Ten Selfish Minutes
By Justin Wright
I recently had the experience of attending a networking event put on by my friend Michelle Wax. It was simply titled “Positive People Get-together” — I had no idea what to expect when I got in the elevator as it carried me up to the collaborative workspace in which we were set to meet.
What came out of this event was an incredible set of friends and accountability partners who all shared their strategies for getting the most out of every day. The one piece of shared wisdom that stuck out for me was the concept of taking 10 “selfish” minutes to start every morning. This was a practice I latched onto right away, and one which I asked my small group to hold me accountable in keeping.
Essentially, this practice asks you to wake up 10 minutes earlier in the morning, and this time is strictly to be used on something you enjoy doing (and ideally something which helps you grow and develop). I have used this time to meditate, a practice that I had let slip as my daily life became busier. Others use this time to read, or to write, or to draw. As long as it is something you enjoy, it has its place during this time.
No emails, no social media, no toiling through the day’s task list; this time is fully yours to immerse yourself in something meaningful. The beauty of this technique is its simplicity, and how it makes a strong argument for its place in your schedule. I think you will find that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of setting your alarm just a bit earlier each morning.
A balancing act
Most activities which we attempt to add to our schedule, no matter how beneficial, must participate in the great debate: “do I really have time for this?” If you are looking at your daily and weekly tasks, it can be difficult to add more onto an already overflowing plate. In the modern world, those who wish to be successful must, by nature, be extremely busy in their daily pursuits.
The beauty of this strategy is that you are taking time which would otherwise be occupied by sleep. You don’t need to pencil it in between meetings, attempt to fit it in after lunch, or move things around. All of these acts tend to contribute additional stress, and act as a major roadblock for starting new, positive habits.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses the importance of blocking new habits around pre-existing routines. By tacking these 10 minutes onto our morning routine, and simply adding them in right after we wake up, it becomes relatively easy to incorporate this new daily practice. Instead of becoming a source of stress as we try to jam it into our day, this habit finds a home during a time that is free from anxiety or worry about other things.
Furthermore, how often do you snooze your morning alarm? How often do you hesitate to get out of bed when your alarm goes off? Chances are, you can already find most of these 10 minutes being currently wasted in your morning routine. Instead of immediately opening your phone and wasting 5 minutes laying in bed scrolling Instagram, you can instead be doing something beneficial and enjoyable with this time.
Set the tone
There are two main benefits to incorporating this daily practice into your life, but the most important one may be its ability to set the tone for the rest of your day. I have discussed the benefit of a daily journaling and gratitude practice in the past for shifting our mindset and our mood to a more positive place. Imagine how much happier you could be if you started each day doing something you enjoy? Even if the time is short, it is the ability to shift our focus that is so powerful.
This shift in focus is also beneficial for reducing stress. If you are waking up and immediately jumping into your day, scrambling to get ready and hustle out the door, you are flooding your body with cortisol and putting your nervous system into a fight or flight state. This can lead to a cascade of other negative effects, elevating your stress and anxiety as well as increasing the physiological signs of this anxiety on your body. By starting your morning off slower, even by only 10 minutes, you transition into your day more easily and the stress-effects are reduced.
The other benefit of this practice is that you are carving out time to make guaranteed progress towards something. In Atomic Habits, Clear also discusses the importance of regular participation in routines. If you want to write a novel, for example, you must start by writing a single word or sentence. If you can repeat this practice every day, you will eventually complete your novel. Even if the progress is slow, it is better than the reality that most people face: making no progress at all. What could you eventually accomplish if you focused intently on something for 10 minutes a day? In the distracted age of the modern world, these minutes are a valuable and increasingly-rare commodity.
Take time to slow down
Even if you are not using this time “productively” in the standard sense, the benefits of slowing the mind down and pursuing something enjoyable cannot be understated. It is equally important to shift our perception of what it takes for us to be fulfilled and happy. Start with 10 minutes to yourself in the morning, and perhaps these 10 minutes will expand to other times during the day. Perhaps, like me, you have let a practice you enjoy slip because you have not prioritized it during other times when you are busy. This time in the morning can be your way of rediscovering that activity.
Maybe you use the time to meditate like I have. Maybe you read a book you have been meaning to pick up for some time. Maybe you write, creating ideas for you to expand on later. Maybe you use this time to rediscover exercise or a healthy practice such as yoga. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it awakens your spirit and makes you happy. Find something you truly enjoy, and don’t let anyone or anything take this time away from you.
I think you will find that it is relatively easy to set aside 10 minutes every morning for yourself. While it may be slightly difficult at first to set that alarm earlier, you will begin to look forward to this window of time, and thus look forward to waking up every morning. You will start each day on a positive foot, and will already have accomplished something before your normal day has started. This momentum will help carry you through the rest of that day, helping you maintain a positive outlook. You will likely find that you are more productive simply because you have set the tone early by utilizing your selfish time effectively.
No matter how busy you are, or how busy you think you are, start building 10 extra minutes into your morning. Be selfish, use this time to do something positive for yourself. Return to a state of play and enjoyment. In an increasingly distracted world, this time will continue to become even more valuable. What you sacrifice in “snoozing” will pay for itself rapidly in the form of increased happiness and fulfillment!