Can you only be successful if you wake up at the crack of dawn?
Society tells us success is exclusive to the early risers, but does a morning routine work for everyone? Christine Manby sets her alarm and dons her gym clothes to put the theory to the test
For the past few weeks I’ve been learning about the joys and benefits of an early morning routine and, needless to say, it’s been exhausting. I am not a natural lark. However, Googling “the benefits of getting up late” to excuse my sloth-like behaviour spurred me into action. According to the Internet, there are no benefits to sleeping in. The first item Google threw up was a list of all the things I’m missing out on with a warning in capital letters “YOU WILL NEVER BE SUCCESSFUL”. It seems that those of us who sleep after seven are on a par with smokers, binge drinkers and people who think chips count as one of their five a day.
If Hogarth were drawing the scene, the early birds would be like the residents of his Beer Street. Look how happy and prosperous they are! Meanwhile, we late starters would be like the denizens of Gin Lane, showing our tits and letting the baby fall down the stairs while we catch an extra forty winks.
As a society we make value judgments about people who prefer to stay in bed until the Radio 2 Breakfast Show is safely off air and none of them are good. Tired of being judged for my sleeping habits, I decided it was time to join the moral majority. I’d tried Five Rhythms Dancing. I could try “getting up”.
My research led me to the two big books on the joy of an early start: the ominously titled The 5am Club by Robin Sharma and Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Six Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8am. Both books have their devotees and boy are they devoted. They buddy up on Facebook, spurring each other on to earlier and earlier starts. Some of them start their days so early, they must be supersonic, travelling backwards through the night to get up before they even went to bed. I immediately hated them all.
But I bought the books. Let’s begin with The Miracle Morning. Hal Elrod, the author, is a miracle in himself. Horribly injured in a car accident that left him with short-term memory problems, Elrod fought his way back to full health and a place in the top six salespeople at the company for which he worked. He faced adversity again when the financial crash of 2008 halved his income, leaving him feeling depressed. The cure? Getting up early to exercise, meditate and read. He doubled his income, got super fit and found love.
Elrod’s Miracle Morning is based around six activities. Those activities, which form the acronym “SAVERS”, are Silence, Affirmations, Visualisation, Exercise, Reading and Scribing (that’s writing to us). They’re all undoubtedly good things and I could see how they would improve anyone’s life if done consistently. The testimonials are certainly encouraging. Joseph Diosana, an estate agent from Texas, says, “The Miracle Morning makes every day feel like Christmas. Literally.” Though I’m not sure he means my kind of Christmas, which involves waking up slightly hungover, hating myself for eating all the mince pies and wishing it was the 27th already.
One of the authors Elrod frequently quotes is Robin Sharma. Sharma rose to self-development fame with his first book The monk who sold his Ferrari. As far as I can tell, Sharma was never a monk. He was a lawyer until his spirituality got the better of him. His website claims his “endorsers include Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, rock star Jon Bon Jovi, a member of the British royal family and heads of state from around the world.” Who is that member of the British royal family? My money is on Phil.
Sharma’s book about getting up early, is written in allegorical style. Imagine The Prophet written by Fifty Shades author E L James. At a gig by a motivational speaker known as The Spellbinder, three audience members meet and form an instant bond. They are The Entrepreneur, The Artist and The Homeless Man. The Artist says “def” to signify his hipness. The female Entrepreneur has sad but beautiful eyes. The Homeless Man is wearing a very expensive watch. Has he nicked it? No! This is an allegory, stupid. The Homeless Man is in fact The Billionaire and he owns half of Mauritius thanks to his non-specific but highly successful business activities. He invites the other two to join him at his island paradise to learn his secret. Spoiler alert: it’s getting up at 5am to get shit done.
It’s not a book for supporters of Extinction Rebellion. The 5am Club catch a lot of flights and quote a lot of quotes in their bid to “own their mornings and elevate their lives”. The Billionaire dons a turban for a trip to Agra, where he gives the others a short history of the Taj Mahal and the gift of The 5-3-1 Creed of the Willpower Warrior woven into a pashmina. In Rome he wears Italian designer sunglasses and a T-Shirt printed with SPQR to deliver another nugget of greatness from the back of the helmet he wears on his Vespa. In Sao Paolo, the 5am Club Members are shot at while learning The Ten Tactics of Lifelong Genius. Thankfully, because the entrepreneur has been getting up to do star jumps every morning, she can stop a bullet with her abs.
The 5am Club members finish up their crash course in greatness with a visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, where they learn that solitary confinement is a nifty way to make sure you stick to your morning routines. Or something like that. One of the Billionaire’s favourite quotes, printed on the back of that scooter helmet, is “Rise First, Die Last.” Spoiler: he dies young from a rare and incurable disease.
I couldn’t help wondering why the Billionaire’s staff, who presumably had to get up at 4am to be serving the 5am Club Members’ breakfast, weren’t buying their own paradise islands. If I’d had the Billionaire as a boss – he says “anyhoo” and refers to people as “cats” – I’d definitely be getting up at 3.45am to give myself an extra 15 minutes a day in which to plot a murder.
But to the real wisdom… The essence of Sharma’s morning routine is a distillation of Elrod’s SAVERS. Sharma gets it down to 20:20:20. Move, reflect and grow. That translates to 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of meditation / contemplation and 20 minutes of reading or studying. You can do that by listening to podcasts. To make sure you don’t swerve the exercise, he suggests sleeping in your gym kit.
Reader: I tried it. I tried the whole 20:20:20 routine. I didn’t make it up for 5am but I managed 7am, which is a good hour better than usual. The reflect and grow parts of Sharma’s equation were easy – as a writer I try to reflect and grow for a living – but the exercise before breakfast? Sharma promises that after 66 days it will feel natural. Much as I enjoyed sleeping in my stretchy gym kit, exercising before breakfast made me feel so sick I had to self-medicate right afterwards with a pain au chocolat, which sort of defeated the point. I also needed to nap at nine.
I am willing to accept that an early morning routine can work wonders and I’m envious of those people who can stick it out long enough to reap the benefits. What both Elrod and Sharma’s books had in common was that they left me with a profound sense of failure. I knew even before I nodded off while reading the epilogue to The 5am Club that I was never going to see dawn over the Taj Mahal from the cockpit of my ecologically egregious private jet.
On the other hand I’ve published 37 novels, a handful of novellas and a guide to writing commercial fiction, which I am currently embroidering on to the lining of a cape. Perhaps I’m not the lazy arse society thinks I am. Perhaps I’ve just found the daily routine that works for me.
Our view that rising early is the morally superior choice is based on years of conditioning and the way our society functions. Most office days start at nine. School days start even earlier. This despite evidence that teenagers in particular benefit from a slower start to the day. America’s National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get between 8 and 10 hours sleep a night. Starting school later means students are more alert and better able to study, retain what they’ve learned and be more creative.
What if the same is true of adults? Back when we were living in caves, it made sense that some of us evolved to stay awake later in order to keep an eye out for predators while the rest of the tribe slept. Early mornings penalise the descendants of the leopard watch. I’ve decided it’s time to put an end to “late-shaming” and move towards a 24-hour society that allows for all sorts of body clocks. I’m going to start the movement with my very own acronym. Elrod has his SAVERS. I’m bagging LATER and this is what it stands for:
LIE-IN. It’s safer. Research shows you’re more likely to get killed on the road before 8.
ARISE like a lion. That’s with a stretch and a yawn, not with star jumps. Spend some time surveying the savannah while you have your first coffee. My most creative thoughts arise while I’m staring into space.
TIMETABLE your day your way. You don’t have to get it all done before noon. I’ve always found I’m at my most productive between four in the afternoon and midnight. If I can, that’s when I have my working day.
EXERCISE. At some point. Physiologist professor Kym Guelfi of the University of Western Australia, who studied how time of day impacts the effectiveness of a workout, told ABC.net.au: “It probably doesn’t matter what time you exercise.”
RELAX. You were made this way. Finding it hard to get up in the morning doesn’t make you a bad person. Winston Churchill was late to rise and a napper. Stalin had breakfast at six.