I struggled waking up on-time my whole life. I was always envious of early-bird personalities but as hard as I tried I never was able to be one. If my alarm is by my bed (whether it is my phone or a traditional alarm) I will almost certainly hit snooze and sleep in even on important days. The best I was ever able to accomplish was setting multiple alarms on the other side of the room, but even then it was a 50/50 chance that I would actually get up. If I had an important test or appointment I had to get up for I would have to psych myself up the night before, set multiple alarms, and drink a bunch of water to ensure I would get up on time.
A couple months ago I read Atomic Habits and discovered (learned?) a trick that has worked wonders for me. This is NOT an advertisement for Atomic Habits. But the truth is I did learn this trick from that book and I should give credit where credit is due.
In reading the book I realized that when I wake up in the morning I have no plan other than a vague, ambiguous self-directive to “stay awake” or “start getting ready.” Even though the amount of effort required to choose what I should do next after hitting the alarm was minuscule, it still required more energy than I could muster when I was half-awake in the morning so I would give up and crawl back in bed. I didn’t consciously realize this is what was happening until I read Atomic Habits. I then realized I needed to have a clear, very simple and repeatable plan (i.e., a habit) for what I would do after I turned off my alarm in the morning. If I planned a follow-up action in advance and did it habitually, waking up would become easier for me. That was the hypothesis, and I’m proud to report that nearly three months later I have woken up 100% of the time, on-time, when I have followed this method.
The Toilet Method
I set an alarm and put it in the bathroom. (I only do this on evenings where I am committed to waking up on time the next morning. If it is a weekend and I would like to sleep in the next morning, I decide the night before that I will not be following this method.) I then remind myself when I set the alarm that in the morning, when the alarm goes off, I will sit on the toilet and pee. After I pee, I will wash my hands. After I was my hands, I will brush my teeth. After I brush my teeth, I will shave. After I shave, I will wash my face. In Atomic Habits, this is referred to as Habit Chaining (which, as the author mentions, is a general concept and not something that he created).
Trigger: Alarm goes off
By determining exactly what I would do after I hit the alarm in the morning, I removed the need to think and decide in that moment what I would do next after the alarm. Now, when I hit the alarm, I already know what the next step is. I even tell myself that after I do Toilet, Hands, Teeth, Shave, and Face, that I can get back into bed if I am still tired, but I say that because in the five minutes it takes me to do this small routine — especially by the time I have washed my face with cold water in Step 5 — I am now awake enough to the point that I am thinking clearly and it is easy for me to find the will power to stay out of bed. So far, nearly three months later, I have been successful 100% of the time that I have followed this method.
This may seem like REALLY basic stuff to people here, but I am 32-years-old and still had not yet figured it out. For the first time in my life, I have confidence that I can wake up whenever I choose. There have even been several occasions that I have needed to wake up very early (4:30 a.m.) and this method has worked great.