The author, enjoying an early-morning cup of coffee. Photo: Shannon Willis Photography
When my coworkers told me about the “5 a.m. club” a few years ago, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. The idea was this: You wake up an hour before your spouse and your kids and use that distraction-free time to focus on your personal well-being, with a mix of exercise, meditation and reading or learning. The point is that you’re fueling your mind, body and soul for the day.
At the time, I was waking up at 6:30 a.m. during the week and that already felt super early. And my personal well-being really wasn’t a top priority, having taken a back burner to my family and career.
But the seed had been planted and I kept hearing about this “club.” I learned that some very successful people are part of the club, and those people say they feel more energized, focussed and productive throughout the day. I decided it couldn’t hurt to learn more about it, so I picked up The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma to see what all the hype was about.
It definitely got me thinking. I recognized that as a mom of a six-year-old and an eight-year-old with a full-time job, a husband and a dog, I wasn’t getting much alone time. For years, I’d relied on that precious hour or two at the end of the night when I’d park myself in front of the TV with a big glass of wine. But that time wasn’t actually restorative for me. I felt exhausted constantly, and even a bit resentful towards my family and my work for their needs taking higher priority.
By the time I was halfway through the book, I was convinced. I decided to go for it.
At first, I followed the routine exactly as it’s laid out in the book: 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of meditation and journaling, and 20 minutes of learning/reading. Initially, I felt fantastic—I noticed a marked increase in my energy and focus all day long, and I was definitely more productive. Plus, I was proud of myself for actually getting out of bed that early, as I honestly didn’t think I would follow through, not being a morning person.
But like a lot of new routines, it didn’t stick long-term. After just a couple of weeks, I started dreading the 5 a.m. alarm and pressing snooze. The idea of dragging myself out of bed to exercise was just not working for me. I went back to sleeping in and rushing around to get everyone ready in the mornings.
Then I heard about a woman who woke up every day at 5:30 a.m. to write a book. It made me question why I couldn’t customize a morning routine that would work for me? I’d initially felt that to get the full benefits of the hour, I had to follow the routine exactly as it had been laid out in Sharma's book. But what good is a routine that doesn’t motivate you to get out of bed and reap the benefits?
I decided to try again, this time with a routine I could look forward to. When my alarm went off, instead of starting with exercise—my least favourite part of the routine—I drank a glass of water, meditated for 5 or 10 minutes, journalled, practiced gratitude, learned/read while drinking a coffee, and then worked out. I kept the workouts fresh by changing them up: Some days I’d jog, other days do weights or blast music and dance. Some mornings I’d skip the workout entirely and spend more time reading. I also allowed myself to skip the routine on weekend mornings so I could stay up later on a Friday or Saturday night to hang out with my husband or do a Zoom call with friends. And if I was up in the night with a sick kid, I'd turn off the alarm.
It’s now been more than a year and I’m proud to say that I’m not just still at it, but it’s changed my life. I’m actually excited to wake up at 5 a.m each day. Two years ago, I could never have imagined these words leaving my lips. Me? Excited to wake up at 5 a.m. for any reason other than a flight to a sunny destination in the middle of winter?! But the positives from having joined the club are undeniable. I’m physically and mentally stronger, and I’m a lot calmer and focused, especially when it comes to my parenting. I no longer spend my evenings wishing my kids would fall asleep early so I can finally have some alone time. I also have less guilt about not being healthier for my kids.
My new routine did mean some other changes in my life. I now go to sleep by 10 p.m. which means winding down for the night around 9 p.m. It means doing less on weeknight evenings, because by the time my eldest falls asleep (he’s a night owl), it’s close to my bedtime. I also get tired earlier each evening than I used to, so anything requiring lots of brain power has to get done earlier in the day. Lastly, I have to be pretty sure I have everything ready for the next morning on the night before, so it doesn’t eat into my hour.
For parents of babies or toddlers, waking up earlier than your kids might sound laughable. But at a certain point, they start sleeping better and it becomes doable. So if you’re desperate for more alone time—whether it’s to exercise, or meditate, or write a book, or even to simply listen to a podcast while sipping your coffee undisturbed—consider joining the club.
Shannon Talbot is a writer and health coach based in Toronto. Her wellness blog can be found here.