All or Something

All or Something
Photo by Josh Carter

Yesterday, a tweet by Inc. Magazine claiming that “The world's most successful people start their day at 4 a.m.” was being retweeted in droves by people looking to vent their frustration at the claim. (J.K. Rowling told the author to “piss off.”)

And honestly, I can’t blame them. After clicking through to the article accompanying the tweet and, thankfully, confirming that me and my book were not referenced in the piece, I gave it a quick read and noticed just how unnecessary the tweet’s claim was.

While the author shouldn’t be the only one placed at fault for this—at many magazines and media organizations, including ones I’ve written for, article authors are unlikely to be writing their own headlines—they continued to push the 4:00 a.m. idea throughout the piece and, assuming they didn’t write the headline themselves, the article’s content was all the ammunition the headline writer needed to create it.

The reality, of course, is much different. If you’ve read my book you’ll know that while we do interview some people that get up at 4:00 a.m., with General Stanley McChrystal being the first example that jumps to my mind, this is far from the norm.

The average wake-up time of everyone we interviewed for the book, and on our website is 06:23 a.m., with our participants sleeping an average of seven hours and 29 minutes a night. So sure, some successful people wake up at 4:00 a.m., but many wake up much later.

Many people are put off creating a brand new morning routine, with tweets and articles like the above not helping, because they think of it as an “all or nothing” proposition. They feel that they can either stick to what they have right now—a routine they’ve grown comfortable with, even if it’s not ideal for them—or they have to do a whole lot of work to completely change their way of living.

This couldn’t be further from the truth (and to this idea, I repeat Ms. Rowling’s remark). If you want to start getting up earlier, making the jump from your current wake-up time to a 4:00 a.m. alarm would be a terrible idea. Similarly, if you want to start working out, meditating, or practicing yoga as a part of your morning routine, going from a standing start to spending an hour on any one of these each morning is very quickly going to become too difficult to keep up.

Forget “all or nothing.” Take an all or something approach to your mornings. Sure, one day you’ll be all-in on a brand new morning routine, but right now you’re just trying something out. Instead of waking up at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow, consider getting up just five minutes earlier than usual. If you usually wake up at 7:00 a.m., set your alarm for 6:55 instead. Then get up at this new time every day for the rest of the week. This may sound like a slow exercise, but adding in small changes like this makes it easier to form a new habit. Once you’ve been waking up five minutes earlier for a week, add another five minutes to your experiment, so you’re now getting up ten minutes earlier.

The same is true of a future morning exercise, meditation, or yoga routine. Start out by exercising for just fifteen minutes, and meditating and performing yoga for just five minutes each. You’ll soon recognize which of these routines you want to keep up—and increase the length of—and which you want to drop.

After all, our research found that the most successful people don’t start their day at 4:00 a.m.—they take an all or something approach to their mornings, and they’re still experimenting with tweaking, changing, and optimizing their routines in an attempt to bring greater results still. ∎

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.