I’ve completely changed my snoozing habits in just a few weeks. Before that, I never really thought such a thing was possible. Yesterday morning the first alarm went off and I felt like a semi truck had hit me between the eyes. I instantly decided it was acceptable to snooze that morning. The next thing I knew, I was already sitting up and putting my clothes on. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I muttered a curse and then smiled. I had acted out of habit and started to get up at the first alarm without even thinking about it. More importantly, I had acted by habit against a conscious choice I had made.
Several weeks ago in my summary of Power of Habit I discussed in my takeaways that I was trying out this new habit of getting up at the first alarm. Well, I can now say it is working. And that surprises me quite a bit. Before reading the book, I would have argued that waking up at the first alarm was something hereditary or personality-based. I would have said that I just naturally took a long time to wake up. I had to set my alarm about 20-30 minutes prior to when I needed to be awake to account for this problem.
Turns out I was very wrong about all that. It is a habit. There is a cue, followed by a routine, followed by a reward. For me, that used to play itself out as follows:
alarm (cue) –> snooze (routine) –> more sleep (reward)
Then eventually I would have to drag myself out of bed when I really had to get going or face worse consequences like being late to work. Quite honestly, before I instituted the new routine, I was snoozing so long that my son would come down at 7:05 when his light-up-clock told him it was ok to get up. I would essentially snooze until it getting up was forced upon me by my kid. Not a very proactive approach to life.
So what changed? Well I read the Power of Habit for one thing. But more importantly, I made a plan. I decided that when the alarm went off, I would make a new routine. The new routine was a little bit flexible. I only had to do it when I remembered. No shame if I didn’t (note that I haven’t forgotten one time).
The new routine was to take a deep breath, stretch, and then swing my legs over the side of the bed and sit up. The new reward was that I got to spend some time alone in the morning (which I have spent writing). The cue stayed the same.
I still allowed myself some choice in the matter to feel better about making the change. After I sat up, I was allowed to decide if I wanted to go back to sleep and snooze. But the default routine was going to be that I would at least sit up.
Now it probably helped that I had an additional reason to start getting up earlier. I wanted to get up early so that I could have time to write more. Having a powerful “why” was extremely motivating to get the habit started. But I think having a plan was pretty important too.
One other important thing about my plan was having warm clothes already set out. Especially in the winter, I find that I really-really-really don’t want to get out of bed because it is freaking cold out there! So I set out warm clothes right next to the bed the night before. As soon as I sit up, I can start getting warm.
If you decide to make an attempt at this, I recommend figuring out what your major hurdles are to getting out of bed at the first alarm and then make a plan to overcome that. For you, maybe clothes isn’t the thing. Maybe you are smart and just sleep in warm clothes to begin with. But maybe you wish that the coffee was already made. Solve that problem with a programmable coffee maker. Maybe your problem is that you just need more sleep. Solve that problem by learning to not snooze so that you actually get that whole time as uninterrupted sleep! The important thing is to identify what is holding you back and then come up with a way around it.
The Power of Habit describes a case study of people recovering from hip replacement surgery. The people who made a plan were far more likely to do their rehab work and recover faster. The plan could be as simple as “I will always take the first step”. Having a plan helped them to overcome excruciating pain in order to recover faster.
The point of all this is that even tiny habits can be changed, and it might be as simple as making a plan to change. So if you find that you lose 20-30 minutes of good sleep or good wake-time every day, think about making a plan to change your habits. Everyone in the world has 24 hours in a day. An argument can be made that it is the universally constant resource (with relatively few exceptions). I used to wasted a large chunk of the time allotted to me every day on snooze-broken sleep. Now I spend that time writing instead. And all it took was a pretty simple plan. Don’t waste a chunk of your time on interrupted sleep. Spend it doing something you want to do. Even if what you want to do with that time is just sleep without the snooze.