Of all the virtues a person can display today, none exceed that of getting up early. I’m convinced Instagram only introduced the timestamp so that early morning joggers could boast their 7.15am run while the rest of us sloth until 9. But imagine if we all got into the habit of smashing out a couple of sunrise laps of the park, let’s be honest no one would document it half as much. Because it is precisely in there being an inner circle (and thus creating an outer circle) of efficiency that we are able to find pleasure in being inside it. Getting up early is a reflection of our morality after all. If you can display the kind self-discipline it takes to drag leaded limbs from a cushioned cocoon hours earlier than you absolutely need to, you can conquer the everyday, master the routine, triumph over time. You CAN get in a few quiet moments for yourself in the morning! You CAN meditate and journal before you even start your day’s work! And lock me up if I should dare check my phone before I’ve had breakfast! I can already hear the voice of lifestyle influencer, the vitruvian man of today, whispering judgements of distain every time I reach for the forbidden fruit, my heavy eyelids desperate to be peeled back by the razor-sharp blue light of instagram. What get’s me out of bed in the morning you ask? Oh just the adrenaline of regret and guilt of realising that I am already wildly behind before I have even started my day. I hear it’s better than coffee and how’s that for a life hack.
I woke up early once. Sprung from between the folds of my bed, spat out into the brightness of day. And yeah, fine, I’ll say it, it felt great. Run and showered and dressed and eaten by 9am, I felt like I had hacked the system, excavated bonus hours from a day where they shouldn’t be. Visions of productivity decorated the landscape of the speculative day that stretched like a great open road before me. And suddenly influencer land superimposed onto my eyeballs, like diy VR, and I was playing out vignettes from the “My Morning Routine” video that has long invaded my brain from years of watching youtube, except this time I was the protagonist. Like in Just Dance when you do the moves right you get a little green “perfect” stamp. I was in, and I was doing the moves just right.
In Counterproductive by Melissa Gregg she describes Peter Sloterdijks concept of “vertical tension” as “the perception that there is always something more that one is capable of, a level of self-competence that is not yet achieved and liberated, a degree of excess capacity or potential that can be tapped with the right level of focus.” And reading it now it reminds me of an extract from Brave New World:
“Did you ever feel,” he asked, “as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren’t using–you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines?”
These visions of the ideal morning routine plant in us this vertical tension, a feeling that we can be more, we can be better, if only we try a little harder. It doesn’t matter that I went to bed at 2am and therefore waking up at 7am is an outrageous thing to expect from myself, I will go about my morning yearning for the morning that I didn’t have. The one that the me in a more streamlined alternate reality got to play out. All this potential falling around the turbine instead of being put to productive use, all the hours dissolving into vapour, all the mornings of lapping slowly into the day, washed limply up onto the shore of 10am with nothing to show for it. And you bet I will I will feel robbed of the early rise that I should have had. There is always a better me in a better alternate reality, teasing me from above, pulling the vertical strings of tension taught asking me why I didn’t get up earlier.
And it feels important to note at the time of writing, it is brinking 11am. I am wearing my running clothes so that I could run. I told my boss that I was available today, so I could work. I have set myself an aspirational reading list, so I could read. Or maybe, if I smear myself thinly across the day like marmite on buttery toast (can you tell I just had breakfast), then maybe, just maybe I could do it all.