On Waking Up Late

It’s Wednesday and I just woke up at 10:30am.

The sun is high and bright, and Saigon has been hard at work for two hours. Most people got up three hours ago.

What is wrong with me?

Why can’t I wake up early? I haven’t been able too since… well, forever. 

But that’s what successful people do. They get up early. From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Branson, Dwayne Johnson to Tony Robbins, society’s great achievers are up with the sun getting shit done!

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”

I’ve hated myself for decades for waking up late. Today is no different. Why?

Waking up early is something I can control.

Waking up early gives me a psychological boost of working while others are sleeping.

Waking up early gives me access to a brief window of of quiet, stillness and coolness in Vietnam.

Waking up early makes the day seem to last forever, which I love.

And waking up early is the first part of my perfect day!

Wake up early to the sunrise, get outside and walk through crisp air, breathe, break a sweat. Early morning yoga, tai chi, or gym to improve my conditioning and circulation. Time, space, silence to visualize my perfect life and a fulfilling day

I did NONE of those things. In fact, I’m behind… like four hours behind.

Damn!

And then comes the avalanche of self-hate… you’re a grown man and getting up at 10:30am… no wonder you haven’t done this, that, or the other… you lazy bum… and on and on it goes, each domino of self judgement leading to the next…



When I’m not living my perfect day, I’ve learned to examine the context surrounding my behavior, and question the assumptions behind not only my perfect day but what conventional wisdom says is good, right and acceptable. Most of all I’ve learned to forgive myself.

What Environment Triggered Your Behavior?

Yesterday I danced kizomba until 12am. It had been a long, lonely work day and I was dying to move, sweat, and socialize. I was a ray of sunshine, full of smile, dance, life. My bud Manuel remarked, “Why can’t you be like this every night?” 

I then got late night noodles with Xiu, a dance friend who I hadn’t seen in two years, by the historic Ben Thanh market. It was wonderful catching up.

By the time I got home, it was 1:30am. And I couldn’t sleep until 3am.

I woke up late because I went to bed late. I went to bed late because I was living my perfect night, investing in friends and leisure:

Delicious meals with close friends, family and loved ones, sharing stories, struggles and laughs. After dinner, movies, music, dancing, games, exploring new worlds, people, and interests

Luckily, right now I can go out past midnight on a Tuesday; I don’t have to be in the office by 8am. Driving home on my motorbike, how lucky I felt as the quiet streets, trees and breeze greeted me!

Is Your Perfect Day Yours? Or What Society Dictates it Should Be?

It’s easy to associate waking up late with being lazy – this is conventional wisdom. But this self-judgement is not only poisonous, but also false. 

According to Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, 40 percent of the population are morning people and 30 percent are evening people, with the remainder landing somewhere in between. Early risers and night owls are not so by choice, but by DNA wiring.

Leading chronobiologer Till Roenneberg has mapped the circadian rhythms of more than 300,000 people and found a wide distribution of early and late chronotypes. He calls these A-persons (early risers) and B-persons (late-risers). A-persons benefit from the alignment between their internal clock and the social clock of school and workplaces. These are the prototypical CEOs who get up at 4:30am. B-persons don’t and suffer from “social jetlag.”

Successful people wake up late too. Even Tim Ferriss gets up at 10am.  

What Does Your Perfect Day Feel Like?

Often your perfect day will not match what the world says should be your perfect day. And sometimes you’ll veer off course, as I did, from what you envision to be your perfect day.

That’s why I list what my perfect day feels like. 

If I wake up at 10:30am but my day feels “connected, exciting, and magical,” then I am living my perfect day, no?

We are not robots. We have to give our perfect days – and ourselves – more flexibility.

I can’t imagine repeating my perfect day over and over like groundhog’s day. Can you? Even if it was your best day ever? Here I accept the conventional wisdom that variety is the spice of life.

We have to listen to our bodies and know our ideal work times – our chronotype. Society may not support late risers, but that doesn’t mean late risers can’t design and stand by their perfect day. They should drop the self-loathing too.

Why the Self-Judgement?

Would I prefer to wake at sunrise? Yes. But am I naturally an early riser? No. My perfect days may not be perfectly executed nor appear successful to the world, but if they feel like perfect days, why continue to beat myself up?

Knowing your perfect day gives you a scaffolding to help you live your best life and give your greatest gifts, which are boundless and undefinable.

Am I going to criticize myself because I am lazy according to conventional wisdom? Or am I going to step back and examine the context in which the behavior happened, and think about what I can alter, forgive, and learn? 

Self-hate is a burden. Look at the context and assumptions behind your “wrong” behavior. You may be weighing yourself down with a story that is simply not true.

Next time I wake up late, I can ask:

Was I up late for a good reason?

Did I get 7-8 hours of good sleep?

Do I feel energized to do my best work?

It’s 10:30am. I am ready to live another perfect day. 🙂

Learn the principles, abide by the principles, and then dissolve the principles. In short, enter a mold without being caged in it, and obey the principles without being bound by them.

– Bruce Lee

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