I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other.
This week’s story comes from Patrik Edblad:
I used to set my alarm clock as late as possible each day, and then hit the snooze button at least one or two times before getting out of bed. As I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, this sort of routine is far from ideal, as your day gets a very stressful start and it often leads to being late.
After a couple of attempts at becoming an early riser and having a taste of the benefits it has, I decided to really commit to it, and devoted myself to understanding the mechanics of habit creation and how I could re-program my brain to love 6 a.m. I learned that a habit consists of a cue; a routine; and a reward, and that I needed to optimize all of them have a successful habit change.
I knew from experience that setting my alarm to 6 A.M. when I was used to 8 A.M. wasn’t going to work in the long run, so I instead committed to pushing the time back for just 15 minutes once a week to give my brain a better chance of adapting.
Starting out, my cue was my alarm clock, which was neatly put just out of arm’s reach so that I had to get out of bed before I could turn it off. This routine made it much more likely that I'd stay up than if I gave myself the chance to snooze.
As a reward I used the awesome habit app “Lift” and crossed off waking up early. Lift is designed to keep track of your habit-building streaks, and as I put in more and more days without failing to get up on time, the more I didn’t want to break the chain.
As I started my days, I knew that I needed to expose myself to a lot of light to help my brain set its circadian clock to a light-dark cycle of my choice, so I went ahead and turned on a lot of lights as soon as I got up (it’s ridiculously dark in northern Sweden this time of year).
Today I almost always wake before my alarm goes off at 6 A.M. and spend my mornings taking walks, planning my day, and doing meditation. This way I’m much more productive, feel better, and show up on time.
I’ve noticed that when people successfully change a habit, they often use several strategies simultaneously. We need a lot of fire-power to change our habits! If you’re interested in how people’s sleep habits are affected by light, I highly recommend Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.