Not everyone is naturally a 5am’er, but I hold the belief that everyone can become one. It’s not some exclusive club only open to those with seemingly endless motivation. Endless motivation does not exist. In fact, as you’ll find out soon, getting up at 5am every day and sticking with the habit has nothing to do with motivation.
Forget about motivation! Motivation might spark an interest in creating or changing a habit, but it won’t be involved in the upkeep of that habit because motivation gets depleted quite quickly. This is why most people can’t stick with a New Year’s resolution for more than a couple of weeks.
It’s not difficult to become a 5am-er – it just requires persistence, purpose – and a system. Most people do not simply wake up at 5am for no reason at all. A reason needs to be created and a good one at that! And that reason needs to be heavily supported by the right environment or else you’re going to fail.
In this post, I’m going to get into the details about how to become a 5am-er and actually be enthusiastic about it. No one is forcing anything on anyone here! All change must come from within for any new habit to stick. 🙂
5am Motivation is Garbage
For all you gym rats out there, have you ever noticed how the gym is packed during the first couple of weeks in January or on Mondays, but from February to December or on Fridays it’s practically a ghost town sprinkled with the same handful of devoted fitness enthusiasts? I notice because Friday is my favorite day to go to the gym and have easy access to all the weights I need. 🙂
Motivation inspires those wannabe gymgoers at the beginning of the year, week, or month, but lack of a system is the reason their motivation fizzles out.
Speaking of systems, that leads me to my first point…
Label Yourself a 5am’er
You must go through a complete mental transformation in order to successfully become a 5am-er and continue being one on a daily basis.
You must consider yourself the type of person who wakes up at 5am. When the alarm goes off as well as throughout the day, it helps to tell yourself (silently in your head or aloud) that you are a 5am type of person.
You are essentially attaching 5am to your identity. And each time you follow through with waking up at 5am is another vote cast for your new 5am identity. This may seem unimportant, but these votes are actually everything when it comes to building a wake up at 5am habit!
In the beginning, your habits will start to shape your new identity, but eventually, your identity will start to shape your habits and you’ll be able to wake up at 5am without thinking anything of it. After all, a 5am-er is who you are.
James Clear’s Advice for 5am’ers
Casting votes in favor of your new chosen identity in hopes of creating a new habit is a concept I got from James Clear’s bestselling book called Atomic Habits. If you haven’t read it, check it out.
Most of the books I’ve read in the past about habits are rubbish, but I highly recommend Atomic Habits because it provides tiny, actionable steps for becoming a 5am-er (or whatever good habits you’re trying to build for the long term).
Clear also goes into detail about how to break bad habits, which is just as important (maybe more so) than building positive habits.
Get 1% Better Every Day to Become a 5am-er
When the pressure is on, for example, to get 2x better each day, the improvement is going to plateau or taper off very quickly. 2x growth every day is just not sustainable; it’s not realistic. And keeping up with it is overwhelming!
But what about 1% improvement daily? That’s doable!
1% daily improvement means you’ll see a 37x improvement by the end of the year.
Let’s connect this concept of 1% improvement to becoming a 5am-er and waking up at 5am every day…
Gradually Become a 5am-er
Consider this: Even if you can’t bring yourself to wake up at 5am right away, you can most certainly work toward that goal a little bit every morning. Just get up 1% earlier each morning!
Actually, I recommend going to bed and getting up 15 minutes earlier each week until you reach 5am, but you get the point!
If you currently wake up at 7am and you decide to wake up 15 minutes earlier each week, in just 8 short weeks you’d be waking up at 5am – 2 full hours earlier than you do now. You wouldn’t even have to wait an entire year to reach your 5am-er goal.
Each day’s improvement doesn’t seem like much on its own, but when combined with 365 days of continuous, microscopic wins, your improvement becomes massive – and impressive!
5am-ers Don’t Need Motivation – They Need a System
Be careful about concentrating too much on your goal or relying on motivation.
If you count on motivation alone to turn into a 5am-er, you’ll give up on the first morning that you “don’t feel like waking up early”. That morning will probably be the very next morning when you’re lying in your bed all warm and comfy. 😉
No one ever feels like waking up at 5am. Ever.
You need to fight basic human resistance to waking up early by creating and committing to a system of easy, actionable steps.
Ignore Your 5am Goal & Focus on the System!
Concentrate on your system (nailing that 15 minute earlier bedtime and wake-up time, for example) instead of being fixated on 5am itself.
In other words, put all your focus on each tiny step, which in our example is waking up on time each morning, 15 minutes earlier each week. During that first week, 6:45am should be your focus – not 5am! Don’t be 8 weeks ahead of yourself!
Abide By 4 Laws to Become a 5am-er
According to James Clear in Atomic Habits, there are 4 laws you must abide by and implement into your 5am-er system. Let’s discuss them one-by-one.
5am-er Law 1: Make It Obvious
In order to get the ball rolling with your new habit, it’s best to stack it on top of an existing habit. The existing habit will be your cue to carry out your new habit.
You need this cue that exists as a current habit so you don’t forget what comes next. The cue makes it obvious when you are supposed to do xyz (i.e., get out of bed) and leaves no room for making excuses. Excuses are what got you to where you are right now, so how can you expect them to take you where you want to go?
For example, when you hear your alarm, you can count backward 5-4-3-2-1 and when you reach 1, you immediately get up to turn off the alarm and walk to the bathroom.
What About Bad Habits?
Bad habits are remedied by doing the inverse of each of these 4 laws.
If you currently have a bad habit of always going back to sleep after turning off your alarm, make your alarm invisible (this is the inverse of making it obvious) by moving it far across the room out of arm’s reach – or move it into a different room entirely.
In short, aim to spend less time in tempting situations if you’re trying to nix a bad habit of any kind. Don’t rely on self-restraint! Rely on a system that keeps you out of harm’s way!
5am-er Law 2: Make It Attractive
This law is classic bribery – and it works.
Do something you enjoy when you wake up early. Choose something that you never or rarely have a chance to do throughout the rest of the day. You are to give yourself a reward for peeling yourself out of bed at 5am. 🙂
Until you establish your 5am-er habit, make sure you avoid doing this enjoyable activity at any other time.
What About Bad Habits?
If you have a bad habit, do the inverse of ‘make it attractive’. Make it unattractive!
Take an honest look at what your underlying motive is for your bad habit and try finding a better solution to satisfy that urge.
For example, if you briefly wake up at 5am to turn off your alarm and then go back to bed because you’re cold, your underlying motive in ducking out of the 5am’er lifestyle is physical discomfort. A good solution to this problem could be to install a smart thermostat that automatically turns on the heat to a certain temperature 30 minutes before you wake up.
If you’re standing there at 5am turning off your alarm and realize you’re nice and cozy, yet you’re not in bed – you’re likely to go do something better with your time. Staying in bed is now unattractive.
5am-er Law 3: Make It Easy
To master the habit of waking up early, you need repetition – not perfection. It matters how many times you actually get up and stay up after that alarm goes off.
It also matters that your 5am-er habit sequence does not take any longer than 2 minutes. Quick equals easy in this case.
My habit sequence is this: When my sunrise simulation alarm lights up and the birds start chirping, I stand up and walk straight to the bathroom to wash my face.
I don’t immediately turn my alarm off because it’s not annoying. I like the gentle light and the sound of the birds.
This is the reason I highly recommend that every 5am-er pick up a good quality sunrise simulation alarm clock. It completely changes how you experience waking up early.
When I come back to my bedroom a few minutes later to make the bed and draw open the shades is when I finally turn the alarm off. Sometimes I leave the sunrise light on and just turn off the birds.
What About Bad Habits?
It’s inversion time! If you’re trying to combat the bad habit of refusing to get out of bed when your alarm goes off, then you need to make it difficult to stay in bed.
We all know staying in bed is easy, so bear with me. You can make it difficult to stay in bed, for example, by installing these smart electric curtain tracks with your existing curtains so that they automatically open at 5am. If you have blinds instead of curtains, this kit would accomplish the same thing.
It’s difficult to stay in bed when your curtains or blinds automatically open to let in the light.
Let’s go back to my habit of turning off my alarm after I’ve done my thing in the bathroom for a second: This is my way of fighting an old bad habit and inverting the law of making it easy to get up and stay up.
Turning off my alarm immediately after waking up used to mean going back to sleep for me, so I avoid turning it off until I’m fully awake. The neural pathway for that old bad habit is still there, so I changed the order in which I wake up and turn off the alarm.
5am-er Law 4: Make It Satisfying
It’s very satisfying to see progress being made on a new habit. It’s also satisfying to receive a reward after each successful completion of a new habit.
Use a Habit Tracker to See Your 5am-er Progress
A habit tracker serves as a visual cue that you are on track to becoming a bona fide 5am-er. For what it’s worth, a habit tracker can also give you brief moments of motivation to keep going.
A simple wall calendar can be an excellent habit tracking device. Placing an X on each day that you wake up at 5am soon displays a satisfying continuous streak of X’s that you won’t want to break. Each X is a vote cast for your new 5am-er identity.
Reward Yourself with Something Tangible
Money is always an excellent reward. For example, transfer $1, $5, etc to your savings account (or your child’s!) for each morning you follow through with waking up at 5am.
Building up some extra savings is a fantastic reward for becoming a 5am-er. It makes the inherent discomfort everyone initially feels when waking up early completely worth it in the end.
The savings account reward can be something you do only while you’re still building your 5am-er habit or it can be something you continue indefinitely. Obviously, it depends on your financial situation.
Most people respond better long-term to monetary rewards than other more mundane types of tangible rewards like coffee, so that’s why I recommend the savings account reward if you can spare a buck or two each day.
What About Bad Habits?
OK, it’s inverse time again! If you want to curb a bad habit, do the opposite of a reward when you do that bad habit – punish yourself!
Obviously, don’t be ridiculous and be too hard on yourself, but a little tough love never hurt anyone.
For example, if you decided to lay in bed too long this morning, instead of putting $1 in your savings account, give that $1 to someone you don’t like (an annoying co-worker maybe?) Don’t give the $1 to charity because that isn’t a punishment. The point is, you have to do something with the $1 that makes your blood boil.
Another example not involving money is that you can ban yourself from drinking your daily cup of coffee or tea if you don’t wake up at 5am. That’s an excellent punishment and one you’ll be feeling all day. 😉
If All Else Fails – Use Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule to Become a 5am’er
I’ve discussed the 5 Second Rule multiple times on this blog because I love its no-nonsense effectiveness in getting people out of bed. In this post about how to wake up in the morning, I discuss the 5 Second Rule and how becoming a 5amer is essentially you versus you.
Based on Mel Robbins’ book The 5 Second Rule, which btw is quickly becoming a go-to guide for tackling any challenge that comes up in life – the humble 5 Second Rule is anyone’s ticket to permanent change.
What is the 5 Second Rule exactly?
The 5 Second Rule consists of simply counting backward from 5 until you reach 1 (the cue). When you get to 1, you immediately take action without thinking. These actions could be anything you’ve been resisting; i.e., getting out of bed, making a difficult phone call, putting on your workout clothes…
The 5 Second Rule is a system and that’s why it works. It’s a clever, simplified version of James Clear’s advice that has all the elements of the classic Habit Loop combined into one universally easy-to-implement system.
The simple genius of the 5 Second Rule is that it intentionally forces you to avoid thinking. You replace thinking with doing.
When it comes to building a 5am-er habit, for example, you definitely do not need to do more thinking – you need to do less. If you think about getting up at 5am while you lie in bed, your “rational” brain is going to talk yourself out of it.
The 5am brain is never actually rational, just in case you weren’t aware. Your brain doesn’t start making solid, sensical decisions until you get out of bed and start your day. The 5am brain is a lazy, conniving complacency seeker. 🙂
It only takes 5 seconds to initiate action. Just think about it: You’re 5 seconds away from taking action on that thing you’ve been putting off! You’re 5 seconds away from becoming a 5am-er.