Do I really have to wake up at 5 a.m. to be successful?

Before social media became a popular way to catalog our lives, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” simply meant trying to one-up your neighbor with the size of your house or model of your car.

But Facebook and its ilk, combined with a perverse new competitive mindset, has turned everything in life into an “I’m better than you” conversation.

Recently, social media has taken a bizarre turn into our daily routines. People are making their wake-up time into a competition and boasting match.

You might have heard about the 5 a.m. badge of honor.

Inspired by a book about waking early, the idea is that you have to get out of bed every day at five in the morning.

“Join The 5 a.m Club. Your most valuable hours are 5 a.m. – 8 a.m. They have the least interruptions,” says best-selling author Robin Sharma.

He’s right about this time having the least interruptions. I also believe the morning is magical for not only productivity but also creativity.

However, I also believe that the 5 a.m. club is a bad idea.

You might be surprised to hear that, coming from a man who wakes up at 4 a.m. While it’s true that the morning is magic, and that getting up earlier is the easiest way to get ahead in life, I don’t believe you need to get up as early as 5 a.m.

I just don’t believe you need to get up at 5 a.m.

Frankly, that’s not reasonable. It’s unnecessary.

I cringe when people write about how they went, literally overnight, from getting up at 8 a.m. to getting up at 5 a.m.

Those people won’t last. They’ll suffer from self-imposed jet lag, and because of the consequences, they’ll come to despise waking up early. And then they’ll return to sleeping as late as humanly possible each morning before they have to get up in order to make it to work.

Worse, twenty percent of the population has a biological clock that makes them most effective late at night. Expecting “night owls” to wake-up 5 a.m. is sentencing these people to failure.

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Forget about forcing a 5 a.m. alarm into your life.

Let me tell you the real secret to taking advantage of your magic time in the morning.

You simply need to get up fifteen minutes earlier, not three hours earlier.

I’ve been around the block in this world of habit change. In my Turbulence Training fitness business, we’ve held over 25 before-and-after weight loss transformation contests. I’ve read hundreds of letters from people that have successfully changed their routines. But I’ve also read twice as many comments from people that have failed to make their habit changes stick.

The common factor in all of those failed stories was trying to do too much at once.

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Getting up three hours, two hours, an hour, and even thirty minutes earlier than usual is too much. I know from personal experience.

It’ll make you miserable and leave you tired all day. Changing your wake-up time so dramatically often requires weeks for proper adaptation.

The answer is not in taking big bites. The answer is to nibble away at your wake-up time. The answer is to attack your morning in a reasonable manner.

Let me tell you about how I made the change from sleeping in to getting up early.

I distinctly remember the day in 2007 when I woke up in my downtown Toronto condo at 7:35 a.m. I rolled over, grabbed my phone, and began checking my email.

Thirty minutes later, after being taken down a rabbit hole by one particular email that left me stewing, I realized my morning routine was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Waking up late was making me anxious because I’m a natural morning person. I like to get things done before most people start their day. That meant I needed to get up earlier, and so I started to change little by little.

The next morning the alarm was set for 7:30 a.m. Two days later, I moved it back to 7:25 a.m. The next Monday it was 7:20 a.m., and within a few weeks of these easy transitions, I was comfortably waking up at 6 a.m.

Today I get up earlier, but I eased myself into these new habits. Now it’s almost impossible for my body clock to allow me to sleep past 6 a.m.

It’s a habit that has changed my life. But you don’t need to go as far as I’ve gone.

You simply do not need to join the 5 a.m. club, and quite frankly, if you’re currently a member of the 7 a.m. club, and you try switching allegiance tomorrow, you’ll pay an awful price.

There’s no value in wearing your wake-up time as a badge of honor or feeling superior because you get up earlier than someone else. What really matters is that you are making the right decisions for your right life.

Is it right for you and your family to be up at 5 a.m.?

Is it right for you and your family and your future to be making the sacrifices that one must make in order to get 7-8 hours sleep and get up at 5 a.m.?

Is it right for you to go to bed at midnight and get up at 5 a.m. every day?

I can answer the last one for you.

No.

If you’re sacrificing sleep in order to get up at 5 a.m. — for no good reason other than to be part of a masochistic club — then you’re making a bad decision.

The 5 a.m. club is definitely not for you if:

  • You currently get up at 8 a.m., 7 a.m., or even 6 a.m.

  • You can’t get to sleep before 10 p.m.

  • You’re a night owl.

  • You’re family or social schedule simply don’t permit it.

  • You have no idea what you’d do at 5 a.m.

Ignore the dogma.

Use this better approach instead.

Focus instead on getting up fifteen minutes early tomorrow. Be the first one out of bed in your house and take advantage of this solitude.

Go downstairs and sit at your kitchen table, armed only with pen and paper. Identify your number one priority in life. It could be the number one problem causing you stress, or it could be your greatest opportunity. Spend these fifteen magical minutes focused on identifying ways to solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity.

For example, if you are in $5,000 worth of credit card debt, and that is causing you significant stress, spend the fifteen minutes thinking of ways to cut your expenses and increase your income, and researching how to transfer your debt to a lower interest credit card.

If you do this six days a week, you’ll fix your problems, take advantage of the opportunities in your life, and become much more successful — all without cursing the clock each morning when it wakes you at an ungodly hour.

It’s easy to put time on your side, rather than letting it be an enemy in the battle for your day. A little bit of discipline, in waking up just fifteen minutes earlier, yields great power. Adding this little bit of structure – rather than going to extremes – brings greater success and freedom into your life without the stress of doing something that’s not right for you.

Not sure what to do with your fifteen minutes in the morning?

Spend your time working on the NEW success tools now available at ETR University.

Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men's Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he'll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com