I can choose a route that has less traffic. I can wear the right clothes for bad weather. I can sleep early enough to wake up fresh. I can control my mind and approach to challenges.
I is for Influence. Take an initiative to influence what you can’t control. I can’t get in the heads of grumpy colleagues but my optimism can help shift their moods. I can’t educate a bad driver but I can still respond courteously to hopefully increase their respect for cyclists. I can’t control the time passing but I can do my best to reduce the amount of distractions by influencing the time-hoggers around me.
A is for Accept. There are things that you cannot control, or influence. We usually get stuck hoping that things we cannot control or influence will somehow come round our way. This is a total waste of energy and the main cause of frustration and irritation in life. We need to accept that we can’t solve all the problems. In such situations, we should ask ourselves “can I do anything to resolve this situation? If it is out of my control, can I influence others to help resolve it?” If my answer to those questions is no (perhaps you already tried, or you have no influence) then you need to ‘flip’ your mindset into another focus. Accept and move on.
As a result of these approaches to life, from practical ‘hacks’ to shifts in mindset, I can now fit in 90 minutes of exercise every day, while listening to audiobooks on work-related topics, and have no guilty feelings that this would be time better spent answering emails or with my family. At this time of morning no one is awake to read my emails or kids up to play games. I stick to this routine on holiday as well as during working times. The only difference is that on holiday I don’t listen to audiobooks but enjoy the peace and tranquility of the surroundings.
Start slowly, starting with your evening routine. The add in the early morning exercise to shake you awake. I promise that it does get easier quite quickly!
For more information about our Masterclasses on performance hacking, bespoke training for your team or for 1-2-1 coaching, please get in touch. We’ve raised the game for hundreds of our clients with these simple approaches to powerful habit-forming techniques.
If you want to read more on the subject, check out Hal Elrod’s book or podcast on “The Miracle Morning” for other tips and hacks.