Principle 2 – Wake-up earlier

November 12, 2020

Wait, another person telling me that I should be waking up earlier. Why? What’s in it for me?

I believe that you should wake-up earlier for two reasons:

  • Choices
  • Discipline

Before I dive in, I know there is research that indicates we have different sleep rhythms, that some of us aren’t as productive earlier in the day.

That aside, I like to think, and write, for the average person and the average person should be waking up earlier.

That includes me. I don’t do it consistently, though I know without a doubt that I should do it.


If I were to ask you when you make the worst personal decisions, I would guess that it would be in the evening, after 7:00, specifically.

Why do I think that? It’s because that is when I make the worst decisions. In the evenings, when I am tired after a long day.

Lets dive into some science behind where I am going to be going with choices, and with discipline.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, we learn that there are two types of thinking. There is System 1: fast, automatic, frequent and unconscious decisions; and there is System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical and conscious decisions.

If we want to think clearly, then a few things are important. We need to understand how to improve both our System 1 and System 2 thinking, which means being aware of certain biases and understanding our energy systems.

For energy systems, Daniel illustrates a second concept that negatively impacts our ability to make the right decisions, which is the concept of ego depletion, which refers to the idea that self-control or willpower relies on a limited pool of mental energy.

Conceptually, the energy required for the mental tasks is the same energy required for physical tasks; hence, when tired, our ability to make the right decisions or to exhibit self control is limited.

Our goal then, ought to be to:

  1. Transition more of our decisions to System 1 decisions
  2. Utilize strategies to maximize our System 2 decisions

Transition more of our decisions to System 1

How can we transition decisions from System 2 to System 1?

Transitioning decisions from System 2 thinking to System 1 thinking means that we want to make the decisions automatic.

There are a few ways to transition System 2 thinking into System 1 thinking.

The first recommendation that I would have is repetition. By doing the same thing, the same way, every day, we will make that action automatic. For example, riding a bike moves from System 2 thinking to System 1 thinking, as it becomes automatic.

Another way to move decisions from System 2 to System 1 is less about the decision and more about removing an actual decision. I will use an example of someone who wants to work out in the morning.

When you want to workout, if you wake-up and you have to go to the closet to get your workout gear and rummage through the mud room to get your shoes, you’re les apt to workout. It becomes a decision. However, if you wake-up and your workout clothes are laid out at the end of the bed with your running shoes on them, you’re more apt to workout. No decision needs to be made.

Utilize strategies to maximize our System 2 decisions

The first strategy I am going to throw at you is the Principle we are talking about – wake-up earlier. Why?

Let me ask some simple questions:

  1. When do you usually chill in front of the television with snack food?
  2. When do you usually decide today isn’t a good day to work out?

Generally, I watch television at night, after work. When I am tired.

As well, when I get home from work and I’m tired and have not put my workout gear out (see transitioning decisions to System 1 thinking) then I am apt to give up on the workout.

When you wake-up earlier, let’s say 5:30, you’re not going to get out of bed and play video games or watch television.

You are generally only going to wake-up early to accomplish specific tasks that you’ve set for yourself, for example, you may wake-up early to workout, meditate, read and write before work.

Research shows that people who do this will generally have more productive days, it only makes sense when you start to think of your decision making tied into a limited energy stream.

Another strategy that I will often use is consistency. I set streak goals that drive me to do the same things day in and day out. It sounds similar to the strategy I noted in transitioning from System 2 decisions to System 1 decisions; however, its slightly different. The goal streaks are generally for things that are much more complicated, such as:

  • Run daily
  • Read daily
  • Meditate daily

Regardless of how often I do these things, they will not become automatic decisions.

Avoid negative choices

By waking up early and making the right System 1 and System 2 choices, we can avoid negative choices.

For example, by waking up early to read, write, workout and meditate, I have less time to do negative things.

As an example, if I get up at 5:30 AM to do those things, then work a full day, by the time I hit 7:00 I am starting to get ready for bed.

I am not starting to sit on the couch to watch a marathon of Queen’s Gambit while eating cookies and a pint of ice cream, and it’s for a few reasons.

First, from a timing perspective, I would generally want to be going to bed early if I am up that early, I won’t want to stay up late.

Secondly, and more important, when you workout in the morning, you make better decisions during the day.

Further, you make better decisions around what you will eat throughout the remainder of the day.


As Jocko Willink says in this article No one wants to hear this, but step number one is to wake up early. That is where it starts. It does take discipline to get out of bed early, but that sets the tone and the pattern of discipline for the rest of the day.

Conceptually, Jocko equates discipline with fitness. If you want to achieve anything, you need to be disciplined.

If you want financial freedom, as an example, you need financial discipline.

By waking up early, day in and day out, you teach yourself discipline.

You teach yourself that you can be disciplined in areas of your life.

If you can consistently be disciplined in one area of your life, you can be disciplined in other areas.

Setting your alarm clock earlier than you normally would is a simple means to start to instill that discipline.

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