“I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays/When I get rudely awakened by the dustmen,” Damon Albarn says on the Blur song “Parklife” – and in my teen years, this seemed like the dream. Get up when I want (11 am), except sometimes, when life intervenes. When I grew up, I realized that it’s the other way around: Every morning, life intervenes in the form of a wakeful cat or a beeping alarm or an early work deadline. I wake up when I want, but only on Saturdays, and it’s usually more like 6.30, not 11.
Lately, I’ve started to lean into this. I wake up before my alarm, usually around 5.20, and I drink my coffee in relative peace (while Florence the cat shoves her feeder against the wall to get fresher food). I’ve instituted a rule: I have to do One Good Thing for myself before I go to work at 8 am. By 6 am, I’m writing or gearing up for a run or walk. Sometimes I update my budget or work on my website. The point is, when I get to work, I’m ready to do stuff for someone else because I’ve already taken care of myself. Turning my brain on is always the first step.
I’m not the only one who believes in the power of mornings. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the concept of Morning Pages: “In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it . . .. Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness.” Some of my closest friends swear by this practice. They have journals upon journals of things like, “I wish I were asleep, but since I’m not, I guess I’ll write in this dumb notebook. Blah blah blah what a beautiful sunrise,” or something more creative and profound probably. I myself have never committed to Morning Pages, because they always ended up looking like that previous quotation, but I find my system of One Good Thing retrieves my creativity for the day.
If longhand writing isn’t for you, there are other ways to get moving in the morning. The usual suspects: exercise, reading, doodling, or catching up on emails from friends. I know a couple that, every morning, would read off a list of personal questions (What would you do if you found a million dollars today? Where would your perfect vacation spot be?) to help differentiating themselves from each other and to explore their own sense of self. Using questions like these as writing prompts or food for thought could be helpful.
For people who can’t get the creative or imaginative juices flowing in the morning, don’t despair. Mark Twain saw mornings as a time to rise and shine and get something hard out of the way. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning: If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first,” he advises. Sometimes self-care is paying a nagging bill before it bugs you all day. Sometimes it means putting your dishes in the dishwasher so you don’t come home to a full sink (or so I hear – this is not my practice. I love to be greeted by a full sink, personally! Hello, little buddy). Sometimes it means clearing out your inbox. Sometimes it means putting on your bib and eating a slimy, juicy frog.
I find that I am more awake, more positive, and more productive because of my One Good Thing rule. Today’s good thing? Writing this post and working on my website. The dishes will have to wait.