“The early bird catches the worm.”
I heard this classic proverb when I was young. It shaped my view to believe that those who wake up early are better. However, I grew up in a home where waking up early was not prioritized. My parents worked retail so they did not have to wake up early to go to work. It was always a struggle to get up early to go to school. I had multiple alarms and utilized various waking techniques like putting the alarm in the bathroom. However, I would smack the super annoying cat trumpet alarm I got from the Asian supermarket and go back to bed. In my early teenage years, I would often be running to the bus stop. When I didn’t catch the bus super sweaty and out of breath, I would sulkily walk back home and wake up my mom to drive me to school.
Throughout my college years and young adult life, my early-bird struggle persisted. I would have brief moments of success in college. I would wake up early to go to the gym or go for a morning run. But good habits and rhythms were difficult to maintain due to the late night parties and the occasional studying. As a young working professional, I once again found myself chasing after buses. If I missed the 7:23am bus into New York, the next one at 7:31am would take 30 to 45 minutes longer. I found a little more success with waking up early when I started working. However, it was not out of my desire and drive, but rather the external pressure of showing up to work on time.
I remember reading about effective people and how a common thread would be waking up early. I read how Mark Wahlberg would wake up at 4am well before his whole family. He would get his quiet time, workout, and breakfast before anyone would wake up. There was a consistent theme that emphasized how it is better to be an early bird.
“But the night owl catches the mouse?”
However, I was a night owl. I stayed up late as a child chatting with friends on AIM. I enjoyed writing in my journals under a dim-desk lamp next to my bed. The times I would try to sleep early, I would lay in bed with endless thoughts racing through my mind. Song inspirations or work ideas would pop up during these moments of pondering in the dark. I never felt ashamed that I was a night owl. However, there was this curiosity about what it would be like to be an early bird. There was some mysterious appeal about this other side of life that I could not get in rhythm with.
Recently, my news feed has been showing articles about the risk and benefits of being a night owl. Probably because the AI/ML knows my increasing searches for how to wake up early or what is the best bedtime routines. I think the pendulum is swinging the other way. Night owls are standing up for their rights. The minority voice feels discriminated.
I would have happily continued to be a night owl. However, my four year old daughter consistently wakes up between 6:30 and 7:00am. Despite her early waking, my wife and I refused to sleep early because night time was our precious time. We were notorious (to ourselves) for our sleep retaliation. Other parents would be going to bed at 9pm. That was when we would start our shows, play games, or have our late night YOLO snack times.
While we had our fun in the evening, our daughter would always wake before us. We were cranky she would interrupt our valuable sleep. We thought we were responsible by going to bed at 11pm and waking at 7am. Going to bed at eleven meant sleeping around midnight. And there would be occasional wakings from nightmares or bathroom emergencies. We would be consistently tired. I attempted to wake up earlier, but would fail. Light lamps, phone alarm in bathroom, or multiple alarms. Nothing worked. I would always be tired. I would always be chasing the damn bus.
“Important things, should never be at the mercy of less important things.”
I was rereading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and came across this quote. Waking up early for the sake of my family and my relationship with my daughter is important. I knew I had to subordinate my personal Netflix binges and gaming time to the more important and valuable things in life. Around the same time, I was revisiting the idea of becoming a professional trader. This meant waking up prior to 6:30am MT to be ready for the New York open. In order to become a professional, something I wanted to pursue, I knew I could not be dragging my feet out of bed and chasing the next bus. I wanted to be alert and ready. I wanted to be loving and present.
Towards the beginning of this year, I made the commitment to sleep earlier. The first week was insanely difficult. I would lie in bed for over an hour, sometimes close to two, as my circadian rhythm was clocked in the same rhythm for the past two decades. I would force myself to wake up early, reminding myself of the greater purpose. It wasn’t because of external pressures of bosses or peers. It wasn’t because of some meta narrative that favored the early bird. It wasn’t my nagging daughter. It wasn’t catching that damn school bus.
The second week, I found myself getting tired earlier, when normally I would not have been. I even found myself waking up without the sound alarm going off and only the light. I rewarded my psyche about my success. It has now been about five weeks. I cannot say that it is super easy getting out of bed. However, I find myself having the ability to get out of bed even after crawling back in because it is super cold.
Building this new habit is not easy. It is physically challenging because I’m tired. It is mentally challenging, because I have to remember my greater purpose and reasons for pushing myself. It is emotionally challenging because I lose some of the valuable night time cuddles with my wife. And I occasionally still lash out at my daughter when I’m cranky. I also enjoy the occasional late night pub visit and dart league.
Despite the challenges, I am enjoying the process. It is invigorating to know that I can change my childhood rhythms and habits. The whole early bird and night owl distinction is not some mysterious power. I think some people may be naturally inclined, but I think a lot of it has to do with our environments and our choices. Some people may not be able to build consistent patterns because they have demanding jobs or perhaps a newborn on the way. That’s okay, because being flexible and adaptable is more beneficial, than to be so ingrained in one way of living and being.
I am proud to tell my younger self that I finally can wake up early enough to beat the bus to the stop. I no longer have to chase the damn bus anymore.