What is it that gets you started in the morning?
What propels you from the warm familiarity of the bed into the cold uncertainty of the world every single day?
I’m not talking about needing that first cup of coffee before you can fire up your faculties. I’m not talking about the motivation to get that early workout in or even just the routine responsibilities that need to be tended to.
No, I’m not talking about the external forces pulling you towards them.
Before all that, you’re making your own decisions. Internal decisions.
When you open your eyes, you’re immediately deciding whether to leave comfort or not. It’s cosy here, you might think. I’m still tired so I’ll hit snooze just this once. I’ll delay the inevitable, delay what needs to be done.
But the longer you lie there, the harder it becomes to get up.
Before you know it, you’ve hit snooze three or four times and your whole day has shifted. The external forces weren’t strong enough to pull you into the latest morning in your life.
So, what can reliably get us started? What can make us see that we’ve been mercifully granted this new day, but not to take it for granted?
The answer isn’t sexy. It’s not a product, some energy-boosting supplement or a “hack”.
Refreshingly, it’s a lot simpler than that. Simple, but I’ll concede not always easy.
What is it?
It’s who you are.
It’s the person you’re deciding to be. Deciding with every internal decision that gets made from the moment you wake up.
It’s the identity you give yourself when you follow principles like self-discipline, justice, wisdom and courage.
Sometimes it takes one of those principles to make a decision, sometimes all of them.
Getting out of bed of course takes the internal force of self-discipline — stepping out of the comfort zone to do what needs to be done. But it also takes wisdom to know it’s the right decision, a sense of justice to want to be of maximum use to the people waiting on us and courage to face the difficulties of the day.
I present these Stoic virtues confidently because I believe in them. I believe in them because I practice them. I don’t always get it right, but that’s what makes it practice – I get better.
The identity that comes with being someone with principles like these is powerful. Your mindset shifts. Your decisions become easier because they adhere to a code.
Practice of your code is affirmation of the type of person you are. Not just the type of person you see yourself to be, the type of person you are. Because with the doing comes the being.
I am the type of person who gets up early and faces the day.
I am the type of person who does nothing to excess.
I am the type of person who helps others with no expectation of reward.
I am the type of person who is hungry to learn, who knows that he knows nothing, who makes use of all the information at his disposal before making a decision.
Soon, everything you do becomes a reflection of who you are. How you do anything is how you do everything. You’ll fall short sometimes, of course you will. But if you’ve set your standards out then you’ll always have them to judge yourself against.
“When the standards have been set, things are tested and weighed. And the work of philosophy is just this, to examine and uphold the standards, but the work of a truly good person is in using those standards when they know them.”Epictetus, Discourses 2.11.23
You can’t judge yourself against other people’s standards, after all – you can never be certain what they are.
Judge yourself against your own standards, your own code. If you fall short, do better next time. You either get it right or you learn, you don’t fail – it’s a practice.
The alternative is having no principles, not being a person of principle. Having no foundation for decision-making and making it all up as you go along. Getting up late one day and later the next, being dragged through the day by every external that seems vaguely attractive.
So, what is it that gets you started in the morning? It’s self-discipline, it’s courage, wisdom and justice. It’s your principles, whatever they may be. It’s who you are.