This article is a follow-up to Jen Fulwiler’s excellent piece today at the Register. With her usual clarity and wit she makes several great arguments for waking up early, even though she’s a self-proclaimed night owl. If you aren’t reading Jen’s blog on a regular basis you’re missing out on some really great stuff. Check it out!
I’ve always been a morning person, though in the past that meant waking up at 7:00am. With that schedule, I was getting out of bed just a few minutes before the average American, who according to one survey rises at about 7:15am each day. But three months ago, I made a drastic change:
I decided to wake up at 4:45am every single day.
So far it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m able to get so much done before the official workday begins–productive writing, a solid workout, and even daily Mass. And I’m able to devote most nights to my wife and family.
Here’s a look at my typical morning schedule (click to enlarge):
Now I know the thought of rising early can send shivers down the spines of most night-owls–here’s looking at you, Jen Fulwiler. I know that as soon as you see 4:45am the warning bells start ringing and the internal censor shouts, “I could never wake up that early!”
However there’s plenty of data–and even a whole blog–showing that rising early is really a beneficial move. Each morning person has their own reasons for waking up early, but here are my top five:
1. Most saints woke up early—and so did Jesus.
Let’s just begin with the ultimate early-bird trump card which, for many people, is reason enough. If you scan each century of Church history you’ll find that most holy people consistently woke before dawn. Jen points to St. Josemaria Escriva as one example, but there are plenty more.
St. Benedict is one. He was known to rise in the early hours to recite the Psalms, a practice he eventually commended to his entire religious order. Even today many monastic orders wake up at 3:00am or 4:00am for communal prayer. Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, are early birds, too. They start their busy schedule each day at 4:30am.
If that’s not enough, consider this: Christ himself liked to wake up early:
“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35
“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” – Luke 21:37-38
So if nothing else, waking up early puts you in very good company. But there are more reasons.
2. You’ll begin the day satisfied.
One of the best parts of rising early is that you’re able to knock out so much work. Instead of slogging through the day lamenting all you have to do that night, you can bask in the satisfaction of your morning accomplishments.
As Jen confesses, “When I’ve drifted back onto my natural schedule of staying up late and sleeping late, there’s always a question mark looming over my day as to whether I’ll use my quiet time for something fruitful.”
I’ll tell you, if I plan to work-out, write, or pray at night-time, it can be extremely daunting after a long day at work. Even though I know I’ll be glad after I do those things, their specter hangs over my day like a dark cloud and it’s tough to summon the will-power I need. When I wake up early and conquer those activities first thing in the morning, that cloud fades and my day is bright and clear.
As usual, Jen articulates it well: “A prayerful and productive morning gives me a sense of accomplishment that I can carry with me throughout the day, no matter what else may go wrong.”
3. Your work will be constrained.
This one didn’t strike me until recently. Yet if you’re waking up early in order to read or write, it’s huge. Think about this. When you work at night, there’s no time limit pressing you to work efficiently. What’s the difference between working until midnight, or 1:00am, or 2:00am? Either way you’re going to wake-up tired so there’s no real urgency to wrap up your work. Even more, without external pressure to finish your work by a certain time, it’s much easier to surf the web, slow down, or become distracted by other things.
Mornings are different, however, since they with a built-in constraint. When I begin writing at 4:45am, I know that no matter where I am in my work, I have to stop at 5:55am to eat breakfast and help with the kids. Each morning has a built-in deadline that forces me to focus and not waste time. For me, that’s been extremely helpful and it’s led to more productive writing.
4. Mass and exercise.
OK, technically I’m squeezing two reasons into one, and at first glance they may not seem to have much in common. But I think they’re two sides of the same coin–one is fuel for the spirit, the other for the body. So consider this my hypostatic argument (there’s one or my fellow theo-nerds).
First, we’ll talk about Mass. Now any Mass you go to, whatever the time, is phenomenal. You’re meeting Jesus Christ in the flesh and participating in the Heavenly Banquet. Since every Mass is equally fruitful, there’s no inherent benefit to going in the morning instead of at night. Practically speaking, however, more parishes offer daily Mass in the morning instead of the afternoon or evening. So if your main goal is to attend Mass each day–and I couldn’t recommend it more–the morning typically gives you more options to choose from.
When it comes to exercise, morning is best here, too. Several studies show that exercising at night can have disastrous effects on your sleep. Because your heart rate and bloodflow are so high, it’s difficult to drift into sleep, but even when you do you’ll typically face a restless night.
Exercising in the morning is just the opposite. Raising your heart rate and moving your body starts your day with spring and vivacity. In my own experience, I have much more energy during the days I work out, especially in the early afternoon when I otherwise begin to fade.
5. Good dreams require hustle.
The other four reasons are good, but for me this is the ultimate one. Don Miller, in his phenomenal book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, talks a lot about conflict. Every good story has it. Every good tale has some sort of resistance, or push-back, or moment when it looks like the hero isn’t going to make it.
However in the face of impossible odds, he somehow does. He somehow overcomes his opposition and gets the girl, destroys the Ring, defeats the villain, or saves the world. His victory does come at a price. It’s hard and tiring, painful and perilous, and it usually requires every last ounce of energy.
And that’s what makes the pursuit worth chasing.
That kind of difficulty is what makes some goals worthy and others vain, and it’s a sign that you’re on the right path. Simply put, if it’s a dream worth chasing, you’re going to face resistance–internal or external–and that resistance demands a sacrifice.
Now I have many goals. I want to write another book. I want to get in shape for my wife and kids. I want to draw as close to God as possible. And to accomplish those things I know I’ll have to fight. I’ll have to sacrifice and struggle and push from all directions.
Waking up early to accomplish my goals is that type of action. Call it what you will–hustle, discipline, will-power, grit. Whatever you call it, it’s the energy you need to fuel your dreams. It’s what gets you out of bed when the covers beg you to stay and the voice in your head says, “You’d much rather be sleeping.” It’s what forces you to write even though you’re empty and you’re sure nothing good will come of it. It’s what separates dreamers from doers and visions from visionaries. Choosing to wake up early says, “even though my goals seems daunting, they’re worth the daily struggle of rising in the dark.”
The good news is that the battle isn’t even as tough as it seems. When all is said and done, all you have to do is move three short feet from your bed to the floor. That’s it.
If you can rise as soon as your alarm clock rings–if you can master St. Josemaria’s ‘heroic minute‘–you’ve already won. And you’ve proven your dream is worth the chase.
Now I know some night-owls will read this and remain skeptical. Some people, they’ll claim, are just wired to be late-risers. I get that. And I also understand the biology–your blood sugar levels are at their lowest in the morning, which makes many people groggy and lethargic.
So I won’t go so far as to say early-rising is objectively the best way to go. But if you can muster the will, if you can train your body and conquer your mental resistance, the benefits are incredible. I’ve only been doing this for three months, but I’ve already decided to make it a lifelong habit.
How about you? When do you wake up and why?