Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse who watched and discussed life with her dying patients said that writing the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying “brought her to tears.” In her tearful conversations with the dying, there were no mentions of missed promotions or lost cash. But there was regret. And what terrible regret.
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as recorded by Ware:
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
- “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Bronnie Ware’s research should make each teacher pause. With so many demands on our time outside of teaching, too many of us have allowed teaching to consume our lives. If we count the hours we spend at school before and after school, we work 60 hour work weeks and then take stacks of essays home with us to mark on Sundays. Our Sundays are also consumed with answering parent emails or planning our lessons. And if that’s our weekly schedule, week in and week out, by the end of our lives, aren’t we going to deeply regret it?
I’ve meditated on Ware’s list. And I believe I would deeply regret, on my death bed, the amount of hours I spent on teaching and the ways my decision to work so hard cut me off from the life I wanted to live and the people I longed to love.
There is a better way.
The Importance of a Morning Routine for Teachers
I soon realized that, despite my flaws as a human being, I do want to teach to the best of my ability. It’s something I’m not willing to compromise. I’m not, for example, prepared to pop in a DVD for my students to watch so I can get marking done or give them a free period. I can see the appeal, but doing that would make me lose respect for myself.
So I’m not willing to make these kinds of compromises to regain my life. But in order to teach to a high degree and also make time for myself and my own life, I had to make changes. It was then that I realized I had to make the best use of my time to make both. And that meant waking up at 4 AM daily.
How I Started Waking Up at 4 AM
Waking up at 4AM is not natural for me. Only two years ago, I would regularly stumble out of bed at 7:15, brush my teeth and my hair, put on my work garb, grab a mug of coffee and a muffin, and jet out of the door just in time to catch a bus to school. I would amble in to school, cranky and annoyed that I had to sit with my students on the bus (if I got the late bus, which I often did– oh the joys of discussing Fahreneheit 451 or avoiding eye contact with teenagers on the morning bus!), and have about ten minutes to myself before the bell rang and the curtains raised.
It was around this time that I read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrond. In the book. I found real motivation to change my crazy-making morning schedule. In the book, Elrond describes his near encounter with death, and how he regained control of his life and made miraculous self-improvements with an early morning routine or prayer, reading, healthy food, exercise, and so on.
Still a card-carrying night owl, however, I doubted Elrond’s sanity. After much research into resetting my circadian rhythm, however, I decided to buy some caffeine pills and pop one in my mouth the minute I woke up at 4 AM. This caffeine system worked very well, though I’m sure some doctor in the reading audience is clenching his fists and getting red in the face at the thought of it. So, perhaps skip the pills.
In addition to the caffeine pills, I used a whiteboard at home to draw the days of the month. Each day that I woke up on time, I would circle the date. I would make a “chain of success.” I never wanted to break the chain! I kept up the chain until waking up at 4 AM became my new normal. In fact, I am still using the chain method to form a variety of habits.
And another part of my success was consistency. To get a good eight hours of sleep and wake up at 4 AM, I would have to be asleep by 8 PM each night. Yes, that’s right! 8PM! In order to maintain this early bedtime, I had to rigorously schedule my day and perform the same night ritual of chamomile tea, a warm bath with eucalyptus bath salts, a drop of lavender oil on the temples, warm pyjamas, electronics off, and a good book in bed at 7PM. It’s only when I travel or when I am overwhelmed with extracurricular and teaching responsibilities that I don’t follow this sacred routine, and the consequences for breaking the routine are painful.
Should You Start Waking up at 4 AM?
By now some of you are wondering what kind of crazy person you are dealing with. If you’re a subscriber, you may wonder if I’ve gone to the dark side, or lost my sanity. Yes, teaching is tough, but I’m saner than ever. There are many benefits from adopting Elrond’s “Miracle Morning.”
Time for Hobbies
By waking up early at 4 AM, I can do all the things I love to do before the work day. Previously, I would relegate what I love to do to the bottom of the heap, under a pile of essays to mark or parents to call. Now, I start the day with a iron-clad routine of eating a healthy breakfast, jogging, weight lifting, prayer, and reading.
On my early bus to school, at 6:20 AM, I listen to an audiobook or read some more. Before my miracle morning, I never had the time to read. It’s now absurd to me that for years, as an English teacher, I never had the time to read!
Calm vs. Anxiety
In the past, my morning and daily routine left me stressed, and it caused me to stay hours after school to mark, lesson plan, and fulfill my other duties. I was perpetually anxious.
Today, my early morning routine leaves me much calmer, because I get in to school between 6:30-7:00 AM, and I have the time to mark the pile of writing from the day before. I am generally calm.
Instead of staying for hours after school, now I only stay an hour to prep my lessons for the next day. On occasion, such as report card time or parent-teacher interviews, this morning routine is out of whack, and I suffer from it. I can’t recommend an early morning routine enough.
And the benefits of the miracle morning don’t end with improved health, mental clarity, and work-life balance. The strangest part of the miracle morning is that it increases your self-respect.
There is something special about waking up when nearly all the city outside is dark, the windows unlit and the streets quiet to start your day. In my apartment’s gym, I’m the first one in. I turn on the gym lights and attack the gym equipment. I do exercises to improve my posture. On my iPod, I listen to lectures I want to hear.
And when I leave the gym and realize I’ve conquered the desire for ease and comfort, I feel proud. And that pride follows me everywhere.
My Advice to Overwhelmed Teachers
I was once very overwhelmed with my teaching job. And truthfully, on occasion, I still am.
However, the miracle morning has been a blessing in my life. Before complaining about the unfairness of the teaching workload and so on, I encourage you to change your routine, and, as my veteran teacher friend once said, “Pay yourself first.” Before you go to school and sacrifice your time and efforts for others, make sure your own cup is full.
I’ve been doing that for some time now, and I can’t be happier with the results.
To your teaching success and work-life balance,