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Vic ✍️

Posts about reading and writing, learning and teaching. Let's work together: vic(dot)kostrzewski(at)pm(dot)me

10 quick and dirty tips to wake up at 6am every morning

Today marks my first 6am start in a long while. There are good reasons for this - hopefully they will become obvious as this blog gathers more momentum. I want to write and create more, and the rest of the day is rarely as peaceful.

I tried this in the past, and some methods worked better than others. Here are some good ideas I found helpful.

1. Get a silent alarm clock. This is important if you share your flat or bedroom with other people. Other people's sleep doesn't need to suffer just because you're hellbent on morning creativity! These days, I sleep with my sports watch on. It buzzes gently to wake me up, and the other person in bed with me doesn't hear it.

2. Prepare the night before. I don't need much to get my work done in the morning, but a few things are helpful: a laptop, internet connection, and so on. If you need to set up your things, make sure you organize them before you need them. This removes another excuse, and it means you don't have to thrash about the place just to get going.

3. Make the setup cosy. This might not work for you - if your goal is to exercise, then perhaps the opposite might help? For me, a laptop and a keyboard are all that matters. I make sure that the writing set-up is basically an extension of my bed - with pillows and blankets to keep me warm and (relatively) happy. Otherwise, I think I would rebel too much against having to leave the warmth and comfort of my bed.

4. Put yourself on the hook. There are many ways to do this - declaring your intention to your family or friends, posting about it on social media, making a commitment to check in with others. The premise is the same: other people will hold you accountable. Show up for them, and avoid losing credibility. This, for many, is a powerful motivator - 6am clubs exist for that reason! If that's not enough, read on...

5. Put some money at stake. There are several ways to find motivation. This one is another self-imposed "stick" method: losing money if you fail to wake up. If you automate this, then there's a strong chance that you'll wake up instantly - because otherwise you will need to pay up. Several methods of setting this up exist; I use the one described in this video - scheduling a LinkedIn message which invites users to demand a $5 payment from me when they see it, then re-scheduling it for the following day the moment I wake up.

6. Wake up to what you love. Could be a cup of coffee. Or a morning walk. Maybe dancing to your favourite tune. Yoga. Prayer. Quality time alone. Here's the thing: not every waking hour needs to be focused and productive. You can allow yourself to spend some of that 6am time on you! By doing so, you'll provide the "carrot" to balance out the "stick" methods above. Think about it: what could you experience in the morning that really wakes you up?

7. Get some good sleep. This habit will not be sustainable without a good sleep routine. You may think you're smashing it, but if you don't get enough sleep, then waking up early will do more harm than good. There are many ways to firm up your sleep habits; most of the stuff at Sleep Foundation makes sense.

8. Give it time. If you're not used to waking up early, then the first few days are likely to be pretty bad. Your body may decide to pump out good hormones to get you through the first few mornings, only to crash and burn later on in the day. If you took care of your sleep routine, this should sort itself out as your internal clock adjusts. If it doesn't, though, see below.

9. Trust yourself, not the clock. Maybe waking up at 6am will become your thing, your superpower, your secret weapon. Maybe it won't - you'll not enjoy it, and you will decide to find other ways of living your life. Whichever it turns out to be - give this a go, and notice how you feel about this. The hour isn't important. 6am is no more magical than midnight, or lunchtime, or any other time that works for you. Your self, your practice - this is what makes it work.

10. Celebrate. I've now completed my first 6am shift, in what will hopefully be many more. I am excited about the new practice I'm setting up. And I am also very excited about the cup of coffee and a chocolate bar I'm about to reward myself with! It's OK to feel smug about what you're doing, and OK to treat yourself when it's done - this, also, is how you form your own habits.

My 10 fears about the pandemic, and 10 hopeful answers

For nearly a year now, the pandemic has been on my mind in one way or another. I've lived with it, worked through it, learned to function in its context. It's not over yet; according to many, it's far from over. Throughout this time, I've gone from pessimism to optimism, and from fearful thoughts to happy ones. Here is an attempt to verbalize and give shape to some of the bad voices - and to provide each one with a positive antidote. These are in no particular order. Your mileage will vary.

1. What if Covid never goes away? (Then we will adapt)

Much of my strength lately, and much of my determination, came from believing that the lockdown and the pandemic would be over one day - that there's a kind of "normal" to return to once this is over. What if this belief is unfounded, though? What if there will always be a virus from now on?

The answer must be adaptation. I think we must have done this so many times before, as a species - and other parts of the living world are doing this all the time. We will find a way to keep living our life and keep chasing happiness. Somehow or other, we will work around the virus, even if it decides never to leave us.

2. What if the virus messes me up? (Statistically, age and health are on my side)

The main reason for me to be anxious about the virus is how it's reported to work - which is, super chaotically and unpredictably. Every case seems to be different, and equally baffling. If I catch it, who's to say what will happen?

The most comforting answer I can give myself here is that I'm still quite young, and comparatively healthy. This gives me a greater chance of going through the virus relatively unharmed, and of restoring full health later. I've taken care of myself before, so I'm in a better position to recover from any sickness.

3. What if my dear ones get it? (Then I will take care of them)

This it perhaps the greatest worry I have. Some people in my life should definitely not get Covid, and it would be more dangerous for them to come down with the virus. We were super cautious this past year, mainly because of this fact. So what happens if they catch it in the end?

It's a worry. And it's been a bad thought for almost a year. We did what we could to prepare for it, and we're in an OK position to deal with it when it comes. But there is nothing more we can do by worrying about it beforehand; if the virus appears, we will deal with it then - drop everything and start fighting it. I will then take care of my folks. Until then, there is no point in worrying about it any more.

4. What if the pandemic messes up the economy? (These things come and go in cycles, anyway)

Being in a recession sucks. Knowing that everyone around you is fighting economic monsters as well as health-related ones - sucks even more. Having to find a job when it's scary out there - also sucks.

But none of this is new. I'm old enough to have gone through several good and bad years - old enough to have lost and found a job several times. Economy isn't a magical creature and it seems to work in cycles, and this is one phase of it. It's always been good or bad, so it's probably best to ride it out and do what I can. And there's more of what I can do each year.

5. What if this situation messes with my brain? (Then I will seek help, and re-wire what needs changing)

I know burnout is real. And I know I'm worn down by the winter. Sitting by the kitchen window for hours on end, worrying and sighing - this has been happening a lot more, lately. I'm not OK. What if this is just a start? What if the not-OK-ness deepens?

With this, I'm grateful for others in my life who can spot the warning signs and check in with me. I am also happy to see myself looking for help, and I've done so in the past. So if this becomes a problem, I will resort to tools which I know I can use. This post is actually one of them, and there's more - many of them tried, tested, and free.

6. What if this country never recovers from it all? (Then I will adapt, or build my home elsewhere)

The UK has Covid and Brexit to worry about now. And a government which is only good at messing up and lying about everything it touches. As a result, this is a country which now gets hit by a double whammy, and its citizens are told to look for a scapegoat.

But again, this has all happened before. The scapegoat strategy wasn't invented overnight. The recessions and downturns have made the UK poor in the past. And the mentality which pisses me off - well, this has always been here, too. There is plenty of space for me to keep doing my thing, still. And plenty of chances to seek new ways of being happy. If this no longer feels possible, or good, or safe - then I can go somewhere else, as I've not got too many things holding me back.

7. What if it's no longer possible to stay in touch with my friends? (Then I will find ways of meeting new ones)

This one is actually something I will need to work on. In the middle of this pandemic, I've changed jobs - which meant that a lot of my social contacts, already eroded by not going into the office, simply disappeared. Add to this the fact that my other folks were connected to doing face-to-face things (board and card games, sports, hikes and walks, book clubs) - and I got myself a loneliness problem.

So out of all this, I think this one is actually the first concern I can think of as needing action. I have already done a few things, and will probably need to do some more. I am an introvert, so this doesn't come easy. And meeting anyone via Zoom just feels like more work these days. But this is what I definitely need to do, also to help several points above.

8. What if I can't do sports any more? (I will always be able to do them, in one way or another)

My triathlon races all got cancelled last year, obviously. This made me unhappy, and made training a bit less motivating. There is still a worry in my head - what if this will always be affected?

But at the same time, I know I'm lucky to have picked an individual sport. Team games are probably finding it much harder to go ahead, and I know some of my friends lost a huge chunk of their social life this way. For something I can do alone, there will always be a way for me to do it. Running and cycling have actually become more popular lately. Swimming is trickier, but I'm lucky to have access to open water swimming. So I'll be fine - just maybe racing less frequently.

9. What if I can't travel? (Then I will explore at a smaller scale)

I have always enjoyed going to different places and seeing new cultures. This meant that most holidays, I found myself in another place - sometimes traveling to cities I've been to before, just to relax and feel like someone else for a while. My fear about Covid is that it will make these things impossible.

I know this is not fully rational, and that this situation must be temporary. I can see that the world is getting more virus-free thanks to the vaccines. So there is a chance that this will actually be resolved. But even if it isn't, there are still lots of places in this country - in this city, even - which we haven't yet explored. And even walking down a street in our neighbourhood can feel like we're somewhere else. So travel will still happen, just on a smaller scale - until we can go big again.

10. What if Covid was just the beginning? (I will do my part, as best I can)

It's easy to pick up this particular fear from any news outlet you choose. Indeed, it's sometimes hard to stay away from the doom and gloom narrative. The virus, plus global warming, plus the recession, plus violence, and then who-knows-what-else. 2020 truly felt like the most apocalyptic year. Mainly because it was filtered not through lived experiences, but through so many media lenses.

So yes, maybe this is just a small part of a slippery slope. But as with many things above, some of it is in my power to control, and other parts aren't. I will be trying to live the best, greenest, wokest life I can (largely out of spite - it seems to upset more folks around me recently), and do my part. For anything else, I will be trying to stay away from doomscrolling. I still wish for a boring timeline - and I'm sure I can generate one for my own tiny part of the world.

10 things which 2020 gave me, and which I'm grateful for

The dark side of this post is so much easier to write.

I could spend hours lamenting all the things taken away from me by 2020, by the lockdown, by the weirdness of the global economy. I am not going to do this - instead, this post is a conscious attempt to focus on the positive.

I recognise this: my current position is incredibly privileged. It will become obvious as I start listing the good things, the surprising developments. The baseline - the thing that doesn't change despite this year's upheaval - probably places me in the most fortunate 1% this year.

And yet, this post feels like a burden to write. And yet I think I'll find it hard to come up with as many as ten good changes brought about by 2020. I also recognise that this comes with the privilege: the phrase "first world problems" never rang so true.

Here we go then, with the preambles over - let me try and count the ways in which 2020 actually turned out to be good to me. See if you can agree with any of these.

1. More time

My last commute was in March. I've worked from home since then. There has never been any need for me to get to the office. More on that later.

2020 cut out the need for the commute. Along with this, it gave me at least two extra hours per day. I no longer need to wake early to get to work, and I no longer need to take time after the evening commute to unwind.

This is really unbelievably good. The quality of sleep increased - since it's no longer a problem if I sleep an hour longer to make up for an uneasy night. The evenings are more pleasant - since the commute no longer introduces any unpredictability to it (what if the Tube is on strike, what if it rains as I cycle back, what if...?) And the move from work-time to home-time is lightning quick: I switch off my laptop and proceed to have a nap, and that's usually it :)

2. More money

I've kept 100% of my paycheck. And I haven't had to spend it on the things which central London usually encourages / requires you to buy: Tube tickets, pricey coffees, expensive lunches, and so on.

I didn't need to make many changes to adapt to working from home, either. So the extra money wasn't needed there. Of course, much of it went somewhere else, as other purchases /investments now became possible.

But the basic fact was this: 2020 was the year in which a huge chunk of my expenses simply went away.

So I end up with more cash in my pocket. Again, I realise how lucky I've been.

3. Better conversations

This one is difficult to explain. As my days have become more home-based, and my work more remote, I've seen that the way in which I talk to people has changed. This wasn't good from the start. And still it's far from perfect. But I am noticing the need to have a good conversation, and how much now depends on it - and I am learning to make sure I do what I can to make good talk happen.

At home, the difficulties of navigating the lockdown and the scary pandemic moments meant that we started talking in a frank, clear manner about how we feel, what scares us, what helps us, and what we want to happen. We've been able to make it through a large part of the year with plenty of that happening.

At work, the fact that the context of the office suddenly disappeared has meant that I've needed to change the way I discuss things with my colleagues. And adapting to virtual meetings accelerated - what used to constitute 1/2 of my working day is now, sometimes, well over 90% of it! So I've learned to have better conversations virtually, too.

4. A deeper understanding of my introversion

Before 2020, I sort-of knew that I was "on the introverted side". After 2020, I've learned so much more about this.

I now know that I am definitely, deeply introverted - that I actually am able to do pretty well in a world which doesn't feature a pub crawl or a group activity every weekend. I know that I do not mind being indoors and without others - not as much as other people. I realised, in more detail, how much of an introvert I really am.

At the same time, I understood other things about my introversion, too. I now know that replacing face-to-face social meetings with Zoom just doesn't work for me. I found out that doing my game nights online isn't as fun as in-person game nights used to be. So this is another bit which I now understand better when it comes to being introverted: it is difficult for me to fill the gap where real, flesh-and-blood people used to be.

5. New-found knowledge of my local neighbourhood

There are several gorgeous streets not far from where I live, with houses which look like they could belong on a swanky modernist Portuguese coastal avenue, and gardens full of magnolias, lilac and roses. There is a small park with a great big old oak tree. There's a church with William Morris stained-glass windows.

I know all this because lockdown helped me discover it all. Travelling elsewhere wasn't always possible, and local parks tended to be too crowded for my liking. So we went walking around the neighbourhood - cycling, too. Some of the best memories of this year were actually these spring evenings, when we watched the trees and heard the birds, and everything around us was so quiet, so un-London.

6. A car, and a new driving license

For a really long time, this was a bad idea in London. I used to have a company car, and things were groovy - never had to pay a penny for maintenance, tax, insurance and so on! Then I stopped driving for work, and for many years, I was a happy car-less Londoner.

2020 came along and changed all that. Cycling was still fun, but we understood that having a car would make us feel safer, and would let us do things which we still weren't comfortable doing on public transport.

And so I exchanged my driving license and once it arrived, I bought a used car. It's been with us for a while now, and we enjoyed the day trips to the coast and to the woods - even a longer break in the summer. It's a pricey thing to have, compared to my bike - but I don't think I'll regret buying it.

7. A stronger focus on my priorities

This, for many, was probably felt much more keenly this year. Again, I've been lucky: there were no genuinely scary moments, no sudden catastrophes in my 2020. It's been just as unpleasant and surprising as everyone else's year - but no more.

And yet, I think this was enough. I now know - in my guts - how urgent it is to do things which are true to myself. I know how wasteful I can be with my time, how tempting it is to wait for "the opportune moment". 2020 lit a fire under my quarantined ass, and I've felt its heat ever since.

As a result, I have been able to combine this new-found motivation with the sudden emptiness of my year - and start really focusing on the few things which matter to me. I've worked on a few projects and launched them. I've kept training and preparing for my sports events (even though they all got postponed to 2021, at least).

8. The discovery of a negotiable reality

This is difficult to explain, so bear with me here.

2020 showed me that I was wrong about so many things. Education. Office politics. Careers. Print publishing. Market economy. Productivity. Expectations. Caffeine. Experts and their competence. Leadership. Availability of stuffed cheese crust on my pizza.

I am not the only one who can now look at their list of 2020 resolutions and laugh bitterly, though. We're in this together, as the saying goes - which means we're all experiencing our "Matrix" moments. There are probably hundreds of things which we used to do in 2019 without questioning whether they're needed, or reasonable, or sustainable. Now they're gone. Many of them are missed; some are not.

So when it's all over, I think I'll be a lot more critical of anyone who tries to get me to do something because "that's how we've always done it." And that's a good thing, especially in view of 7 above, and 9 below.

9. The definite evidence that politics and economy is broken

I'll spare you the details, because we've probably shared a planet for the past few months. I'll just summarise my whole train of thought in one sentence for you.

A supposedly "world-leading" country of over 50 million people thought it was OK to use Excel to store all its Covid-19 test results.

And again, I know I am still comparatively lucky. There are places where staying away from the virus is much harder, and getting infected is probably worse news.

But my point is this: I have now lived through a year which showed me that the governments and the corporate entities of this country do not give a hoot about whether I live or die. And I've also lived through a year which helped me see the helplessness of so many governments, so many companies. Suddenly the lies were that much more visible, the ignorance and incompetence laid bare.

It's always been there, and 2020 made it crystal clear for me. Your mileage may vary; if you're reading this in New Zealand, can I come over and live with you?

10. Patience to deal with myself

This one's a doozy. Have you met me?

I used to be less pre-occupied with myself when there were plenty of other people around, and when 2019 was generally busy throwing distractions in my way. But in many respects, 2020 is a slower, more inward-looking year. So I've come to spend a lot more time in my company.

It's not been one long honeymoon, let me tell you. I think for many of us, discovering things about ourselves was a weird process this year. And with so many things taken away from me, I've felt restless, impatient, sulky.

But the year went on, and so did the pandemic. I am now writing this in October, and our circumstances mean that we (as a household) still decide to play it very carefully, and to keep doing what we've been doing since March - waiting it out. Not much has really changed since lockdown kicked in, for us.

So I think I just had to develop patience for myself, and to learn to guide me through the good and bad moments. I am still learning this careful maintenance: conserving my energy in the good moments, steering myself gently through the emotional and physical wobbles. I've learned to live with the lockdown me, the work-from-home me, the sober me, the decaff me.

And I still like the guy.