We’ve all been beaten over the head with articles about how high-powered CEOs and similar “successful people” (read: Richie Riches) wake up early. Adopt this ritual and you can make all the money too, they tell us. These folks who wake up early to hop on their laptops are part of an obsession with productivity that truly eludes me.
I, however, am also usually in bed by ten and up early enough to see the sun rise — but it has nothing to do with a desire for closing 25 deals before noon. Before my first appointment today, I had already had coffee, watched the sun rise over the Mississippi River where I took my puppy for a play date (which I do, daily, at 5:45), taken a run, swept my house, completed the NYT crossword puzzle, eaten breakfast, and meditated. That sounds like a busy morning, but in all actuality, my pace is “slow and steady wins the race.”
As a recovering over-achiever, I know the dangers of attaching my self-worth to how much I get done. I’ve worked hard to overcome my type A tendencies — so why do I still adopt one of the most salient habits of type A people?
I’ve been on a steady diet of yoga and meditation for decades and yoga is the reason I wake up early. In yoga and its accompanying holistic healing belief system, Ayurveda, the time before dawn is called Brahmamuhurta, which means “the time of pure consciousness” or “amrit bela,” the ambrosial hours. This time period is estimated to be anywhere from three hours to 48 minutes before dawn, and it is considered — by those who believe in this stuff — the most auspicious time to meditate.
It’s pretty ironic that uptight entrepreneurs and mega-chill yogis both agree on getting up early when their definitions of success tend to vary so profoundly. But wherever you might fall on the spectrum between efficiency-obsessed and super-woo, here are three reasons why getting up early can make you genuinely happier.
The world is quiet and that can be grounding
If you’re up and about before everyone else, that means you have the world to yourself. There’s no traffic, and whatever green space you might have access to will be less crowded than later in the day. If that kind of scares you, keep in mind that crime rates are often lowest between 3 and 5 am and that you don't necessarily need to go for a run in a sequestered place to access nature.
It’s not just the real world that’s quieter, the virtual world is quieter, too. Traffic doesn’t pick up on most media platforms until 8, which means that getting up early can give you a mini-digital detox before you start your day.
Getting up before dawn not only gives me time to get centered, but because other folks aren’t doing it, it’s also counter-cultural. If you’re invested in politics or new discoveries, early rising means knowing what’s up before everyone else. In other words, you’d have to get up pretty damn early to trump (ahem) my awareness of current events.
It can help you gain perspective and establish a work-life balance
Witnessing the daily movement of the earth, by way of sunrise, is a gorgeous reminder of the cyclical nature of the day — and how that day contains time set aside for you to not work. Research shows that detaching from work activities is crucial to attaining that elusive thing we call work-life balance. Having several hours of distance between waking and work can give you time to become aware that you are more than your job. If you do enjoy starting work earlier, you will likely have more “recovery” time after work, which is crucial to finding a sustainable work-life rhythm.
You’ll likely have more time with yourself
I have never lived with another early riser, and I don’t want to. The time after waking, for me, is pivotal in feeling connected to the world, my body, and my mind. If no one else is up, I don’t feel obligated to hang, and I get to focus on the practices that are important to creating and maintaining my sanity: yoga, meditation, running, and staring off into the distance over coffee and cigarettes. If you have roommates or children or a partner that likes to talk (no shade), waking up early might be the only chance to hear your own thoughts clearly.
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