He that would thrive must rise at five: he that has thriven may lie till seven…
goes a proverb. It’s a habit that has been endorsed by some of the world’s most successful people, including politicians, billionaires and sportspersons. It follows the belief that every man is the architect of his own fortune. A 5am wake up call gives you clarity to your desires and a direct path to immediately take action towards achieving that desire. I have personally struggled with late-night-late-rising pretty much all my life. Much like the entertainment-obsessed pack today, I’d spend hours binge TV-watching (gory) vampire shows or (dramatic) fantasy series. (Note: Well, GoT may be worth it.) One click led to another, and before I knew it, the sun was coming up.
The desire to wake before the sun rose was there all along but somehow sleep seemed too sweet a prospect on the days I actually did hear the alarm clock ringing. Any qualm I had about waking up was gone the moment I hit the snooze button (steer clear of it if you want to be an early riser).
‘What’s the harm?’ is the thought that crosses your mind on such mornings, isn’t it? It has taken me decades to realise how precious life is. Simply existing does not do enough justice to the gift of time.
Once I did become a 5 amer (briefly in August 2010), the morning jog and the day that followed was pure bliss. This phase lasted no more than two weeks (since I was in more conducive environs). Back in the city after the ‘break’, I was back to late dinners and groggy mornings-bordering-on-noon. It has taken almost three years (and my dearest brother’s prodding) to turn my mornings around. Now, I wake up before 4am and have my sports shoes laced up by 4.30am. Those lazy mornings seem like another lifetime.
Take it from the experts
Productivity guru Robin Sharma has been spreading the goodness of joining the 5am club for two decades now. Sharma himself runs an hour every morning at — no guesses — 5am.
That becoming an early riser is almost magical in its butterfly effect has been reiterated time and again by people who know better. Says productivity blogger Leo Babauta of the simple and powerful zen habits, “It’s a healthy way to improve your mind with focused attention, persistence and passion.” Corporate trainer and self-help author Jagmohan Bhanver gets “a lot more done in the two hours before 7 am, when the rest of the world usually wakes up, than in the second half of the day.”
Insanely fit 50-year-old actor-producer Akshay Kumar has time and again attributed his success to waking up at this magical hour. He revealed that this lifestyle is the main reason he’s able to do an average of four films a year and take his family on vacations. He told the The Times of India’s Priya Gupta in an interview:
I need my full 8 hours sleep and usually sleep by about 10 pm as I get up between 4 and 5 am. And yes, lifestyle is important, so I don’t party as I need to get up in the morning. If you start early, you can actually finish half your day’s work by 10 am. I have so much time during the day.
In fact, he even poked fun at the typical Indian lazy mentality in another interview to TOI:
I have done photo shoots etc at 4 or 4:30am. I sometimes don’t understand why people here get so shocked. I have never understood this idea. Agar aap dekho, abroad, people have woken up and at 6:30 in the morning, there are cars zooming on the roads, that means they have woken up at 5. Humare yahan 6am, ekdum khali sunsaan rehta hai sab, 9 baje traffic shuru hota hai. Why do we say, ‘Oh my God, 4 baje? 4:30 baje? 5 baje?’ Humare toh shastron mein likha hai ki 4 baje uthna chahiye. Humko toh so jaana chahiye jaldi. As boring as I might sound, but that’s what it is, the reality of life.
During his days as a struggling actor, Danny Denzongpa would teach yoga to students at 5am at a film institute. Even today, he wakes up at this time and uses the time before sunrise to practise Vipassana meditation and do breathing exercises.
Another fit actor, John Abraham hits the gym by 5am. His 4.30am wake up time is an ingrained habit. He told TOI’s Sunday supplement, Times Life in an interview:
Let me give you the bad news. To build an honest and disciplined body, you require a lot of sacrifices. I go to bed by 9.30 pm and wake up at 4.30 am. I have a lifestyle that a lot of people around me, including my friends, consider as “mere existence”. They think I don’t live my life. Smoking, drugs and alcohol are big no-nos. The last time I had champagne was eight months ago.
Why it works
Waking up at this magical hour can be the catalyst to reset your habits and change your life. The all-important action taken during those 15 to 60 minutes will physically change your mind by rewiring your brain. Neuroscience has shown that by using the correct technique you can measurably change both the physical structure of your brain, by increasing its size, and the quality of your brain, by increasing its speed and efficiency. It is similar to working out your muscles, which become more efficient with exercise.
The routine of waking up at 5am forges new maps in the brain, which grow in size, speed and efficiency over time until a habit is formed and the brain has physically been changed. The three hours between 5am and 8am could be your most productive in the day.
US-based entrepreneur and trainer Bryce Chapman says in his productivity manual, “If you think about your magnificent obsession during your early morning habit that too, will become a well-used path; bigger, stronger, faster. Early in the morning, the brain is well rested, having processed the previous day’s input overnight. You don’t have many distractions, it is quiet and the time is yours to do whatever you choose.”
As for me, I wake up between 3:15 and 3:30am these days and use the quiet time to read, do meal preps, watch inspirational videos and drink two litres of water. The cause: Coming across a video of the world’s oldest female bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd. This 80-year-old grandma (and model) gets up before 3am and after her prayers, proceeds to run 10 miles every day #Fitnessgoals
How it changed my life
In the two months since I have become an early riser and followed the clean-eating, low-carb Ketogenic diet (posts coming up), my weight has dropped 7 kg and body fat percentage has dropped to 18.5% (in the athlete range for women). It has also taken away my 3-month writer’s block (I didn’t believe in the concept till it happened). And did I tell you about my seven-year-old excruciatingly painful colitis that halted regular jobs and resisted painkillers? It’s gone. I’ve also kicked many unhealthy habits which I was having trouble with for years (more on those in future posts).
Waking up at 3:30am is not for everyone. The 5am club could be.
Benefits of being a 5amer
- It gives you an amazing start to the day. Instead of jumping out of bed and hitting the ground running, rushing to get the kids ready and arriving at work grumpy and tired, you can have a renewed morning ritual.
- 5amers start their day peacefully. At this time, there are no yelling kids, crying babies, honking cars, radio or television noise. It’s the time you can truly enjoy peace, breathe and meditate.
- You get plenty of time to exercise. It’s no secret that early morning is the best time to exercise and get the metabolism running. This habit gives a positive kickstart to the day thanks to the rush of endorphins.
- Setting goals is easier. There is no better time to review and plan your goals than in the first hours of the day. Babauta suggests that you set one goal at a time, and decide every day the one thing you will do that day towards accomplishing it.
- 5amers never miss breakfast, which is also the most important meal of the day.
- Commuting is a breeze since you are beating the rush hour by a wide margin. You will also get to work earlier, giving you a great headstart.
- It is much easier to schedule and make it to your appointments and meetings since you have had the time to plan them. Having finished breakfast by 8am on most days, I have the opportunity to wrap up the day’s work as early as 10am on lean days.
More than enough reasons for you to join the 5am club. So, are you waking up early tomorrow?
(A version of this post first appeared in The Times of India)