Over the last few months, I have slowly transformed myself from someone who couldn't get up before work to exercise if my life depended on it to someone who genuinely looks forward to being active first thing in the morning. I'll admit that when my alarm goes off, it's still a struggle (and probably always will be) to get out of my warm cocoon and head out into the frosty morning, but once I am up and out, it is one of my favorite parts of the day. I am a runner, so the majority of my morning workouts take place outside. The cool morning air wakes me up and keeps me feeling refreshed and spunky throughout my run. Additionally, the normally busy streets that I follow on my favorite running route are peaceful and quiet, creating a perfect opportunity for inner reflection.
You may be wondering why I would want to put myself through those first few moments after the alarm rings where getting up and running feels like the worst possible idea. Why not just sleep in and leave the workout until later? The reason is very simple. I am adamant about staying active throughout the work week in order to maintain my sanity, but it was increasingly difficult to find the time or motivation to run after a long day at the office. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done, so I realized that by reclaiming one hour every morning and dedicating that time to exercise, I would have more time after work for other things, like spending quality time with my loved ones.
During a recent morning jaunt around the neighborhood, I was reflecting on the things that have helped me successfully develop my new morning exercise habit after failing at it so many times in the past. Determination is definitely key, but there are other things that helped make the process a little easier.
1. Go to bed early. Well, of course, you might think. However, the mistake I used to make when I attempted to work out first thing in the morning was to stay up watching TV and go to bed at my normal bedtime, but still try to wake up an hour (or more) earlier than usual. More often than not, I would turn my alarm off and go right back to sleep. When I actually did manage to honor my commitment to workout, the lack of sleep caught up with me in a big way during the work day, leaving me feeling tired and cranky. One of the reasons why I love exercise is because I find it energizing, so feeling tired meant that something was off balance. I now force myself to go to bed an hour earlier if I plan to wake up an hour earlier to balance it out.
2. Give yourself enough time to get up. I used to sleep until the very last minute before getting up to work out in the morning, meaning that if I dawdled in bed for even five to ten minutes, I would be at risk of not making it to work on time if I did my planned workout. I definitely used to use that as an excuse to just give up and go back to sleep for a few more minutes. Now I set my alarm earlier than necessary to give myself extra dawdle time because I know I will linger in bed, and I don't want that to be an excuse to scrap my work out altogether.
3. Remind yourself that you are not alone. While I enjoy the peaceful quiet of the morning and the lack of people around, sometimes it helps to remember that I'm not all alone in my early morning exercise mission and that others are out there somewhere doing the same thing as me. There is power in numbers, after all!
4. Reward yourself. Rewards come in many forms. For me, the promise of a tasty breakfast and a hot shower are all the motivation that I need, but you could also allow yourself rewards in the form of a day off (i.e. a day to sleep in a little more), a manicure for X number of days that you get up and go, a special food-related treat of some sort, or anything else that will get you up and running. Ultimately, the biggest reward is simply the exercise you give your body, but if that isn't enough, think of something else to supplement it!
5. Remember why you're doing it. If I start to feel as though I really would rather pass and just try to squeeze a workout in after work, I remind myself of all the reasons why I'll regret that decision later. I know I'll come home starving for dinner and wanting to eat which is not conducive to running, I know I have a million other things to do in the evening that will end up getting put off until later if I workout, and worst of all, I know that there is the distinct possibility that I will have absolutely zero desire to exercise after sitting in the office all day.
6. Have a plan. Knowing what you want to do in the morning, whether it be running, taking a class, or hitting the gym, helps you gauge how much time it will take you and also gives you something to look forward to. If you wake up and have to get creative or make decisions first thing in the morning, you're less likely to actually make it out the door for your exercise. I mostly run, but if I do visit the gym, I plan for it in advance and have my clothes, breakfast, and lunch packed and ready the night before so that I optimize my time in the morning and don't have any excuses to skip the gym.
7. Don't set yourself up for failure. If you exhausted and dreading getting up to work out in the morning, chances are you probably will end up shutting that alarm off and going back to sleep. It is okay to let yourself sleep in a bit later and skip your workout once in a while, but it's better to recognize that the night before than in the morning when the alarm is blaring in your ear. Trying to develop the habit of working out in the morning requires positive reinforcement and the process should not be torturous and exhausting.
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