(Proof that the author’s alarm is set daily!)
Even the alarm doesn’t want to wake me up at 5 am. It refuses to ring, and this is a computer that is programmed to obey my commands. I don’t go to bed so late that I am sleepily commanding it wrong either. I check very carefully at 10 pm (or 11…), and confirm that it says ‘set’, then I close my eyes and 8 or 9 hours later I wake up on my own power, mystified. Maybe I am turning it off half asleep like you do, you are wondering. Nope. I station the thing across the room so I’d have to walk there. When I check it after I get up, it says it is set for 5 am. Do I have the wrong time zone, am I putting in PM instead of AM you wonder? You know what, just stop. I don’t really need you to solve this for me. It only happened twice. Could be my husband turns it off out of pity. Whatever the case is, we understand the truth, 5 am is a brutal hour to rise and my personal devices want to protect me from that kind of madness.
But here is the thing, if I don’t wake up then, I will be moving through my morning routines (in which I get crap done) in the company of two dogs, maybe 2 teenagers (pretty rare), an elderly parent (those people never sleep) and a frantically getting ready for work husband. Have you ever tried to meditate on the living room floor while that chaos is going down? It really harshes my mellow. So I keep trying. Sometimes I outwit the clock and set it for 5:45 am, or 6:15 am. This is not wise, according to the founder of the 5 am Miracle podcast, Jeff Sanders, a very youthful looking and motivated man. Consistency is best for making habits. I listen to his podcast like a burglar listens for the clicks as he’s cracking a safe. Jeff really wants me to “Dominate My Day Before Breakfast” for a whole host of reasons, and The 5 am Writers Club on Twitter agrees. According to the experts, the secret to getting your stuff done? It’s all about routines-or if you prefer something a little more exotic, it’s all about rituals.
I definitely prefer rituals. I’ve got tons of them. I plant a garden every spring and tend it as if it were the magic lifeforce that could reverse global warming even if it gets wild and takes over the yard only to produce 2 cucumbers. I write in my journal when I am stressed or bored or have news to share with my future self. I put peanut butter in my plain yogurt daily and wonder how no one has bothered to make this flavor widely available yet. Those are beautiful rituals. But routines are for suckers and robots. Routines sap you of free will and creative flow. Routines are like little post it notes from your boss reminding you how to stay on task. Routines are very, very hard. At least for me and most of my family it turns out. None of us like to be all bossy, even to ourselves. So we bend in the wind. Like when an invite comes up to a local writing event even though it is pizza night, we just push pizza night back. Who doesn’t do that, right? Apparently, a lot of people don’t…especially people who wake up at 5 am and get shit done.
Although I don’t like routines, if I call them rituals and am a bit flexible about responding to my environment on an as needs basis this could work. Example, it’s 75 degrees out and Chicago only has 5 days like this a year. Sorry writing ritual, you are going mobile old school notebook style to the beach and I hope you are waterproof because we are going kayaking. That is ritual with a bend in it.
I have been setting my alarm, getting up, and running through the 5 am Miracle rituals for the past few weeks. I’m here to report on the results. The cynical echo of the old me is still doing battle with the new, productive me daily so don’t worry that I will turn all robot sucker on you. There will always be a little naysayer in me somewhere scoffing at my own attempts to:
A: Be less of a worrywart
B: Crush my fears
C: Get shit done, especially writing shit.
D: Keep my brain learning and get my body healthy.
The thing is, I figured out you can believe something without really believing it until you believe it for real. Do you know what I mean? Imagine you don’t believe in ghosts for example. Good for you, they seem unlikely. But then one day you experience something ghostly. You probably imagined it, right? But a little part of you believes it could have been a ghost. And 30 years later, when science catches up and finds some weird parallel universe that intersects with ours sometimes and that some people have intermittent sensory awareness of it if they have one particular gene and have eaten a banana recently, well then dangit, you always knew there were ghosts! If science didn’t prove it, you probably would forget you ever secretly suspected otherwise.
That is exactly how I feel about 5 am wake up time as a potential to help me meet my goals. Someday science ,or perhaps my own hard won rituals, will prove to me that it is possible. Currently, the results have been mixed. But I am bendy in the wind, and I enjoy the process more than the product most of the time. So here goes, with personal modifications, apologies to Jeff Sanders and his cronies:
Every day I set the alarm for 5 am or 5:45 ish.
I do not spring out of bed, for Pete’s sake. I have vertigo. I gingerly rise.
Five minutes later, I have a glass of water, brew a coffee and feed the dog quietly (so he doesn’t wake up and demand petting-this would be a 5 minute setback).
Five minutes later, I retire to the sunroom where I turn on the meditation APP Insight Timer and try a guided meditation or just use the bell timer-depending on the mood. I fidget, breathe raggedly and let my mind invade the reverie repeatedly, but its all about the process. Occasionally, I go to a quiet place not unlike the sleep I have just ripped my unwilling body away from.
10 to 30 minutes later (depending on the meditation selected and who woke up from the coffee brewing,etc..), I open the Tao Te Ching at a random spot and consult it. Hey, this is a ritual for real! I’ve been doing it for a long time. No matter what I have contemplated before I open it, it almost always tells me to chill the hell out. This is a good exercise for control freaks, believe me.
2 minutes later, I open my journal and look up my hastily scrawled and awkward affirmations. I shake my head, embarrassed that I have written such tripe. Phrases like “I am becoming brave!” and “I will create more and more writing and get published frequently!” pass my lips ironically. But as Shiva Singh, the local yoga guru of the west side says “If you don’t believe it, believe it just enough to try it.” Maybe I’ll add that to my affirmations now that I think of it.
2 minutes later, I take out a pen and write things in my journal. Real things, like what happened the day before when the bicycle cop decided to give me a parking violation ticket, or what I need to do that day, such as buy papayas so I can make a refreshing salad to bring to bellydancing class because I don’t want to turn up empty handed again when those ladies are cranking out the fancy treats. Honest things, like how I feel about the Ukrainian political crisis or the recent meltdown of my neighbor at 2 am. I also journal hopeful things, like what I intend to do, what I hope to achieve and what I am grateful for lately. Most importantly, I journal discoveries and observations that teach me something about the world. Hopefully that is taking notes for future writing.
10 minutes later, I close my journal and my eyes and I visualize something I want to do. Much like the ragged meditations, my visualizations are static filled flickering snapshots interrupted frequently by my brain with heinous to-do lists that are already pressing me to get back to business. They are nothing like the hour long daydreams of my youth where I could sink so deeply in to their reality that my 3rd grade teacher called my parents out of concern. But I do hope that my imagination muscles grow with use and I get to regain even a bit of that!
5 minutes later, I strap on some sneakers and leash up the dog and go for a good hike or run, usually to the Zombie 5K training App. Of all the things I do in the morning, this is usually the most magical. Moss and fog and insect fairies mingle with the bunnies and coffee wielding contractors who are the only other humans in the area at this hour. I struggle with my will to keep moving at a steady pace, I puff and stagger, but my mind finally hits the mark of motivated calm I’d been hoping to gain with those other rituals.
30 minutes later, I return home and read an article or a book about any interest of mine that I’d like to deepen my understanding of. Sometimes I cheat and listen to a podcast on the topic while walking or running from zombies. Reading non-fiction, as a fiction lover, is like riding a unicycle rather than a bicycle. Different muscles are used and a whole new sense of balance emerges.
When I am done, it is time for breakfast. It is roughly 8:30 am and I am ready to write….or take a shower and write. You may not want to affirm and journal, but you have to admit, having dealt with your hopes,plans, exercise, thoughts and feelings all before 8:30 am and being ready to focus on your workday is preferable to stumbling out of bed and heading to work.
The 5am rise and shine ritual may not be for you though. If you are young and stay up until 4 am getting shit done, then it may not be for you. If you do not have an alarm clock because the rooster wakes you up every day at 7 am and his settings cannot be altered, it may not be for you. If you do not want to get stuff done because you have no interests to develop or goals to work toward, it may not be for you. If you don’t have a day job that cuts down on your free time and you can develop interests and goals during the universally accepted preferred hours of daylight, it may not be for you. If you chafe at the idea of regimenting yourself in any way and prefer to live in the moment at all times, it may not be for you. But like the guru Shiva might say, if you don’t believe its for you, maybe you should believe it just enough to try it.
My progress has been minor but encouraging:
The first day I said a goofy affirmation about getting published I got an acceptance letter.
I was able to visualize an actual image recently and it was of me doing push-ups every time a craving for sugar occured-deepening my spartan inclinations for lower diabetes risk! Yay.
I am writing, eagerly, every day. Like a boss with post it notes.