I’m not one of those people who’ve travelled half the world with just a backpack on their shoulders by the age of 22. I’m a shy introvert with a very bad sense of direction, picky eating habits and not very much into adventurous affairs. Still, I want to see more of the world and I decided I’ll do it on my own terms – starting slow with familiar territories and working my way up to more exotic places step by step. I also decided to do it mostly alone. Going somewhere unknown alone seemed scary to me at first, but it actually was not that bad – and it definitely has its benefits.
Budapest – my impressions
Budapest had been on my wish list for quite some time now (with many other places). In the end I chose it because it was cheaper than Edinburgh. J Budapest is a wonderful city for everyone who enjoys art nuveau architecture and old castles. At every corner, there are interesting and beautiful old buildings – sometimes they would really need some renovation work but I think that adds to the charm. It feels a little bit like a mix of Vienna and Rome because there’s the grand architecture but there’s also hot summer and the living with crumbly facades and streets.
In Budapest, you can find some nice parks where you can stay during the midday hours, if you’re crazy enough to book a trip to Budapest in July. (You might consider going when it’s not that hot…)
The city is not crazy big so you can still get to lots of places by foot but the public transport system works really well. I have to say that I only got lost once (because: Google maps…) and overall was surprised at how well I could navigate there. I had a little trouble with the money and relying heavily on a currency calculator. Then again, everything was cheaper than in Germany – especially eating – so it was ok.
On my first day, I just went to the city walkig around and exploring Budapest by foot.
Choosing my own agenda
I only went for five days but it was great. I visited nearly every art exhibition and discovered the photographs of Elliott Erwitt. Google him, he’s a wonderful photographer and a funny soul. I would definitely recommend visiting the National Gallery. And I had a great time at the Hopp Ferenz Museum for Asiatic Art. It is very small but I enjoyed it very much because it was kind of a re-visiting the East Asian culture (I studied Chinese and Japanese in university). I did not however visit Buda Castle or the Parliament and I did not even come close to St. Stephen’s Basilica (or any other church).
That was the wonderful thing about travelling alone: I could choose exactly what I wanted to do that day, what I chose to see or not see, when and where I wanted to eat and what time I wanted to get up.
I climbed up Gellert mountain on my second day. It was quite steep and longer than I thought (should have chosen the other side) but on my way up I came across a group of painters in a park.
Three things I will remember from Budapest
Steep crumply roads if you find yourself crawling up one of Budapest’s hills
Sitting on a bench on Margaret Island and watching the Danube
Walking through the city streets in the shade of big trees and looking at the old facades
Three things I learned about myself
I really, really need a good and healthy breakfast in the morning – at 7:30 latest
I’m so used to my sugar reduced organic diet I had totally forgotten that most “normal” food you get will be with sugar and processed ingredients (Wow, reality check…)
I love art and I want to paint more
I was a lucky girl and got this luxurious breakfast at my guest house.
I knew that to really rewire myself to become an early riser I had to establish the habit of getting up every day at the same time – even on weekends. I had heard that it takes 28 days to form a habit but I already knew that other numbers were floating around, too. So, I doubled up the number to 60 (generously added some for the nicer look) and tried to see how I would progress with my habit building endeavour: getting up at 6:20 a.m. for the sixty days – everyday – even on days off. Let me tell you how it went:
In the past I had tried several times to set a stricter rhythm but it never lasted more than three to five days. This time I wanted to make sure that I stayed consistent for far longer. I wanted the experiment to set my sleep and wake pattern not only for the next 60 days but for the rest of my life. That’s why I wanted to thoroughly think it through.
What made the difference this time?
1. Know why
When I started I was very clear about why I wanted to get up early every day. I had the strong wish to make my life better by solving the ever-constant wake-up-struggle of my life. The decision was about me and my life – not because other people (my parents) wanted me to get up earlier. And I already had a clear idea about what I wanted to use my morning hours for. I wanted to meditate and I wanted to write. Both are very important things to me and make me happy. I’m looking forward to do them and that makes getting up easier.
For my morning routine I took my normal morning as a basis (breakfast from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. getting ready from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m.) and allocated the time before that for writing (20 minutes) and meditation (10 minutes). Then I added another ten minutes for throwing on warm clothes, using the toilet and doing some morning stretches.
2. Include the evening
I knew I needed to also include my evenings. I wanted to give my body at least seven hours of sleep. So I set my bed time to 11:00 to 11:20 p.m. But what really made the difference was my alarm clock I set to 10:00 pm that reminded me to get ready for bed.
3. Find a method that works for you
How will you make sure you make your experiment as easy as possible? What methods or tools will help you achieve your goal? I changed my alarm clock music because I wanted it to be a new start. And I used an app that helps me with my morning and evening rituals. It’s called The Fabulous and it’s really great if you want to make big changes in your life. The app will help you to develop rituals and plan them on certain times of your day. You can also use it as an alarm clock but that didn’t work for me so well (technical reasons).
4. Make it a ritualistic pattern
My morning routine is a set-up of a few different things that I always do in the same order. I know this order by heart and I think that repeating the same habits every day make my mornings easier and more structured. But this does not mean that you have to stick to something forever. I changed it several times and adapted it to better fit my needs and wishes.
60 days of early rising – How did it go?
Days 1-7 – My euphoric start
I started on my holidays so I could try out my routine without stress. That’s when I realized that I needed to adjust my routine a little bit and add the extra ten minutes before meditation for all the small things like putting on socks. Also, I wanted to have my tea already when I was writing but I didn’t want to wait on the cold kitchen tiles for boiling water. So I got a thermos flask that I fill with boiling water in the evening. In the morning the water will be just the right temperature for green tea.
Other than that it went surprisingly well. I got up every morning at my set time without fail. Actually I was quite amazed at myself. I was very tired on the weekend mornings but it was better after my ritual. I have to say my app helped tremendously. It counted the days that I succeeded and it felt wonderful to add one day after the other to my chain.
What did not work as well was the going to bed. I missed my bed time twice because I met with friends and that wasn’t pretty. But I was still motivated enough to pull through.
Days 8-14 – First results and first struggles
The first days of struggle appeared around day 10. The enthusiasm of beginning a big project had faded but the first premonitions of a forming habit helped me get through. As soon as I had begun my morning ritual I felt the tiredness fade. Day 12 was the first day I was looking forward to going to bed. That was a real novelty.
My evening rituals went quite well, but I realized that I often didn’t quite know what to do after my alarm rang at 10:00 p.m. Originally I wanted to use that time for studying, reading, writing… before I had to wrap up for bed at 10:30. It was meant to be the time for “only this one thing” and then transition into the night. But now I discovered that being free to do whatever I wanted with this half an hour meant that I didn’t really know what to do and didn’t form a firm habit of it.
Days 15-21 – Go on
Day 15 was a win because I was meeting with friends in the evening and I still managed to leave early enough to go to bed on time. Day 20 was another win because it was the first day I woke five minutes before my alarm rang and I actually got up! This might seem uneventful to others but for me it was the first time in my life to get up when I didn’t yet need to and giving myself five extra minutes in the morning. (Well, it was mostly because I really needed to go to the toilet, but still, I count it.)
Everything ran so smoothly I hadn’t even realized that I had already completed one third of my challenge. Time went so fast! And it was so manageable! I had expected a motivation low or some kind of dry spell to come up pretty quickly but nothing of that sort had happened yet. I felt fine in the mornings – they felt more and more natural to me.
The evenings were harder. Those are the ones I might have to rework again but even those were quite good. Three weeks of getting up at 6:20 every day would have seemed like the biggest challenge ever when I started. But with every day I accomplished my goal and I completed my rituals it seemed more normal to me.
Only sometimes I had those irrational longings to stay up to read until 1: 00 a.m. or to just let go and let myself sleep however long I want. But maybe that’s normal.
Days 22-60 – Hello routine!
As days went by, that exceptional state of mind I was in for the first weeks left and my routines felt more and more natural. I didn’t even think of the challenge anymore and even forgot the 30 days landmark. Yet, I caught myself on Fridays thinking: “Finally weekend, I can sleep in tomorrow… Oh, no I can’t.” Which only shows that the urge to indulge in old patterns is hard to break. And I did miss some weekend mornings during later weeks. Especially at the end – which made me a little disgruntled.
Another thing that was hard throughout the challenge was the evening routine I just didn’t get right. I still had not found how to make the half hour of “doing things with words” a precious time and establishing it with the relentlessness I worked on my early mornings.
What I learned from my getting-up challenge
In hindsight this was one of the best things I ever did for myself. I made a huge step towards a healthier wake sleep cycle. I solved my problem of constantly sleeping in and got much more of my weekends.
The strangest thing was: discovering that there was time in the mornings – and that I could use that time. Early mornings had never belonged to me. They belonged to school or work or sleep on weekends. No I discovered that I could make these hours MY hours. And that is a wonderful discovery.
But did it really help to make me get up at 6:20 for the rest of my life? Sadly, no. To me it will probably always be hard work. Or maybe it will be hard work for the next five years. Who knows… I looked up scientifically proven answers to how many days it actually takes to form a habit. New research suggests something between two months and one and a half years. But it probably always depends on how hard you find your habit goal. I find mine very hard.
Still, this challenge was a great experience and I would not want to miss it in my life. I have not been able to keep the waking hour last year but I was able to get up easier in the morning and I got up about three to five hours earlier on my weekends. So… Win!
And I have not given up on my goal. Actually I started a second attempt 42 days ago and I’m on a good track. I’m confident that I will manage to make it much longer. This time, I’m going for a whole year!
How do you feel when you’re getting up in the morning? Are you energized and feeling ready for a great day? Or do you roll out of bed feeling grumpy and miserable and like you’re totally not up for anything? If getting out of your bed and starting your day is really hard for you and you’re looking for some tips to make your morning less dreadful – especially when you’re a night person – then this is for you.
This is the second part of my “Getting up for night owls”-series. If you’re interested in part one, go here.
Part 2: Making mornings better
Getting out of bed was a struggle for me for a very long time. I was not able to get up when I should have – even though I used up to three different alarm clocks at one time. Still, I needed at least half an hour to roll out of bed. People just turning off their alarm clock and getting out of bed like it was nothing were a big mystery to me.
At one point I realized that when my alarm rang and I woke up, the first thing I thought was “Noooo…” I felt that this was awful – starting your day with a big no, rejecting it even though it’s a wonderful present given to me. I wanted to start my day with a “Yes”.
So, I tried to find out what would make my morning better and what would help me go from “Noooo…” to a more positive feeling. And of course I tried to find out what I could do to get out of bed on time.
1. Get rid of horrid alarm clocks
This is one of the first things I changed. Most alarm clocks make an awfully loud and disturbing sound. Of course being thrown out of sleep by obnoxious beeping does not make you happy. I found out that I’m very sensitive to noise in the morning. So I stopped using beeping and noisy alarm clocks.
I wanted to be woken by music. So I tried lots of different songs. For me, it has to be a song that is starting very slowly and is not too strenuous to listen to. Instrumentals are nice, or singers with soft voices.
But most of all I need a song I connect with a very positive and motivating feeling. I used the theme from Pride & Prejudice for a long time because this song gave me the feeling of a wonderful promising morning. So, don’t just take your favourite song (you might grow to not like it so much anymore when it’s your alarm sound), take the song that you connect with motivation.
2. Let in the lights
Your body will recognize time to wake up when it’s lightening up outside. But I cannot sleep without my blackout curtains and I don’t have a high-tech home that will automatically open them in the morning.
So I decided to try a light alarm that simulates sunrise. Mine was quite expensive but it really works for me. I’m very smoothly woken up and I’m even awake before my music starts to play.
Although, this has not always been the case. I haven’t woken up from it in the beginning. For me it only works if I’m getting enough sleep. But still, this step has made waking up so much better for me.
3. Get warm
This might be something people living in moderate and colder climates know very well: It’s hard to get out of your bed because it’s just so nice and warm under your blanket while it’s frosty cold in your room. The solution to this is very easy: Just put a warm sweater and warm socks, your scarf or whatever else you need to get warm right next to your bed so you can access it from there. Or you can just wrap your blanket around you and get up with it. Who’s going to judge you?
4. Get something to drink
This is probably something you might have heard in several other blogs and videos on morning routines. It’s suggested to drink water after getting up to get rehydrated after the night.
But getting something to drink first thing in the morning is not only healthy it also has the effect of creating a habit that tells your body that it’s time to get active. Sometimes I’m getting out of bed and feeling really tired but after my glass of water I instantly feel better. To me drinking a glass of water also has psychological value.
Water is not your thing? Try tea.
Moving your body will help you to liven up your blood circulation. But don’t fret, this does not mean a 20 minute boot camp work-out. I tried to make some heavier exercises but it just didn’t feel right for me. So now I’m only doing some yoga related stretches to wake up my back muscles. It takes about three minutes that’s it. Even three short minutes is enough.
6. Do something for yourself
I tried this with ten minutes of meditation and writing in the morning. I got up earlier to have time to do something purely for myself that makes me happy. To know that there’s something that’s worthwhile waiting for me makes getting up easier for me.
But it also makes my whole day better. I can deal better with all the things I have to do in a day when I’ve already had half an hour to myself that was filled with things I wanted to do. It makes all the difference in a day.
I feel far too many people are neglecting breakfast saying that they’re not hungry. This is something I just cannot understand because I’m really hungry in the morning and if I don’t get anything to eat I might get very cranky and then get dizzy. But really, all those health experts can’t be wrong when they’re telling you to get a good breakfast. Maybe you just have to try it out. Get a good breakfast and enjoy the extra energy!
Make it your morning – even if you’re a night-owl
Thinking back on what made my mornings awful in the past, there’s one other thing I need to address: the feeling that morning is not your time of the day – that it’s somehow wrong to be up so early. It’s this sublime “What am I doing up already? This is too early! I won’t even know what to do with all this unexpected time before noon!” (last statement only applies to days off)
This might even have a good reason, because your body is used to a late bed time and will want to pace itself to still have some energy left then. It’s even scientifically proven that night owls have more stamina throughout the day. We start slowly but perform better throughout long hours.
So maybe you must accept that mornings are not your most productive or energetic time of the day. But you could still feel good about them and make them “your” time. I think the secret to this is to do something that is important to you after getting up. If you are able to build a strong habit of filling your morning with worthwhile activities, your brain will understand that “morning” is a real time that can be used and leveraged. Remember our good friend Goethe when he said: “Only what we use is really ours.” So, use your morning, and make it yours!
Those were my tips on good mornings acquired from personal experience and a fair amount of trial and error. Not everything I initially tried out worked well for me. And I changed the order of my habits several times. I suggest trying all sorts of good tips, but in the end, let your gut decide. If something does not feel right, don’t do it. It’s your morning. You decide. Make it wonderful!
In case you want to try it, this was my little step-by-step guide. You want to know more or you have a specific question? Just ask me in the comments.
Starting your day might be the most important thing. How you do it and how you feel when you do it sets the tone for your whole day. But how do you get up when you are naturally a night person and it’s just the hardest thing to you? Here is some advice on getting up from your residential night owl.
My story on getting up
For as long as I can remember I went to bed very late – far later than my peers would – and I had trouble getting up in the morning. After 25 years of struggling with slept in alarm clocks, rushed mornings and half slept through weekends I decided to get a grip at my sleep-wake-rhythm. I wanted to make early rising a consistent habit. But I never really managed to maintain these ambitious goals for very long.
It was very hard for me to set a steady rhythm I could maintain throughout weekdays, weekends and holidays. Admittedly, I’m probably a very difficult case of night owl. I could be very happy rising at 5-6 p.m. and going to bed in the early morning, but that’s just not very socially compatible – and there’s something about starting your day with the first rays of light that nothing else can give me.
It’s the magic of starting your day on a silent soft morning with a whole day laid out for you. To me it feels a little bit like the first scene from the 2005 Pride & Prejudice film: Calm but full of anticipation for all the exciting things life has to offer. That’s what I wanted and why I kept trying even though I had failed so often.
After two years of trial and error and not giving up, I have finally established a steady routine of getting up and going to bed at the same times every day. So, this is my little series on getting up for all night owls who struggle with early rising just like I did (and sometimes still do). May it help. J
Part 1 – Getting up with a little help from science
To understand what getting up involves and why I was so bad at it I did some research about healthy sleeping patterns and morning rituals. This is a little synopsis of what I found most important.
1. Get enough sleep
It’s just that simple: If you want to get up early you have to go to bed early, too. Yes, I know you don’t want to. Yes, I know it feels unnatural. But if you don’t do it you will never feel refreshed in the morning. Maybe this is already the most important tip and you can just skip all the rest if you just go to bed in time. For me it certainly was important to understand and accept this fact.
Getting enough sleep is something you do for yourself. Be kind to your body – most importantly be fair. Continuously denying your body rest is asking for too much. Also, continuous sleep deprivation makes you look old and wrinkled earlier than you should. No one want’s that.
For me it is really hard to go to bed on time. I’m often very creative during the last hours of the day. It’s hard for me to stop myself from doing “just that one more thing” because I feel that I should have done it on that day. But how to end the day will be a topic for another post later in this series. (So, stay tuned!)
2. Same procedure as every day
It helps to set the alarm to the same time every day – even on days off. At least that’s what science says. Humans are animals of habit, so it’s quite obvious that your body won’t like inconsistent sleeping patterns.
I was never able to pull off consistent rhythms although I’ve tried several times. Over the last two years I’ve become a little steadier and I’ve noticed that I’m now falling asleep a lot easier than before. So, there will be some success even if you’ve still got some way to go. It’s only now (since Januray 2016) that I managed to keep a nearly perfect rhythm.
So, don’t give up! Even when you might not manage it at your first try. I had to try about eight times. And every time I got better and kept the new habit for longer. And every time it was a little easier.
What I can already tell you is, that your body will already start to adjust to a certain rhythm within one week (ok, mine does, I don’t know about yours). To really form a habit however will take about two months. At least that’s what scientists say. Maybe it’ll take three and a half years. That’s what I say.
3. Cut the bad habits
Don’t snooze. Never. You will get used to not getting up when your alarm rings and it will make you feel bad. Hitting snooze is like starting your day with a lost battle. Don’t do that to yourself.
There’s still some debate in science whether snoozing is the devil or just annoying but actually not that big of a deal. It’s likely that your body will start a new sleeping cycle with every snooze session and you will feel even more tired when you’re woken the next time. But let the details be explained by one of my favourite YouTube shows: the phenomenal Mental Floss:
So, maybe it’s not even that bad for your sleep quality, but it’s definitely bad for your motivation. I practiced the snooze habit excessively when I was younger and it made waking up an awful ordeal on top of me constantly being late. Today I avoid snoozing and I can tell now that getting up with or without snoozing is equally as hard – but without snoozing is earlier, so that’s a plus.
Pro tip for those people who turn off the alarm and sleep on without even knowing what they’re doing because they cannot think straight when they’re woken: You clearly did not sleep enough. Go to bed earlier!
4. Know why you want to get up
Why do you want to get up early? This might seem obvious, but try to describe it as clearly as possible. Write it down. Think about it. Be honest. Today every blog post or YouTube video on productivity tells you to get up early. But this is about your very personal reason. Make it about you. Formulate a concrete goal – even if it’s a small one. A reason could be: I want to feel ahead of time. Or: I want to have a stress-free morning and enjoy a big cup of black tea on my sofa.
My goal is to rise early because I want to write in the morning while the sun rises. I want to start my day with half an hour to myself and a blank sheet of paper in my notebook.
I think you should start the day with something that you really like. Indulge yourself. It could be the one time of the day that belongs all to you. It could be your moment of silence and contemplation. It could be wonderful.
But it could also be a very mundane reason. I started with: I want to get up early enough to manage my morning routine and have time to walk to my train in fabulous high heels (instead of running in flat shoes).
Next time: How to face the struggle
So much for the theory. Next week I will share some of my practical tips that have made waking up better for me. Hope to see you there. Until then I’m really curious: Are you a night person or an early riser? And how have you managed your mornings so far?
My name is Sophie. I'm here to create and learn and look up at the sky.
My goal is to manage ambitious creative projects while working full-time and still get enough sleep.
I hope you'll have a lovely stay here. If you want to know more about me or about this blog, you'll find it here.