Train yourself to love the a.m. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s an all-too-common scenario: Your alarm goes off in the morning and you hit snooze, and then you hit snooze again, and then again. Before you know it, you’re late (as per usual) and you tell yourself the same lie you told yourself yesterday: “Tomorrow I will go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. I have to. I have to be a better morning person; I cannot go on like this.”
Not only does snoozing your way through your morning make you late for work, it may also impact your mental health — and not in a good way. A recent study from researchers at Binghamton University in New York, published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, found that night owls are more likely to report negative thoughts such as worry and anxiety than chipper “morning people,” who are often more positive overall.
The good news is that it’s actually possible to train yourself to become a morning person — even if you love nothing more than staying up late and rising at the crack of noon. We checked in with Michelle Segar, PhD, a sustainable behavior change expert and director of the University of Michigan Sharp Center, who says there are three steps you can take to develop any “sustainable behavior change” — i.e. a change that you’ll stick with for the long haul. Check them out below.
Step 1: Do Some Mental Digging
Of course you know that waking up early is good for you. After all, you read the Internet, and you see all those chipper people bustling about in the morning being super productive while drinking their skim milk lattes in Spandex. But here’s the thing: Just because you know you should rise early like they do isn’t enough of a reason for you to do it yourself—you have to dig deeper.
“Your reason for changing your ways needs to be deeply compelling and specific,” confirms Segar, who is also the author of the forthcoming book “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.” “If your reason is simply that you know you should change, you won’t feel personally connected to it, and you won’t be motivated enough to carry through,” says Segar.
So ask yourself: Why do you want to be a morning person? Is it so you have time to exercise? So you have time to prepare a healthy breakfast? So you get to work on time? All of the above? Whatever it is, figure it out — that specificity will help you follow through with your goal later on.
Step 2: Make A Game Plan
Now you need to figure out how you’re going to make learning how to be a morning person a priority in your daily life. The first step is identifying the exact roadblocks in your way right now. Chances are, Segar says, you’re staying up too late in the first place. So take note of what you’re doing after 10 p.m.: Are you watching Netflix? Are you stalking your ex on Facebook? Are you scrolling through Instagram? Playing on Tinder? “Once you’ve figured out your bedtime weakness, start to set cues to cut yourself off,” says Segar.
For example: If you have a habit of watching Hulu or Netflix on your laptop in bed, set your alarm on your phone for 11 p.m. every night. When that alarm goes off, turn the computer off. Just do it. If you’re a social media night owl, tell your Facebook friends that you’re trying to go to bed earlier and ask them to help you out. That way, when they see you on late at night, they’ll tell you to go to bed — and you’re more likely to do so since they’re holding you accountable. There are even sleep apps you can use, like Zansors and Sleep Cycle, that analyze your sleep data, give you feedback on your lifestyle, and remind you to go to bed on time. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to use as your cue to go to bed, as long as you choose something.
Step 3: Take Action — And Track Your Progress
Once you’ve formed a game plan, it’s time to actually walk the walk and do this thing. The key here is to track your progress as you go. It can be helpful to write down what time you got out of bed each morning so that you can go back and analyze your own data (or use one of the many sleep apps to do so). Then, be sure you set aside one day a week to actually go through your data to see how you’re doing.
“It’s really important to evaluate your strategies to see how they’re working. If they’re not working, make a tweak (say, go to bed half an hour earlier), and see if that works any better,” advises Segar. It’s going to be different for everyone, so the key is to play around to see what’s best for you.
Finally, Segar says it’s important to focus on one behavior change at a time. “If you’re trying to wake up earlier, don’t try to change your diet, too — it can be too overwhelming. Focus on one at a time so that you can really learn how to sustain this one behavior,” she says. And hey, once you succeed — which you will! — then you know you can do it, and your next behavior change will be that much easier.
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