Not a Morning Person, and That’s Okay.

April 21, 2021. By Ashley Agnew:

“I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m not awake for every minute that the sun is up”. In perfect circadian rhythm, the sun is my father’s only alarm clock.  He is the definition of a morning person. Listening to him talk his daily a.m. experience is almost poetic. Year-round he rises with the sun, greets it with a cup of coffee, and takes a gratitude walk in the woods before starting any obligatory tasks.  He claims that he begins everyday with rejuvenation and appreciation; the happy and generous demeanor he carries with him radiates the truth in his statement.

Of all luxuries in the world, I envy the wake of the morning person. It is something I’ve talked about with friends, family, therapists, business life coaches, academic peers, and anyone I observe looking shiny before 10am. My exhaustive list of efforts to reverse the appeal of extending my early hour slumbers include:

  • sleeping with the shades open to wake to the sunrise
  • nature based alarm clocks with gradual light and woodland sounds
  • blaring horror movie alarm clocks so loud they evoke fear
  • disabling snooze functions
  • gradually setting alarms for 15 minutes earlier each day
  • setting the coffee machine to wake to the smell of fresh brew
  • scheduling early morning classes for increased accountability

The list goes on as this has been a struggle for as long as I can remember. Teen years proved especially difficult as these are tiring for even the most regimented individuals.  And I’m not proud to say that in college I once pressed ‘snooze’ through an entire four-hour class; at that point, I realized it was a real Jekyll and Hyde situation and made some changes.  I ended everyday with yoga at exactly 9:30pm and set my alarm to workout with a group of fellow volleyball players at exactly 6:50am.  This worked great for one semester, then changing class schedules interfered and it was difficult to keep the routine during breaks.  That was the last time I was even close to a morning person. When I was expecting my first born child, everyone said “just wait- you’ll have to be a morning person now!” Nope. My offspring shares my affliction. At 3 years old she sleeps until 9am if allowed and it is not a pretty interaction when I have to wake her earlier.

My husband having served 20 years in the military is also a morning person. Though this is perhaps more a result of conditioning than a natural attribute. Regardless, he does not ever press the snooze button and pops out of bed ready to start the day Sunday through Saturday.  My son is very much the same, yet my daughter and I on weekends wake up slowly sharing stories of our dreams from the night before, picking out cozy robes, and talking about what our perfect day will look like. Luckily our “get up and go” is more readily accessible in the summer months to soak in the sun and rush to the serenity of the beach.

Prior to my mindfulness training, I felt a great deal of shame surrounding my struggle with the alarm clock. There was this underlying feeling that in order to be good at “adulting” you had to start the day at sunrise. This script may have come from the readings in business magazines sharing stories of successful executives working off of 4 hours of sleep, or the frequent movie depictions of heroes jogging in the sunrise, or my stepfather (also former military) waking me up with a bugle and laughing hysterically at my flustering.

After two years of really diving deep into this personal issue with reflecting, meditating, and truthful self-talk, I’ve come to peace with the fact that it is ok if I don’t pick up speed until a bit later in the day.  I’m writing this at 10:14am and have been thinking about it since my first snooze button assault at 7am, but it’s getting done, and my afternoon is staged to be productive. Everything gets done, and that’s what counts. Culture only references two types of people – morning people and night people. Well, newsflash, there are also afternoon people.  I’ve come to learn that I place a high value on productivity, and this is a good thing.  Between implementing a gratitude journal and using proven coping skills for my ADD, I have learned that as long as my productivity level remains at a high level, and there is a balance between time spent on professional, family, and personal time, my mental wellbeing and output are remarkable. Looking at routines as they align with these values is freeing, and a much healthier way to set personal expectations. It is ok to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, and to the role that self-described “flaws” hold in your life. A fellow financial therapist once said to me “if you are worried that you are doing something wrong, you’re probably doing a lot better than you think”. While simple in its statement, it is heavy in truth; in other words- give yourself a break.

“These days” are everyday and ongoing as we all face our own struggles.  Take time for self-care and treat yourself to some grace. I invite you to start dedicating time to this with a simple meditation called the GRACE practice:

G- Gathering Attention. Place your attention on the sound or sensation of your breath, or choose to focus on a sight or sound with a softened gaze.

R- Recalling Intention. In this moment, recall an intention. Maybe it’s why you decided to begin this meditation, or perhaps the intention is to simply be open, to discover new ways to be resilient, and to engage in self-care. Recall your intention now, exhale allowing it to dissipate like seeds unto soil, waiting for the refreshment of rain.

A- Attuning to Self and Others. Check in with your body, scanning mentally from toe to head with thoughtless, easy breathing. Do you notice any sensations or feelings? Recognize what and where these are by giving them a label. Then, embrace the awareness of your space and those who may be around you. What are you grateful for in this space?

C- Considering What Would Serve. Self-care is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others because we cannot give from an empty well. In this next moment, be curious and honest about what would really serve you, your self-care, and capacity for resilience. What supports might be needed? Give yourself permission to seek and ask for these supports.

E- Ethical Ending and Engagement. Identify one wise action you can take. Perhaps you can return to your reflection on what would serve. Maybe there’s one first step you can take here. What might that be? As you consider that, notice what it feels like. Imagine the seeds upon the soil rooting and growing toward the sun, nourished, and free. Complete the meditation with deep breaths in and out, slowly opening your eyes, reflecting on the meditation, and feel grateful for the time spent on improving your wellbeing.

This practice was originally created by Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax and has since been adapted for many audiences.  Michelle Maldonado does a beautifully guided GRACE meditation which can be enjoyed here via Click Here for a Guided GRACE Meditation.