I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for a few months. But, it’s ok, I want to.
For a lot of folks, those two sentences are at odds with each other. While a 4 a.m. wake-up isn’t essential, it certainly makes for a better (read: longer) morning ritual. And regardless of when, everyone should consider having a morning ritual.
What My Mornings Used To Look Like
Previously, my mornings started with four alarms: “Wake up” “Seriously, you need to get up now.” “Are you in the shower?” “Ok, now you are late.” I’d snooze through the first two alarms. Easily. Thanks to sleep inertia, I’d start the morning groggy but I’d also be disappointed with myself for not getting up earlier. And I was stressed. What was I going to wear? What was I going to have for lunch? Run. Scurry. Panic.
Then we threw a kid in the mix.
Thankfully, I recently heard an NPR article (or maybe it was a TED talk?). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to bookmark it. The reporter opened with how Maya Angelou, regardless of if she was traveling and staying in a hotel or at her home, would wake up every morning at four in the morning to write. He listed other creative thinkers and well-respected businesspeople who enjoyed getting an early start on the day.
And then he tried it. He woke up and found that it was a difficult task at first, but the stillness of the morning was invigorating and his creative juices were flowing.
I had to try it too.
Measuring Success Because My Type A Self Won’t Be Denied
The first couple of days I would spring out of bed. The anticipation of four in the morning made it difficult to sleep. It was a similar sensation to when I have a plane to catch. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short one-hour flight — the night prior is filled with tossing and turning because I’m so worried that I’ll oversleep.
Being the bullet journal junkie that I am, I actually have some data. I started in July and was successful 45% of the time. August: 54%. September: 40%. But there’s a catch with September. I’ve only woken up 12 times (so far this month since as of this writing it is September 29) at 4 a.m. but I have enjoyed my morning ritual 22 times this month. And so, if I change my metric of success to being that I got up and had a morning ritual, September isn’t too shabby at a 73% success rate. Woot woot!
So, dear Toto, allow me to pull back the curtains and share what makes up my new morning routine.
Morning Ritual Timeline:
4:00 – Alarm goes off. I open one eye to search for the phone. Think about skipping the whole deal. Snooze the alarm.
4:15 – The alarm goes again and I turn on a light. No more hopping out of bed for this gal. The motion can be described as a drag-my-feet-across-the-carpet-in-which-I-make-enough-static-electricity-I-could-taze-someone motion as I walk into the bathroom. Then it’s downstairs to do other essential things. Important things like coffee.
4:30 – Free write.
5:15 – Alarm goes off. This was my normal wake-up alarm. It now serves as a reminder to transition.
5:20 – Yoga for 10 minutes.
5:30 – Meditation for 10 minutes.
5:40 – Read for 5 minutes.
Morning ritual completed. Healthy habits established.
On the days that I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. I still make time to free write, do yoga, meditate, and read. However, the amount of time to write is greatly reduced. So it would behoove me to move my butt out of bed at that early hour.
The Elements Of Littlest Martha’s Morning Ritual
There was a time that I would be terrified to write on a blank sheet of paper. The fear of writing something “not good” prevented me from writing anything at all. Now I crave the weight of the fountain pen. I get excited when the ink bleeds all over the paper and onto my fingers. I especially love it when it gets lodged under my fingernails. It’s the tattoo of a writer.
Prior to my 4 a.m. morning ritual, my writing was very mean. To myself. I’d wait for some muse to come and would often find anger and disappointment at myself for not “being good enough.” (I’m noticing a theme here.)
However, I now flip through the pages of my free write journal and find poetry and prose on whatever is taking space in my mind that morning.
It’s a theory but I’m going with it: perhaps at this early hour the ego, my critical self, is still sleeping and not able to dish out the criticisms.
True or not, now when I’m looking for material to turn into a short story or poem I flip through my blue moleskin journal and have several months of material to draw upon.
I sit for 9 to 10 hours a day. And now we know that “sitting is the new smoking” so yoga is my smoke break. I have a series of poses that I have committed to memory and will cycle through those for 10 minutes.
Thanks to the Insight Timer app I have presets that I use every morning. Once the timer is on it activates a Do Not Disturb setting so no email alerts or texts can come through.
If you’re interested in starting your day with some yoga, check out these sun salutations.
I am such a fangirl these days for meditation. However, it couldn’t have been more than a year go when I was introduced to meditation and I said: “Yeah, thanks but not for me. I lack the discipline.”
Again the Insight Timer app came in handy here. When I was brand new to meditation I would enjoy browsing through the guided meditation options. All so lovely. Morning affirmation meditations, Metta meditations (“Metta” is the pali word for lovingkindness), meditations to help you fall asleep, music and much more.
For my morning ritual, I will leverage the presets and meditate for 10 minutes. The thoughts would come rapid-fire like a tennis ball launcher on steroids (and they still do), but before my inclination was to try and chase them down. Exhausting.
As I’ve learned from Tara Brach, the mind excretes thoughts in the same way the body excretes enzymes. So, now I sit on the cushion and acknowledge the thoughts as they go whizzing by and return to the breath. It’s taking some practice but with each meditation, I find the experience is becoming more and more restorative and freeing.
My younger self was always reading. Car ride? Reading. On the beach? Reading. On the soccer field (provided I wasn’t playing)? Reading. The appetite to read hasn’t left me but I am not walking around with a book anymore since there are adult things I have to do now.
Enter the Insight Timer app. The third preset in my morning ritual is to read for 5 minutes. Unlike the other presets (as you can customize all presets) this one has no music, only the gong to signal when done.
This portion of my morning ritual has shown the most tangible results. Reading for 5 minutes a day has been really helpful. When I find the material is slow I know I can just read it for a few moments, but when it’s good I find myself sneaking a few more pages … or chapters.
The ultimate goal here is to read a book a month. Younger self, you’d be happy to learn that I’m on my way to finishing my third book.
An Extra Bonus To An Early Wake Up
By this time the sunrise is peeking through the windows. Experiencing a soft sunrise warm up the sky and light up the room you’ve been sitting in is nothing short of magical. And it’s the perfect opportunity to give thanks.
For me, I use that chance to give thanks for the people in my life, the blessings in each day, that I get to see another day, and for my morning ritual. It’s also at this time that I’ll recite my mantra or the day’s intention.
Your morning ritual doesn’t have to start at 4 in the morning, but I hope that you make enough time for yourself to do the things that bring you joy, peace, and inspire your creativity.