Change what you do, not who you are

A few years ago, I wandered into my local Starbucks at 6 a.m. right as the door opened. At the time, that was the middle of the night for me, and Patrick, the regular barista was surprised to see me so early.

“Work,” I mumbled. 

He eyed me cautiously and carefully slide the coffee across the counter. 

“Do me a favor," he said. "Drink this before you drive anywhere."

There are certain things I shouldn’t do before I’ve had my coffee. Operate heavy machinery, interact with people, perform a task that involves sharp objects, or interact with people.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a morning person.

The world is split into two kinds of people. Larks and owls. I’m an owl. 

But for most of my life, I’ve been made to feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm for mornings. We are a society geared towards the larks of the world - leaving the owls like myself feeling like we need to change in order to better fit in and feel more productive. 

Going to bed at 8:00 or 9:00 at night sounds almost noble (and like a fantasy for those of us who struggle to sleep anyway), but if I get out of bed at 10:00 a.m. that probably makes me sound lazy. 

But if I had my druthers, (and I don’t really know what druthers are but it appears that if you have them, you can have anything you want. So for Christmas this year, I’d like some druthers.)

If I had my druthers, I’d get up around 8:00 or 9:00 and probably stay up until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. I do my best work from 10-6, not  That’s the way I’ve always been wired. 

I know I’m more productive at night. In fact, I’m currently writing this post at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night (See also my earlier post on procrastination). Sure I could set my alarm to get up and write it in the morning, but I’d feel foggy while trying to think at 5:00 a.m. (or sit up straight) That is not my best hour. I could work at that hour, but it will never be my best. 

I hear plenty of clients who get frustrated when they try to develop a morning workout routine but find themselves hitting the snooze button and skipping more workouts than they make. Then they judge themselves, for being lazy and unmotivated and failing. When in reality, they’re trying to force a round peg into a square hole. 

Listen, I know there are a lot of tight schedules out there, and some owls can make a morning workout routine stick.

 One of my favorite quotes from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron is “Start where you are.” If you are an owl, work with that. A habit is much more likely to stick if you stop trying to change who you are.

Change what you do, don’t change who you are.