How do I begin my day? I awake at 3:45 a.m. I take a piping-hot shower, followed by a plunge in an extremely cold bath in a tub lined with gold tiles from El Dorado. I read an entire book, then an entire newspaper — and then I eat them both. I run ten miles. I run eight more. I look in the mirror and scream, "I AM ONE DEMANDING CUSTOMER AND LIFE IS BEING SERVED TO ME ON A PLATTER, MEDIUM RARE!" I throw out everything that doesn't bring me happiness, such as money; I read a single email; I tweet something inspiring that usually becomes a law. And then it's time for my 8 a.m. meeting.
How many times have we heard a version of that hellish morning routine from someone crowned by the Internet as one of the "world's most successful people"? It's enough to make you want to throw a dream journal into a fire and meditate to Slayer!
And yet those secret, sacred hours before "the real day begins" retain a certain allure: a surprisingly large sliver of the Internet click-factory is made up of these invigorating dispatches. We want success and productivity and clarity, and for some reason we've come to believe that those are to be found in the hours we'd rather be sleeping or watching What's Opera, Doc? while eating Fruity Pebbles. But instead, we are meant to copy routines that range from the impossibly esoteric to the homogeneously intimidating: Steve Jobs or Oprah or Albert Einstein telling you to get up early, exercise, eat a thing, meditate, and, if all that weren't enough, drink an entire bottle of water. In truth, most of these recommendations don't stray far from what Benjamin Franklin said almost three centuries ago: "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
But the thing is, Benjamin Franklin had gout. And, even more important, the characters who populate these tortured lists aren't wildly successful because they exercise for two hours and massage their matcha powder with a brush made of preserved spider legs. Perhaps they do these things because they are already wired to think differently, weirdly, ambitiously.
And what if we don't want to be billionaires? What if we just want to be, you know, happy? Are there ways to master the hours of rosy-fingered dawn without orienting our actions so directly toward ambition and success? In other words, is there something between utter sloth — jumping out of bed at the last possible minute and straight into the shower — and the tyranny of the perfected morning? Let's investigate.