zenhabits : breathe

How to Become a Late Riser

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

How could there possibly be any merit in rising late? For a long time, I have thought about this question.

After all, isn’t the Holy Grail of personal development graduation, waking up at 5 a.m. on a daily basis? It’s like the black belt of productivity, right?

For a long time, I set this goal to wake up early. Sometimes my goal was 5 a.m., sometimes it was 6 or 7 a.m. The time I set to wake up wasn’t really important. What was important was that I equated early rising with something that was a good idea. I thought it would make me more productive. I thought it would accelerate my progress toward my goals. But most of all, I thought it would give me that “personal development street cred” I so longed for. (Wow, how geeky does that sound?)

Becoming an early riser has been something on my To-Do list for a long time now. (Well, to be honest, it’s not on my To-Do list. I killed my goals a long time ago and have never looked back. But becoming an early riser is still a parasitic thought living in the back of my head.) I tried very hard to make early rising a habit. I gave up sugar before bed. I put the alarm clock far out of reach so that the snooze button wasn’t so easily pressed. I set intentions and made promises. I tried all the tricks in the book. All to no avail.


Then I realized something: Does it really matter if I wake up early? Is getting up before the Sun really going to transform my life? Why do I care so much about this, anyway?

Well, I tried to rationalize this from a productivity standpoint. More hours in the day, right? More time when you’re not being interrupted, right?

But what if I flipped that around and became a late riser instead? What if I stayed up late to get those extra hours of uninterrupted time? What if I just stopped caring about the whole thing altogether?

In the end, I chose to stop caring. Trying to force myself to become this gung-ho, jump-out-of-bed person, was causing me more stress than the benefits were worth.

Then I realized something else: I was trying to live by someone else’s values. I only really cared about becoming an early riser because it was something everyone else did to prove that they were really serious about this personal development stuff.

My inner rebel was awakened.

Screw that. I’m making my own rules.

So, this was supposed to teach you how to be a late riser, I know. But I’m not going to be doing that here. Sorry.

The reason I wanted to talk about this, is to bring to light the sometimes unconscious way we set goals and follow patterns. We take on gender roles and stereotypes because they’ve been handed down to us. We go to jobs we don’t really like, with people we don’t want to work with, because we assume that’s the only option.

I know I’m not the only one who has made these assumptions. And I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to break them. It seems easier to move along with the crowd, quietly marching, not stepping out of line or making any noise. It seems easier, but it’s not worth it.

And to be honest, it can be uncomfortable following your own path when it seems too unconventional to others’. But at least it’s your own path.

From unconscious to conscious.

Are you setting goals because you think it’s a good idea to achieve them? Do you really care about learning a new language, running a marathon, or waking up early? Or are you just settings goals that you think would be a good idea? Sometimes we think we care about the things we’re doing, but when we take a closer look, we really don’t.

That’s not to say that rising early or running marathons is a bad thing. Of course it’s not. But the point is, personal growth is about being more authentic. Plus, it’s about having fun and aspiring to do things that are amazing; it’s about pursuing goals that excite you.

Sure, you may have challenges. Reclaiming your dreams may cause you some discomfort. But it should not be painful.

Remember that growing and optimizing your life should be something that gets you excited. If you feel like it’s a chore, maybe you have the wrong goals. Maybe you should find something amazing to work on. Maybe it’s time to reclaim your dreams.

Editor’s note: I like to wake up early, not because it’s more productive, but because it’s such a nice time of day. Read about how and why I wake early. – Leo

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