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Why I Wake Up At 4:30am
Before we get into this weeks’ article, I’d like to share some news with you.
Floor 13: Deep State, a reimagining of the 1991 classic by David Eastman, is out now on Steam, published by Humble Games. As producer of this game, it was my job to find a home for it, and Humble Games have been a terrific partner to work with. They’ve been respectful of the vision we had for the game, and supported us in building the team that made it possible. If you want a quick overview, here’s a Developer Commentary.
If you’re interested in buying the game, it’s currently 10% off on Steam as part of the launch promotion. Buy it here.
I was honoured to be asked to deliver the video keynote for the 10th anniversary of Game Zanga, the Arab region’s biggest and longest-running game jam event, I was the first non-Arab invited to speak, and that is a huge privilege. If you’re interested, you can watch it below.
Why I Wake Up So Absurdly Early
As many of you are of a technology-savvy disposition, it would be easy for me to to overwhelm you with the details of how I switched from being a life-long night owl to an early riser. I’m not going to focus on that. Yes, I’ll give you some detail, briefly, but far more important is the why. As with any seismic shift, many minor, barely noticeable shifts had to occur first.
I used to know a lovely programmer called Tony, who rose ludicrously early before going to work to learn Japanese, to watch things he wanted to watch and to work on hobby projects. This is like finding out that an old friend is a Trump supporter or voted for Brexit. The point is, if you’re like me, you don’t immediately dismiss the person as crazy. They have had years to impress you with their character, which is why they are my friend. I don’t consider it a betrayal, as some who are incapable of handling cognitive dissonance might. I actually enjoy having my worldview rocked. I like the growth that comes from dealing with cognitive dissonance without leaping instinctively back over to my side of the mental fence. I don’t like my mind to be behind a fence.
Back to Tony. This would have been in the early 1990s. I did not become an early riser after Tony’s revelations, but his logic was infallible and Tony explained it to me very simply. “I like to learn and work on my own things while my mind is fresh, then I go to work!”
Even after I became a father, I stayed a night owl. I worked for Virgin, Hasbro and Sony, and I was still a night owl. Eventually, I found a purpose for waking up early, and that was the realisation that I was going to die, and that I was going to die with my expression still locked up inside. I was going to die with all the books I wanted to read unread. I was going to die with the games I wanted to make unmade. I was going to die sad, and bitter, and angry, and I would have nobody to blame, but myself.
And then came Strategic Content. This project at PlayStation consumed me, which meant that I no longer had a life. Unless I changed. So I did. I started waking up earlier, and earlier until I settled on 5am. And then I moved to 4:20am. These days I’m waking at a far more reasonable 4:30am. That gives me almost three hours completely alone, with no social media, email or other distractions and complete peace and quiet both outside and within, I can do all the things I want to do that improve or enrich me, which means I can give more, be more, for others. I learn a language. I work on my hobby projects. I read. I exercise. I pray. I do some joint mobility drills. I read my affirmations. I work on my goals. I write a gratitude journal. I work on chipping away at huge tasks that normally wouldn’t get done (to be discussed in a future post)
If I didn’t do these things in the morning, here’s what would happen. Nothing. The day would consume me, and then it would spit me out, exhausted, into bed, disillusioned with another day spinning the wheel of survival. I know where that path leads to, and it’s death with regret. My new way won’t necessarily mean I’ll accomplish all the things I want to; spoiler alert, I won’t, but I won’t die with the regret that I hadn’t tried. Discipline is so easy when you have a clear vision of where your actions are leading you.
A word of warning: You won’t always be productive, but show up anyway. Nothing will happen without you being there, so show up, be counted and start in small increments.
Think you can’t write? If you can speak, you can write. Speak a paragraph and stick that into a journal. Take it from there.
Think you can’t play a musical instrument? Do you know if you have a cheap keyboard, you could play the melody from just about any pop song within a couple of weeks? Take it from there.
Like me four months ago, have you always hated running? Surprise yourself by starting Couch to 5K, like I did, and complete it, like I did, and surprise yourself by calling yourself a runner, like I did. I ran for half an hour yesterday morning and you know what? I was beaming. I couldn’t help myself. As soon as I started running after my warm-up walk, a huge smile formed on my face involuntarily. And while I was running, I was listening to an audiobook. On running.
Can’t touch type? How do you think I learned? A few years back I did a free online course every morning until I got up to a peak of about 110WPM and since then, more recently, I taught myself the Colemak layout. You’ll never need to look at your keyboard again, unless you want to.
I promised the how, and I’ll keep it brief.
1. First, you must have a reason. What is it that you have always wanted to do, but have always put off? Do it early, and do it while you’re fresh. Want to learn an instrument? Put on some headphones and get on with it. It’s never been easier. YouTube is a God-send. Want to learn a language? Stick on some headphones, get a DuoLingo subscription and do a tiny bit every day until like me you have an unbroken streak going back almost a whole year. Want to write a newsletter? Guess what? You don’t even need the headphones.
2. Learn good sleep hygiene. In short, go to bed at the same time and if you can’t do that, at least rise at the same time. Use something like Sleep Cycle to wake up gently, and in increments of 90 minutes or thereabouts, or you will feel groggy. Have a light turn on gently, or use a modern alarm clock that does this. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages past the afternoon. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. I use blackout blinds and ensure there are no LEDs that might disturb me, and use black electrical tape to cover them up. Studies have shown that shining a light on the back of the leg can disrupt your sleep. There’s lots of other stuff about sleep hygiene, but read Why We Sleep, a book I’ve been recommending for years.
3. Place the alarm clock far away, so that you have to walk to turn it off, and you have to go very quickly, or everyone else will wake up and curse you. If you have an Apple Watch, have it tap your wrist a minute before the loud alarm goes off, so you know that you’re going to disturb everyone if you don’t get your backside out of bed.
4. Never hit snooze. This is an inviolable tenet of waking up early. If you hit snooze, you’ve made one decision in favour of weakness before you’ve got out of bed. Would you like to start a football match 1-0 down? No, you would not.
5. Have a morning routine, and stick to it.
6. Tell yourself before you fall asleep exactly what time you’re going to wake up. You’d be amazed at how often this works. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up a minute before the alarm goes off.
Let me know how you get on, and if you’re stuck, there’s plenty more.