The Zen of Waking Up Early: 8 Tips for Waking Up Early and Living Your Purpose

The Zen of Waking Up Early: 8 Tips for Waking Up Early and Living Your Mission via Buddhaimonia, Zen for Everyday Life

It took me a while to notice the connection, despite the fact that it was in front of me all along. I didn't start waking up early until I had some sort of idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

The truth is, you create your life's purpose, it doesn't just fall into your lap.

It's something you decide, not some other-worldly stroke of destiny which rains down upon you all of sudden, although creating your sense of purpose can sometimes feel that way because of how strongly it drives you once you've established it.

And another bit of truth: without this great purpose in mind, waking up early consistently is extremely difficult to do.

On top of that, for anyone in a semi-normal living situation (full-time job, additional responsibilities), that time in the morning can be the perfect springboard for you to pursue that great purpose. They really do go hand-in-hand.

Ultimately, it's your decision what you devote your life to, and it's largely dependent upon your level of realization. Have you realized how connected you are to the rest of the world? If you have, your life's work almost certainly includes giving back or contributing in some way (or at least living in a way that you don't create friction with all other living and non-living things around you).

If you've begun to realize this fact but have responsibilities that keep you from running off to pursue it (a position I was in), you can always make a change and shift your life in a way that allows you to contribute more, whether that's through helping bring peace, greater health, or greater wisdom to yourself and others.

This is the Zen of waking up early. This is waking up early without trying to wake up early. It's an effortless effort, putting yourself in as much of a position to spontaneously spring up from your bed as anyone could ever possibly be in. Driven by purpose, finding joy in your "work", and in the fact that you're giving back to others in various ways.

Of course, becoming an early riser doesn't happen without a lot of work, and still sometimes requires the occasional "jump start" so to speak even after finding your purpose. But you can, with some work, put yourself in a position where waking up early becomes a pleasure. A pleasure which you look forward to and do effectively because of your enthusiasm, and which helps move you forward towards your purpose.

8 Tips for Waking Up Early and Living Your Mission

As I mentioned above, this article might seem like a bit of a funky pairing, but the two really do go hand-in-hand. So this list is a combination effort: discovering your reason, creating your purpose, and setting yourself up to become an early riser in order to pursue that purpose.

1. Find your reason

You don't necessarily need to know what you want to do with the rest of your life, but you do have to find something that compels you to action.

Without this first step, you'll have very little chance of waking up early consistently. Sure, on occasion you'll feel a wave of excitement when things are going right, but when things start going wrong your drive (or motivation) is the only thing which will keep you going.

The path to peace and happiness at times might sound fluffy and whimsical, but it's largely not. It takes hard work like anything else in life, the difference is after a while you're pursuing it while (most of the time) feeling great about yourself and your life as a whole. And, when things do go wrong, they don't affect you the same way any longer because you're able to handle them skillfully.

Of course, I'm not talking about "scratch and claw", friction-creating effort, but rather an unyielding and continuous effort, the willingness to stare into the eye of the storm and not back down. And this is where your reason can help.

For most, this will simply be the fundamental desire to discover a "better" way to live. Tired of the emotional drainage, the exhausting days, the roller coaster of life has worn down on you and you've started to ask the question, "Isn't there a better way to live?"

Whatever your reason- to live better as a whole, to help those in need, or to be an example to someone- a lot of days you'll depend on it to get you up. The bad news is, sometimes that requires you go through some crap so that you get fed up and want something better for yourself.

The good news is, if you don't know what that is right now, you can discover it yourself without going through the hard times (if you're willing to be open and honest with yourself). It does have to arise naturally, but you can create the circumstances for it to do so.

How do you do that? It all comes down to the same one thing: self-inquiry. Developing greater self-awareness is the key, but in this case, I'm specifically referring to delving deep into your past self. This really involves one step done repeatedly while thinking back about different periods of your life:

  1. Through each period of your life, think of the person you were, what drove you, and what you enjoyed/loved doing. What did you go through during that period of time? How do you think that affected you?
  2. Do this for each period of your life, as far back as you can remember, until you're a young child (as young as you can remember).

Doing so can give you important insights about what drives you, what has affected you both positively and negatively throughout your life, and what you have a genuine interest (even a passion) for. By doing so you may discover more about yourself than you're ready for, though, so only venture on if you have a sincere desire to create a better life (You won't always like what you find).

I'd like to say you can wake up early consistently without finding your reason (for more than just a month or two), but the reality is this is a basic requirement for making early rising a long-term accomplishment.

Find your reason, find what fundamentally drives you, and it will pay off in more ways than one, including spurring you to wake up earlier and helping you find your passion.

2. Wake up with a purpose (create your morning routine centered around your reason)

A solid and well-thought-out morning routine can be nourishing for both the mind and body and places you into a position to be more productive and effective throughout your day, but it can also play an important part in your life's purpose.

With your reason in place, you can then begin to clarify how that will manifest and ultimately how you will create a positive impact on the rest of the world, which then becomes your purpose.

This point is all about your reason, your drive, manifested into physical action. And this can manifest in a number of ways, including:

  1. Creating something (preferably something which helps improve the well-being of others)
  2. Helping those who lack the basic necessities get the support they need
  3. Teaching others a useful life skill

These are the most basic ways of contributing to a more peaceful, healthy, and enlightened world at large and the most common ways in which your primary reason or drive manifests itself. And this is what your morning routine should be built around.

Behind everything should be your daily practice of wisdom, the basis for which will bring you peace and happiness, but as I've talked about before that can be done while doing almost anything. As you go about your everyday life, whatever you do, you should do it mindfully to develop greater self-awareness and nurture peace and happiness within you.

Through this, you'll begin to realize that purpose is gained when we help ourselves and one another rise above the challenges of everyday life to greater peace and wisdom (and it will feel wonderful).

So then, what do you do? How will you contribute to that? If you know vaguely what your reason or drive is, that's enough to begin at least trying things out, even if you're not yet sure how you want to go about manifesting that reason into purposeful action.

Ultimately, this second step is about having a good reason to wake up early and using that reason to guide your life's purpose. Outside of that, it's up to you how you'd like to go about doing that.

Maybe you decide your purpose is to create beautiful artwork that tells a story. Maybe your purpose is to write books and material that help people learn how to handle strong emotions skillfully, or maybe your purpose is to prepare your children for their day ahead, not just physically through getting their breakfast and lunch ready and to schedule out the day, but also mentally through pre-planning activities and thinking through important lessons you'd like to teach them.

Whatever your purpose is, your goal is simply to light up your corner of the world. It's honorable to want to change the entire world, but it's unrealistic to think we can all have the same impact that, say, Gandhi did because he and others who have had a similar impact also had timing on their side, among other ideal conditions

But, you can be a Gandhi (or anyone else exemplary). By "a Gandhi", I'm referring to expressing your own unique light in a way that helps yourself and others find greater peace and happiness.

All you need to do is spread your light as far as it will reach. Whether that never extends beyond your immediate family or expands to encompass a nation or the world, that will be enough.

3. Remind yourself why you're getting up early just before bed

You might think it will just be enough to have that reason and have manifested it into a specific purpose to get you up from bed in the A.M., and many times it will be, but it can really help to remind yourself before bed of this cause and of the things you have planned for the next day to give you a sort of "jump-start" on the night of those tough days.

This is one of the points that's helped me the most, especially after a tough day. This is half pre-planning your day, and half becoming present, because you need to know at least to some degree what you have planned for the next day to do this and you need to be present to realize you're about to lay down for bed and when you awaken it will be time to do your thing.

When we lie down for bed we're often daydreaming of other things, and so when we wake, we're very much disoriented and unaware of where we are or what we're doing. I've found that by reminding myself why I'm getting up early I'm much more conscious when I wake up, and that helps not only get me up but keep me from hitting the snooze alarm.

4. Reward yourself

This can be really helpful on those especially difficult days where you have a lot to do, but you just don't feel like doing it (or anything else for that matter).

The reality is, no matter how much you love what you do, sometimes you just can't get yourself up. Whatever the reason, I've found rewarding myself to be a nice little tool to keep in my toolbox for those days when something is just trying to hold me down.

Thinking of simple, even silly, ways to reward yourself can help give you that extra spark when you feel you've had a tough day and are worried you won't wake up the next day, or are having a tough week and are having a hard time waking up each day.

Emotions can be like a wave, and sometimes you just don't have control of the boat. In that case, thinking of simple ways to reward yourself will help breathe some life into you.

This is a temporary technique that I don't suggest you use often (you don't want to convince yourself that you're working to get something each day, your desire to give back, create, and/or contribute should be the source of your drive itself), but when used sparingly it can be really helpful.

5. Don't think you have to wake up every single day

Understand that you don't have to wake up early every single day. We're not Superman (no one is, he's not real!), so eventually we all have to rest. And sometimes, after an especially tough day, sleeping in is the wise decision.

I just finished moving (sort of, still unpacking!), and considering it was essentially me and my wife Edith's dad doing everything I ended up completely exhausted by the end of it. And just when I thought it was over, I realized we now had to unpack everything we had just moved, then go to the store to get the things we were missing, and set up the internet, oh don't forget to feed the get the idea.

There was no way I was waking up early that day. Or the next. I feel great now, but the point is when you put yourself through something like that it's unwise to push yourself up in the morning. You'll just be falling asleep constantly, ineffective at everything you do, and negatively affecting your health in a number of ways. So there's no point to it.

It's nice to think, "I'll just keep myself from getting into situations like that", and maybe that's possible if you don't live a half-way normal or busy life, but for those who do it's just not always plausible.

If you understand this point you won't be so hard on yourself, which is a big reason why we don't make positive change in the first place. 

We think we have to be perfect and that, in this case, if we miss waking up early on a particular day that we've failed. But that isn't true.

I was especially hard on myself when I first worked on becoming an early riser. If I woke up late on a particular day, I'd be talking down to myself for most of the rest of the day. I made myself feel very defeated and very discouraged.

After some time I realized that missing a day didn't break my stride, and the very next day I could get back on and keep rising early just as I had. Then after a while longer, I began to realize both the benefit in letting go of the idea of having to rise early every day as well as the benefit in sleeping in on occasion when I felt especially exhausted after a long day.

You don't have to do anything every single day to make it a habit, just shoot for doing it 90-95% of the time and you'll be just fine.

6. Meditate for longer periods of time

This might sound odd, but it's helped me a lot.

Meditation has a restful quality to it, particularly sitting and practicing mindful breathing, the most basic and often practiced form of meditation.

Sitting there in silence, with proper posture to encourage healthy breathing, not moving your body an inch, and revitalizing your body through mindful breathing all help make meditation a very restful exercise.

I've found that the longer I meditate, the less I need to sleep.

Again this might sound crazy or odd, and there is a limit to this of course, but I've found it to be unequivocally true.

Another thing about meditating more often is that you're more conscious more often. This helps in a similar way to point #3, as it helps you become more conscious when you wake up, instead of a half-asleep zombie (apparently my natural just-awakened state).

On top of that, taking your meditation practice to the next level has far greater benefits than simply helping you improve the quality of your sleep and making it easier to wake in the morning. Because of that, this point to me is incredibly powerful for anyone intent on becoming an early riser.

How long should you shoot to meditate for? More would be the best answer I could give you, but I know personally that sort of answer is just frustrating because you don't know what to shoot for. I would challenge you to work your way towards meditating for at least 30 minutes a day, if not 45 minutes to an hour. Once you reach that goal, I'd shoot for meditating for this length twice a day.

7. Place the odds in your favor (develop a night routine)

It's important to make it as easy as possible to fall asleep as well as to get good quality sleep. Without the right quality and quantity of sleep, trying to rise early is a relatively fruitless effort. This means a couple of things:

  1. Lights off (blue light- electronic devices) two or so hours before bed.
  2. Leave your emotional "baggage" before your bedroom door (what I call the "Arriving" technique).
  3. Develop a nightly ritual to bring your mind and body at ease and greatly improve the quality of your sleep

(You can read more about points 1, 2, & 3 here).

You can develop your own lights off routine and nightly rituals to help improve the quality of your sleep. An overall nightly routine will help enhance your morning routine and can work seamlessly with it. Whatever you do, make sure to have a nightly routine to help support your morning routine.

8. Ease into rising early (as well as to living your purpose)

To finish up, I'd really suggest easing into the whole thing slowly. Rising early can be a big change for most people, and it's not easy for anyone unless you've done it for years.

I worked backward in increments of 30 minutes at a time for more than a year and a half (maybe longer) before I got to my current wake time of 3-3:30 A.M.

I started at 7 A.M., then 6:30, then 6, then jumped to 5-5:30 which is where I rested for a good 6 months or so, then moved down gradually until I hit 4 where I rested for nearly a year. All-in-all, I took a year and a half to 2 years to get to where I am today, so it takes a real long-term effort to become an early riser, even if your goal is simply to wake up at 5 or 6.

But following what you could believe your "purpose" should also be a gradual process, and many times with full-time jobs and other responsibilities, we have no choice but for it to be a gradual process.

Take it slow, go easy on yourself, and know that you have to be in it for the long haul.

Your best effort will be more than enough.