For as long as I can remember, my dad has been an early riser. Even now, long after his retirement, he still rises naturally every morning long before everyone else in the household. I remember him, in his tartan, woolly winter gown taking tea to my mum in bed or waking me up for last-minute studies during exams. Right through my matric exams, he was my early morning companion. I suspect this habit was borne from living on a Karoo farm: here you must start your workday long before sunrise, as the summer heat makes movement impossible after that. It was also the necessity of having to fit his remote farming into his day before he left for his ‘real’ job at the office. However it came about, I know that he cherishes his spiritual quiet time during his early mornings.
At times in my life, I have managed to maintain an early rising habit. These have been my most productive times. I studied for all my post-graduate qualifications in the early hours of the day. I wrote my book during these hours too, long before my little ones were awake. It’s also the best time for myself – when the world is quiet and I can be by myself, praying, meditating, or reading – the time I feel at my best. I feel more centred, empowered, and energetic when I start the day this way. It is the best time to do work that requires focus like research or writing. Insights come to me.
Sadly, I have struggled to maintain this habit in recent years (dare I mention menopause?). There have been a few stop-start attempts. Last year, the disruption of lockdown put a stop to my last try.
I am determined to try again this year, not least because I want to spend more time doing some of the things that I love, that I never seem to fit into my workday. Reading, research and writing somehow get overtaken by the urgency of other work matters.
Aside from the snooze button, a lack of a ritual is the biggest hindrance to my sticking to an early rising intention. A ritual is described as a ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. I know that I need such a ritual. If I don’t have a ritual, I will lie in bed, either contemplating what to do next or scrolling through my phone. I must follow the same, pre-determined steps every morning to make it happen. Get up. Put the kettle on. Drink a glass of water. Do my five-minute yoga routine. Make lemon and ginger tea. Journal while sipping my tea. Have my spiritual quiet time. Read for research. When I follow those steps exactly, I succeed. And then, from experience I know, it becomes the norm and then addictive.
My gratitude journal and healthy tea are already trusted habits. Research suggests that I have a greater chance of habit success if I attach new habits to these familiar habits in a pre-determined routine. Every day. This year, habits and rituals will get us through. Old, trusted ones and some newly acquired ones. These habits, borne out of the necessity to limit decisions, will enable us to thrive through the continued uncertainty of the pandemic. We must conserve our energy for the most important tasks and decisions and not waste energy on decisions that could be replaced by habits.
I’m sharing my intention for early rising with you not only in the hope that it will help me to stick to my decisions but also so that you can let me know what has worked for you when you have wanted to create new rituals. What are your most trusted rituals? How have you managed to stick to them? Or you can let me know if you have any habits you want to crack this year.
We can do it together. One small habit at a time building into new rituals to fight pandemic fatigue. To thrive.
Ps. James Clear’s New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits comes highly recommended by my colleague, Elke Zeki. I haven’t read it, but I have been following him ever since I became interested in habits and rituals a few years ago. You may want to check it out.
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