A few days ago I decided I was going to attempt an experiment. Having been struggling to wake up on time and take advantage of my status as a “morning person,” I figured it was time to try waking up a little earlier to fix the issues I’d been facing with my routine.
My proposed solution: Waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day for one week.
There is no magic to this strategy and I would not recommend it for everyone. There is nothing about waking up early that guarantees writing success or fixes any of the problems you’re having with productivity or motivation. But I am most productive between the hours of six and noon, and if I’m not up and ready to go by that point, I’m only doing myself a disservice. So for me, it’s a strategy that could work.
You may not be surprised to learn that on the first morning of my “new routine,” I turned off my alarm, rolled over, and proceeded not to get up until five minutes before the dog typically expects a walk.
Day One: Failed. Sort of.
The reason I set weird and probably unnecessary goals or “challenges” for myself isn’t always necessarily to succeed the first time around. Take my personal challenge to write 1 million words in 2019. I probably won’t do it, because lt’s be honest, it’s a lot even for me. But along the way, I’m constantly paying attention to the things preventing me from achieving that goal and coming up with strategies that might help me do better in the future.
It’s the same with this 4:30 wake-up attempt. As I lay there with my phone in my hand struggling to get up, I started thinking about what was stopping me and analyzing the thoughts going through my mind as I sank back down into my memory foam mattress (so soft …).
These thoughts started out innocent enough. It’s cold out there and warm under here. There isn’t going to be coffee ready by the time I get dressed. I just need 15 more minutes and I’ll be ready.
But then I dug a little deeper, and really started to pick out the thoughts all but chaining me to my bed. I didn’t finish the last part of that project last night and I don’t want to have to finish it before work. My to-do list isn’t getting any shorter and it’s my fault. What if I don’t get up and my whole plan is ruined?
Anxieties, fears, doubts — all the things that every human faces when trying to make even the smallest change in their life. I’m not immune to it. In fact, as I fell back asleep, my final thought was: I know something needs to change, but I’m not sure if I can make change happen.
The more I think about it, the more I realize my struggle is — and possibly always has been — the result of stubbornness. I like my routine, does it really need to be different? I don’t feel like working on my novel today, so why should I force myself to? I know I need to be working on this prioritized task on my list, but this other thing is more fun and I’d rather do that instead.
All that despite the fact that clearly the current routine isn’t working, I’m stressed about my to-do list yet refuse to complete anything on the list, and the only way anything is going to change is if I force myself to change whether I “feel like it” or not.
Writing is as much about scheduling and time management as it is about telling a good story. If you want to write more, but realize you aren’t able to “find the time” to write, then something about your routine or your process or even your attitude needs to change. But many aspiring writers talk about making changes in their lives to create a healthier writing environment for themselves yet never put that talk to action.
The question is, why? The answer probably has a lot to do with stubbornness. I’m not the only one stuck in a rut yet flat-out refusing to do anything about it.
How do you fix stubborn? You force the changes you’re not otherwise going to make. Some people, in order to stop giving in to distractions for example, have to quit things cold turkey for an extended period of time to shift their focus onto their creative projects. This sometimes means canceling Netflix, or at least changing their password and trusting a friend to keep it from them. It sometimes means putting the gaming consoles in storage, deleting apps off your phone, putting the alarm across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
Every problem has a solution. If your stubbornness is keeping you from implementing that solution, your first step is to acknowledge it. Then you can start experimenting and formulating a strategy that works for you personally.
I’m too stubborn to get up early because it’s hard and not fun. But I know doing it is going to significantly improve my life, and so I’m going to keep trying different things until it becomes part of my routine. I may be too stubborn to easily change my habits, but stubbornness can also work to your advantage. I’m too stubborn to quit. So until this works or I find another way to capitalize on my preferences for early-morning productivity, there will probably be a lot of failures. That’s OK. Eventually, I might find success.
Whatever it is that you really don’t want to do, it may be time to figure out what you NEED to do in order to make this thing happen anyway. Forcing change is hard. It’s always going to be hard. But someday you’re going to look back at things and realize how glad you are to have made these changes.
Writing is great, but it doesn’t happen when you refuse to create space to make it happen. For me, this means I’m going to have to wake up an hour earlier. For you it might mean something completely different. Own that, but also start working toward conquering it. You got this. I believe in you.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.