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I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits—an issue very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Patrik Edblad.

I used to set my alarm clock as late as possible each day and then hit the snooze button at least one or two times before getting out of bed each morning. As I’m sure a lot of people can relate, this sort of morning routine is far from ideal, as your day gets a very stressful start and often leads to being late.

After a couple of attempts at becoming an early riser and having a taste of the benefits it has, I decided to really commit to it and devoted myself to understanding the mechanics of habit creation and how I could re-programme my brain to love 6:00 a.m. I learned that a habit consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward and that I needed to optimize all of them to have a successful habit change.

I knew from experience that setting my alarm to 6:00 a.m. when I was used to 8:00 a.m. wasn’t going to work in the long run, so I instead committed to pushing the time back for just fifteen minutes once a week to give my brain a better chance of adapting.

Starting out, my cue was my alarm clock, which was neatly put just out of arm’s reach so that I had to get out of bed before I could turn it off. This routine made it much more likely to stay up than if I gave myself the chance to snooze.

As a reward, I used the awesome habit app “Lift” and crossed off waking up early. Lift is designed to keep track of your habit-building streaks, and as I put in more and more days without failing to get up on time, the more I didn’t want to break the chain.

As I started my days, I knew that I needed to expose myself to a lot of light to help my brain set its circadian clock to a light-dark cycle of my choice, so I went ahead and turned on a lot of lights as soon as I got up (it’s ridiculously dark in northern Sweden this time of year).

Today, I almost always wake before my alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. and spend my mornings taking walks, planning my days, and doing meditation. This way, I’m much more productive, feel better, and show up on time.

I’ve noticed that when people successfully change a habit, they often use several strategies simultaneously. We need a lot of fire power to change our habits! He’s using the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Starting, and the Strategy of Monitoring.

If you’re interested in how people’s sleep habits are affected by light, I highly recommend Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.

Waking up earlier isn’t a habit solution for everyone, but for many people, it’s a great way to get more out of the day. (Want a painless way to get an extra hour in your day? Try this.)

Have you ever tried to start waking up earlier? What strategy did you use?


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

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*Image courtesy of suez92.