Since childhood I’ve loved the feeling of waking up earlier than I have to, and getting to drowse until it’s time to get out of bed. It feels both luxuriant and virtuous. So the old iPod I use as an alarm goes off twice every morning: first there’s the “wake up” alarm, and then the “get out of bed” alarm a half-hour later.
The problem is that if I’ve turned off the alarm to stay in bed once already, it’s very easy to do it again. Especially since I’m so practiced at reaching over, flipping the switch, and flopping back under the covers that I barely wake up (if at all) to do it. Sometimes the alarm rings and I’m surprised it’s already the second one—and then what’s the point of the whole system?
It seemed to me that the problem was not being able to tell, upon waking, whether I’ve woken up once before or not. (Sound familiar?) To circumvent this memory loss, I tried having a different bit of text appear as each alarm goes off—the second one says “don’t go back to sleep!”—but it turns out that first thing in the morning I don’t read very well for comprehension. I tried making the two alarms different sounds—I think one is church bells and one is a sort of marimba (you probably know the one)—but honestly they both register as [standard iPod alarm sound], and I’m loath to ruin an actual song by playing a short tinny snippet of it every morning.
I needed a new approach. Given the title of this blog post, you can probably guess what it is: after shutting off the “wake up” alarm, I throw my iPod onto the floor. (Do not fear: I have a thick squishy wool rug by my bed, so the iPod is not in danger.) This habit was easy to make automatic because it doesn’t require any thinking about whether it’s the first or second alarm: if it was on the bedside table, it goes on the floor. Then, when the second alarm rings and I have to swing my whole body out of bed to go get it, there’s no doubt that it’s time to get up—and I’ve already started doing it! Since implementing this method, each morning has gone so much more smoothly, and with it the rest of the day.
Note that this solution is not just a low-tech version of those flying alarm clocks that make you get out of bed to find the key to shut off your alarm in the morning (though I applaud the idea). I usually don’t mind getting out of bed if I know it’s time. No, the problem was that starting the day by deciding whether it was time to get up was depriving me of both my precious dozing and my ability to get up on time. It was breaking the symmetry unmistakably that solved the problem, and the extra get-out-of-bed oomph is just a bonus.
This is why I love trying out new habits: there’s the possibility of a huge payoff for very little effort. I don’t guarantee that all you need to turn your mornings around is to implement this same procedure, but I do want to encourage you to think about what little things you might try to improve about your life. You never know what will work until you try.