12 thought provoking quotes to inspire gratitude and contentment

I love a good quote.

There’s just something about finding a sentence or phrase that speaks directly to the part of your brain that needed convincing.

So when I see a good quote, something that speaks to me or illuminates a concept that I needed to see more clearly, I take notice and try to capture it somehow.

If you read what I’ve been writing on this site recently, you’ve probably detected a theme: Growth.

I like getting better, building good habits, chasing the next goal, getting fitter, more financially secure, growing my skills and career.

Growth feeds me.

But if I don’t balance what I want in the future with the recognition and gratitude for what I have now, what’s the point?

So, I’m grateful to these people for finding a way of speaking to me, of communicating with the part of my brain that needs the occasional reminder to stop, look around, and be truly grateful for where I am. To be aware of just how little I need, and content with what I have (or less) during my pursuit of the next milestone.

You’ll never have enough if you need to have more than someone else.1

There will always be someone better, richer, stronger, smarter, more successful, and so on. I won’t ever win that game.

Instead, my focus should be on myself, my own standards, and my own pace. What someone else has should be completely irrelevant to my happiness.

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.


It’s so easy for us to become preoccupied with what’s next, what’s different, what’s missing … that we neglect to enjoy the here and now.

Take parenting, for example. If I spend all my time being sad that they’re not babies any more (or wishing they were older), I’ll miss the amazing moments that come in the toddler years. And when they’re teenagers, I’ll be sad that the toddler years went by so fast. What a terrible way to live life!

You are watching people go through withdrawal from the emotional addiction to the myth of certainty.

Ashley C Ford

This quote came in the form of a tweet toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it really spoke truth to me.

There is no such thing as certainty. No matter what your vision is for the future, it will almost certainly be different.

Part of the task of becoming emotionally resilient is realizing that we have to evolve to meet the circumstances we’re given. Don’t waste time thinking about things you can’t change. Adapt, adjust, accept the reality of your situation, and take action within that reality.

Happiness is a state of mind

a child holding a 3rd place sign is visibly happier than the child holding the 1st place sign.
Kind of explains itself, no?

excess ≠ success

Paul Jarvis

If I want to be happy and successful, I won’t find it at the bottom of a pile of stuff, no matter how nice or expensive.

This one pushed me to think … really think … about what makes me happy, and how I define success for myself.

Remember when you wanted what you currently have?

This one hit hard. How easy is it to treat what we have now as a given? To forget that, once upon a time, we dreamed of what we currently have, and might have thought of it only as a dream, a fantasy that we never believed would actually happen.

I want to be mindful of my current position in my timeline, and intentionally recognize how far I’ve come, with gratitude for the people and circumstances that helped make it possible.

If you are ever tempted to look for outside approval, realize that you have compromised your integrity. If you need a witness, be your own.


Repeat this with me: I do not need to meet anyone else’s definition of success!

What makes me happy might be completely different than what makes you happy. We’re different. That’s OK.

Don’t let your progress become pride. Otherwise, you have just traded one set of vices for a new one.

Daily Stoic

I still can’t get over how often I see people go from “I’m learning” to “I’m an expert” online.

I want to share my experiences, but it’s all too easy to cross over from wanting to share something that helped you accomplish something difficult, to bragging about what you accomplished.

Pride is a vice, too.

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

F. Scott Fitzgerald , The Great Gatsby

I should regularly take inventory of the circumstantial and relational “shortcuts” that helped me get to where I am. “No man is an island”.

Rather than feel shame or guilt for advantage and privilege, why not adopt a posture of gratitude for them?

The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right.   

Martin Luther

Being grateful for every day, every breath, leaves very little room for complaint.

This fundamental perception, that life is a gift, can frame a view of the present moment that emphasizes a deep appreciation for what we have, eclipsing most dissatisfaction over what we lack.

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.   


I as I accumulate more life experience and observe people around me, this proves more and more true every day.

People who are content with what they have, be it a little or a lot, manage to stay content as their circumstances improve.

People who are chronically discontent seem to never change, no matter how much their circumstances improve.

It is not our circumstances that create our discontent or contentment. It is us. 

Vivian Greene

And finally, this really is the fundamental principal I should constantly revisit.

It’s not my circumstances. It’s me.

It’s not how much money I have. It’s me.

It’s not my family. It’s not my education. It’s not my house. It’s not my job. It’s not a stage of life. It’s not politics or media.

It all starts with me.

If I ever find myself failing to be grateful and content, I need only look within. Can I choose to pay attention the good all around me? Can I recognize the things that bring me joy, and those that rob me of it? Can I pursue happiness for my own sake, and no one else’s?

Ultimately, contentment is a fundamental virtue, and a necessary value. Without it, how can I find any satisfaction with personal growth and achievement?

I hope these quotes help you as much as they did me.

1 I heard this in a YouTube video once, wrote it down, but didn’t save the video URL, unfortunately. Frustrating.

7 good habits that stuck (and 3 that I’m still working on)

Habits are strange and beautiful things. They’re sometimes really hard to form or break, and yet they are absolutely key to living a successful life.

We simply do not have enough willpower in reserve to do all the things we know we need to do.

So, the brain forms habits to offload the task of “choosing”.

Think of habits like train tracks. Once you’ve done the work to lay them down, you no longer have to steer … just push ahead, and the tracks will guide you directionally.

Train tracks in the woods

Unfortunately, not all habits are good. Our decision fatigue and limited willpower makes it incredibly easy to fall into bad habits.

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade trying to break my bad habits and form good ones to replace them.

And although I can’t claim to have bested my demons completely, I’ve made some progress in some key areas that I feel have set me up for success on autopilot.

It’s worth noting that this wasn’t necessarily easy. But there are ways to make it less hard, and I’ve tried most of them to varying degrees of success. Perhaps that would be a good subject for another post in the future.

So, here are 7 good habits that I’ve managed to make stick, and 3 that I’m still working on.

1. Waking up at 5am

I wrote about the decision to wake up at 5am recently, so I won’t repeat myself too much, but this is one that I’m particularly proud of, since I’m a night owl by nature.

Giving myself this extra time alone every morning actually enables many more habits (a keystone habit), so I felt like mentioning this one first made a lot of sense.

2. Tracking every dollar

Since I’m up at 5am, and after I’ve given myself a reward of quiet coffee time and a little brainless web surfing, I get to spend a little time looking at all the previous day’s spending, categorizing it, and making mental notes of the categories where I’m approaching my limits.

The point of a budget is to know where you want your money to go, but the only way to measure success is to track where your money is actually going.

And by looking at my money situation every single morning, I get the peace of mind of knowing exactly where I stand when I start my day.

A secondary benefit of this is that I’ve caught fraudulent spending, unnecessary subscriptions, and unpaid bills on more than one occasion.

When it comes to personal finance, ignorance is your enemy. You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about, so the first step to making better decisions with money is actually knowing where you’re spending it.

I find that by doing this every day (as opposed to weekly, for instance), I’m better able to remember what was purchased, so I can accurately categorize it. Categorizing multiple days of purchases at a time just never really worked for me.

So, I do it daily. It takes no more than 5 minutes, and it’s absolutely worth it.

3. Paying myself first

Related to #2, but I only do this twice a month (on paydays).

The reality is that if the money is there, we’re probably going to find a way to spend it.

So why not treat savings and investments like a bill?

This tip is on pretty much every clickbait list of “X ways to become rich” on the internet … and for good reason. It works.

You, your family, your goals … these are important things. I had to stop treating them like an afterthought, only getting contributions if there was money left over at the end of the month.

I now treat payday differently. My employer sends money to my 401K automatically. I contribute to Roth IRA accounts for myself and my wife. We put a set amount of money aside to save for things like replacing a vehicle, travel/vacations, and Christmas gifts. If we’re planning something like a home improvement project, we have an account for that too.

4. Weighing myself every day

By around 8:30am, my family is usually up and eating breakfast.

So I head down from my office and am able to do more “noisy” routines.

Over the years, my weight has fluctuated quite a bit. In any given 12 month period, my weight might swing 10-15 lbs.

I’ve tracked my weight for about 8 years now, and one thing that I noticed when looking at my logs from all these years is that the biggest swings upward are correlated with large blocks of unaccounted time. That is, months of not tracking my weight.

A graph that depicts my weight since 2013
My weight, over the years

Notice all the straight lines? Those were periods of time where I stopped my daily weigh in.

Again, ignorance is the enemy here. Not knowing does me no good.

For the last year or so, I’ve captured my weight nearly every day. As you can probably see, this has been my most consistent year to date. Hard to argue with that.

5. Drinking lots of water

After I weigh in, I take a handful of supplements (fish oil, multivitamin, etc.) and fill 3 large bottles with water. I then drink one of them.

I don’t savor it. I just gulp it down.

The bottles sit on the countertop at the bottom of the stairs that lead to my office. I walk past them several times per day, and they taunt me if left full.

So I drink them.

I’ve been training for this kind of completionism since I was a wee lad playing video games. I’m not a quitter.

Do I need that much water every day? Probably not. But over-hydration makes me feel better than under-hydration.

Plus, a large bottle of water fill the belly, and can oftentimes defer a craving for a snack.

So, lots of good reasons for this one.

6. Walking every day

My job has me sitting, looking at a computer screen, and just generally not being active for most of the day.

Not good.

The easiest way I’ve found to counteract this negative reality is by carving out time, usually sometime between 10:30am and noon, to take a walk.

Sometimes I walk outside, but most days I just hop on a cheap treadmill I bought second hand for about $100. It’s seriously NOT fancy.

And because walking takes almost no thought, I’m able to use that time to do other things like listen to e-books, catch up on email, attend meetings (where I don’t need to talk), or even just be alone with my thoughts.

7. Resistance training

I’m no bodybuilder. But when we built our house in 2016, I made sure to include a space where I could have a simple weight set … some plates, dumbbells, and a squat rack.

It cost less than you might think, about $600 for the basics. It’s paid for itself many times over.

At 4pm most weekdays (unless I have a meeting during that block), I head down to the basement and spend a little time lifting heavy things, usually while listening to some music.

Like I said, I’m no bodybuilder. Progress is slow, but it’s time well spent. It burns some extra calories, but more importantly, it gives calories a job … build and maintain muscle.


While I have successfully integrated these 7 good habits into my daily routine, I’ve got some notable failures to share too.

1. Diet

I’ve yet to find a diet that I’m able to stick with long term.

I don’t do “moderation” very well, so I’m usually in “feast or famine” mode when it comes to diet.

I’d really like to find something the whole family could adopt, and that also supports my goals of longevity and slowly building lean muscle without putting on unnecessary body fat.

Or maybe it’s not that I haven’t found the right diet, but that I haven’t had the necessary discipline to stick with one.

Either way, I’m still working on this one.

2. Reading

I must confess, while I do listen to audiobooks while walking, I also listen to a lot of music, or watch a TV show, or surf YouTube.

I’d really like for my walking time to be exclusively used for audio learning, not mindless entertainment.

Still working on this one, too.

3. Writing/Blogging

Since June, I’ve published a new blog post every week, with the exception of 2 weeks for vacation.

Want to know a secret? I wrote a lot of those posts in a single weekend. Or at least the first drafts.

I really want to incorporate writing into my daily routine, but I’ve yet to figure out how to do this effectively. I have some ideas, but the first step is always the hardest for me.

Got tips for me?

I’d love to know what good habits you’ve been able to form. I’m always looking for my next challenge, so if you have ideas, let me know!

The introvert’s guide to navigating a professional world designed for extroverts

About a month into the economic shutdown that came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started to notice something that was, let’s say, peculiar. At least peculiar to me.

I’m an introvert. I certainly don’t deny that. The “stay at home” orders were really not a problem for me or my family. I work from home. My kids are all young and are homeschooled. We live far outside the city. You could say we were very much naturally prepared for the new-but-hopefully-temporary “normal”.

But the extroverts, they weren’t handling it so well.

“I’m going stir crazy!”

“We can’t just stay cooped up in the house forever!”

“I’m really not handling this very well. I need to interact with people!”

Who can blame them? Being forced into a situation so contrary to your nature isn’t ideal. It can smother your creativity, suppress your productivity, and suck the fun out of work.

In other words, extroverts were now having to experience what introverts deal with every single day of “normal” life, pre-pandemic.

Out of sight, out of mind

It’s not hard to see that the world is optimized for social extroverts.

“Fortune favors the bold!”

“History is made by those who show up.”

And these are just the platitudes. It’s far more common for career advice to be centered around increasing your visibility.

“Networking is key to career growth.”

“Volunteer to give the presentation next time. You want the right people to see you.”

“Ask so-and-so out to lunch to talk shop.”

Or what about life advice?

“You gotta put yourself out there if you want to meet someone. Just walk up to him/her and introduce yourself!”

I’m not even saying this is bad advice, sometimes we need to be pushed to do something that doesn’t feel natural to us, to move beyond what we’re comfortable with. There’s a lot of growth to be had outside your comfort zone.

But extroverts are practically never asked to “be more like the introverts” in order to succeed. The world is set up to help them find success.

How can we, as introverts, navigate a professional world designed for extroverts? As leaders, are we ignoring a huge untapped talent pool by optimizing our work environment to appeal so heavily to extroverts?

Note: I realize not all of these options are available to everyone. They aren’t necessarily intended to be used in conjunction … more like a buffet of choices you can choose based on your needs and what’s possible in your situation.

Own you calendar

Every day at 4pm, I have a block on my calendar. It just says “Busy”. I use this time at the end of my workday, before heading into “home” mode, to be by myself and exercise (something I call “stacking”, but that’s a different post).

Though not sacred time, having a block already occupied makes people think twice before asking to schedule a meeting during that block. But at the same time, I can always make an exception in the moment and allow something to be scheduled during that block.

This time allows me to decompress and recharge after days filled with lots of talking (something I like to do, but does zap me of mental energy).


If you find yourself especially sensitive to the demands of synchronous conversation (phone calls, Zoom, in-person, etc.), you can instead look for ways to limit those interactions.

If you were able to reduce each synchronous meeting by 10 minutes each, you might be able to eliminate hours of talk time from your schedule every week. Every little bit helps.

But how?

Try to get all the preliminary talk out of the way early by sharing an agenda document where you capture your thoughts about a subject well in advance of a meeting. Sure, when meeting with extroverts, it’s possible they ignore any such “straight to business” tactics, but it will likely work some of the time.

One way to approach this is to fire up your chat client of choice (or email, if that’s all that’s available) and ask “hey, I just saw your meeting invite. I want to be prepared, so can you let me know what this is about?”

When you get a “headline” response, find a way to ask for more detail (but be subtle), and look for opportunities to “talk” more asynchronously.

“It’s about the upcoming launch. I want to be sure we have all our bases covered.”

“Oh cool, got it. I’ve got a document that I’m using to keep track of everything that I’m preparing to do the week of the launch. Would you like me to share that with you?”

“Sure, that’s fine, but let’s still quickly meet to make sure we’re on the same page.”

“No problem, and if you see anything that I’m missing in my document ahead of our meeting, just let me know and I’ll add it.”

Obviously, the person above really just wants to schedule time to think out loud with you, and that’s fine. Remember, you’re not trying to optimize the world around the introvert personality. We’re just trying to meet somewhere in the middle, if possible.

Know yourself

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I were out taking some food to some friends. They invited us into the backyard to hang out for a bit, and, after 4 months of self-isolation, we decided to accept the invite. We ended up staying for several hours, and really loved every minute of it.

But the next day, after work, I told my wife that I had felt so tired all day. I described it as “almost feeling sick”.

I know this feeling well. I love my friends and family, and I love being with them.

But I know myself. And I know that when I’m a social glutton, they next day I’ll get the metaphorical “stomach ache”.

Recognizing the patterns in your own life can help you adjust and accommodate for them.

If you need to psych yourself up for an upcoming social interaction or presentation, take the time to do it.

If you need to chill after a day of wall to wall meetings, take the time to do it.

Know yourself. Take the time.

What can leaders do for introverts?

Although it’s nice to think we can simply plan and strategize for our own balance in the workplace, a bad leader can ruin even your best plans.

So how can leaders help introverts thrive in the workplace?

It wouldn’t be particularly useful to switch from over-optimizing for extroverts to over-optimizing for introverts. You’d be trading one extreme for another.

But are there compromises that could be made that would make the workplace more appealing to introverts?

At the end of the day, introverts want what everyone else wants: a fair shake at a successful career, a workplace that doesn’t feel like it was designed to torture them, and the kind of care and consideration that extroverts have enjoyed for all of modern workplace history.

Stop making “be a people person” a criteria for employment when what you really want is a great engineer, or accountant, or designer, or whatever. Hire for the skills you need, and if introverts aren’t “compatible with our culture”, then change your culture.

Have more (and better) conversations with the introverts in your organization. Don’t expect them to ask for it. Ask them what they need. Just be prepared to really hear them.

Consider if that meeting really could just be an email.

Learn to trust more, control less, and grow as a leader.

Keep pushing them to venture outside their comfort zone. But make sure you’re creating an environment that forces you to push extroverts to do the same thing.

By making a workplace that is more welcoming to introverts, without making it miserable for the extroverts, you open yourself up to all the wonderful qualities of introverted folks.

And hey, the world is changing. Remote work is becoming more and more common, and you might find that pushing yourself and your organization to create a more welcoming work environment for introverts will help prepare you for a future that isn’t so exclusively optimized for extroverts.

I don’t write for you, dear reader

John was an 18 year old who had recently gotten his real estate license. It was cheaper than a college degree, and he figured he’d give it a shot. The worst that could happen is that he’d be bad at selling houses and, after 6 months or so, he could reevaluate his plan an go a different direction if it wasn’t working out.

Much to the surprise of his family and friends, John actually sold 8 houses in his first 6 months. He figured he must have a gift, effortlessly making deals and cashing checks.

After his 10th sold house, John decided he must share his secret formula with the world. After all, he had achieved instant success, success that absolutely must be a result of his intuitive greatness. And now, John believes that anyone is capable of this success, if they follow his step-by-step program, for the low low cost of only $397.

The only problem: it was 2007.

John didn’t really know what he was doing. He was selling houses in the hottest housing market in recent history, and the crash was coming. Soon, he’d be selling sand in the desert, and the “expertise” of an 18 year old just wouldn’t be nearly as attractive as before.

Beware the “eager teacher”

I’ve seen the parable above play out 20 different ways in the last 10 years, especially online where the barrier to establishing a training site is as low as ever.

It’s usually entrepreneurial types, fresh off their first month of profitability, who now think they’re a guru.

(OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but not THAT much.)

I’m wary of these types, but more importantly, I’m wary of becoming these types.

“Teach everything you know”

When I decided to start blogging again, I needed a home for my email list that I had built up years ago. After considering quite a few, ConvertKit stood out as the best choice for what I wanted to do.

After signing up, they did something I honestly didn’t expect: they wanted to send me a t-shirt, free. This one, to be exact:

t-shirt with the words "teach everything you know" written on the front.

It’s a noble sentiment, I think. My experience is unique, and if I keep what I’ve learned in my own head, that’s where it will remain.

But I don’t want to be like John, and hubris often masquerades as virtuous altruism.

So how am I supposed to prevent that? I am, after all, a human being with all the same weaknesses and tendencies to appease my ego.

“What worked for me”

“Teach everything you know” has an alarmingly conceited tone to it. We don’t really “know” very much. We think we do, and we probably do know some things, but it’s hard us to accurately tell the difference between what we know and what we think we know.

I don’t know that you should wake up at 5am every day.

I don’t know that asking yourself 2 simple questions will help you prioritize your goals.

I don’t know that you’ll have success in asking your boss what the expectations are for your role.

But they worked for me. And maybe they’ll work for you.

This site isn’t scripture. It’s a lookbook … a collection of ideas that may or may not work in your specific context.

And to the extent that a blog post helps someone achieve something that they couldn’t before, I can be proud of it.

But that’s still not the reason I write.

I write to be a better writer

Consistently producing content … vetting it against objective reality and my own experiences, editing, optimizing, publishing … is a moderately difficult task. I try to publish once per week, and that’s enough to both stretch me and keep me comfortably within the boundaries of achievability.

It’s an exercise in discipline. Consuming is much easier, and even though producing/building something does have a much more profound payoff, there is a delay between when you build the thing and when it actually feels good to have built the thing.

Part of my journey is to continually develop and strengthen my resolve to ignore cheap thrills and focus on more meaningful activities.

So I write. Not because I’m good at it, but because I’m not.

I write to get better at writing, and to develop the muscles needed to produce rather than consume.

I write to learn

More than anything else, the process of writing forces me to study the subject enough to be able to effectively communicate the lesson to myself, both now and in the future.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

By writing, I get the double benefit of both having learned something deeply enough to write a coherent post about it, as well as having produced a reference piece, a letter to my future self, to remind me of “what worked before”.

And sure, maybe I’ll change my mind or have a better idea later. But so what? At least I’ll have a record of the change, and the path that lead to growth.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll write because I’ve developed into a good writer, or because I have some timeless wisdom to pass along to the world.

Until then, I’m not saying I don’t love you, dear reader … but I write for me.

How (and why) I went from being a night owl to waking up at 5AM

I was born in the mid-80s, so I’m about as “90s kid” as you can possibly be. I grew up loving Nicktoons and TGIF, eating Dunkaroos and drinking Surge. I loved my SNES, but eventually became a Playstation kid. I may or may not have dreamed of being a Ninja Turtle.

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And so it began … (me on the right)

A post shared by Nathan Rice 📱 (@nathanrice) on

But when I was a kid, around 10 PM each night Nickelodeon (a landmark of 90s kids TV entertainment) switched its programming from kid-centric shows to classic TV reruns. They called it Nick-at-Nite.

Being a bit of a night owl even way back then, I was introduced to the likes of I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Happy Days, The Dick van Dyke Show, and Mary Tyler Moore.

I don’t imagine Nickelodeon had me in mind when deciding to rerun these shows in the late night time slots, but for some reason my brain just didn’t want to fall asleep until around 2 AM (at the earliest). So from as far back as I can remember, when possible, I’d be awake late into the night, and sleep late into the morning.

My parents hated this. They told me I was wasting the morning hours sleeping. I figured I was getting plenty of sleep still, just in a different block than everyone else. Obviously, school made this more difficult, but most of my summers were spent in this cycle, staying up late watching Laverne and Shirley or Dragnet, and rolling out of bed somewhere between 10 AM and Noon.

This sleep cycle continued into adulthood, as I chose night school for my college education, and every one of my jobs allowed me to set my own schedule.

I’m telling you this because I feel like I need to establish my night owl bonafides. If there ever was an unlikely candidate to advocate for waking up super-early, it’s me.

The Problem

I’m not going to sugar coat my point here. I didn’t see a problem with my schedule. But in hindsight, I see a lot of laziness in choosing this schedule.

Waking up late was easy. Which made staying up late easy. Which made waking up late easy. And so on.

It took no discipline. I didn’t decide to keep this schedule, I let the decision be made for me.

Maybe as a kid you can overlook that. After all, it was summer break. I had no where to be, and I wasn’t hurting anyone.

But as an adult, this lack of basic discipline had a radiating effect on other parts of my life. My sleep schedule was very clearly a negative keystone habit.

[Keystone habits are] small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

But it was by no means the worst thing I was doing. I had a plethora of other bad habits, and I needed to address those first.

But once I had made significant positive changes in other areas of my life, I had one last mountain left to climb. But why this? Why change my sleep schedule.

But, Why?

In late 2018, for the first time in my life, I was becoming genuinely interested in my career. I was well out of my 20s, and I started thinking more seriously about my future, and what I wanted out of life. My job plays a huge role in enabling the kind of life I want to live, so focusing on professional growth was becoming essential to the choices I was able to make personally.

So I needed time. Time when no one else was around, and I could focus on getting stuff done.

So I figured I’d do my deep work after the kids were in bed. After all, I was a night owl. I could work for a good 2-4 hours each night between 10pm and 2am, right?


Turns out that after having been awake for the last 12-14 hours, my brain just didn’t want to work. This was “wind down” time, and I was trying to get things done? Nope. It never worked.

People who take offense at hustle culture are quick to point out that you don’t get “more time” by waking up very early. They insist that you have the same number of hours in a day whether you wake up a 5AM or 9AM. And they’re right. But in my experience (and definitely not ONLY my experience), those first few hours after waking up, after taking a little time to “wind up”, are BY FAR the most productive hours of the day.

Why is that?

  1. No interruptions: most everyone else is asleep.
  2. Maximum energy: you’re fresh. No afternoon slump, no late day brain exhaustion.
  3. Clean slate: you’re not putting out fires, but instead you’re able to define your own agenda and focus on future focused tasks.

After doing this for a few weeks, I noticed I was getting more done in the first 4 hours of my day than I used to get done in 8 hours before.

As a software engineer, this was a huge win for me.

But I was also able to accomplish some personal tasks in the early morning, too. I finally had the opportunity to try things like meditation and journaling. I could spend time reading, learning a new skill, or planning out a home improvement project. I could categorize the previous day’s spending in my budgeting software, while the purchase was still fresh on my mind.

I even watched a sunrise.

The benefits were clear. I still wasn’t a “morning person”, but I was starting to see the appeal.

But, How?

a man, up early, drinking coffee

So, this is probably why you’re here, reading this post. You already know the benefits of waking up early, you know you’re not doing yourself any favors by sleeping in late, and you want to change.

But you don’t know how.

I don’t claim to have the secret. Only what worked for me.

So, I’m not going to give a full course on how to develop new habits, I can tell you that, for me, the key was understanding the Cue > Craving > Response > Reward cycle.

Recommended Reading

Atomic Habits by James Clear

I’m not telling you that understanding this is going to be a magic bullet. Doing something you don’t want to do is going to take some discipline and willpower. But maybe we can exploit this natural part of human psychology to reduce the level of effort necessary to wake up early.

Here is my process:

The night before, I assemble all the necessary components to make a cup of coffee. I grind some beans, I prepare my pour-over brewer, and I fill my kettle. I set everything on the stove, ready for a single button press begin the process. I charge my iPad and I put it in my office, ready to browse Youtube.

My smartwatch is ready to buzz at 5AM the following morning. I use a Fitbit Charge because its battery life is 7 days, meaning I can basically leave it on all the time, charging it while I’m in the shower.

The first few days are hard. You haven’t yet connected the cue to a craving, but if you commit to NOT letting yourself have the reward if you don’t have the proper response, that connection will eventually form.

So, if you ignore your alarm and wake up late … no coffee for you. Literally walk to the kitchen and dump out the water and throw away the coffee grounds. Never, EVER reward yourself for failure.

But when you succeed, enjoy your reward.

For me, the connection happened quickly.

My wrist buzzes, and I pull myself out of bed.

Oftentimes, I actually wake up naturally about 5-10 minutes before my alarm. That’s a nice bonus.

I walk to the kitchen and start brewing my coffee.

For what it’s worth, the reason I use the pour over method for making coffee isn’t because I think it tastes better. I’m not even a little snobbish about my coffee.

Nope, the reason I use it is because it’s manual. I don’t have the option of having a timer make my coffee. I get to trigger my craving during the ~4 minutes it takes for it to brew. The method, each step in the process, the smell, the visual appeal … this all reinforces the craving that starts the minute my alarm goes off.

I take my freshly brewed coffee to my office and begin my day with a reward for making the right choice.

Once the caffeine kicks in, my day officially starts.

It only took a few days for the habit to form. And now I, Nathan Rice, a lifelong night owl, a Nick-at-Nite connoisseur, and someone who has absolutely no natural affection for mornings, am able to effortlessly wake up at 5AM every morning.

There’s no reason you can’t do the same thing.

If you want to.

Want to get ahead in your career? Cheat! (hear me out)

The most vivid memory of second hand embarrassment I have is from my high school Spanish class. We were taking our exam, so we were all a little nervous. Because exams were more heavily weighted than regular tests or quizzes, this could make or break your grade for the semester.

As our teacher, Mr. Wilson, walked around the room, we noticed him stop at Andrew’s desk. He slowly reached down and calmly pulled a tiny sheet of paper from under Andrew’s arm, examined it, and continued walking around the classroom.

student taking a test in school

Andrew’s face was bright red. He was visibly upset, and although it was, admittedly, slightly amusing to the rest of us in the class, we all knew what he was feeling.

Humiliation, disappointment … fear of what would happen to his grade.

In school, the rules were clear … this was cheating. He gave himself an unfair advantage. He wasn’t taking the test from memory, he had all the answers hidden under his arm. That’s just not allowed.

But you know what? You’re not in school any more. The rules are different at work.

We think the people responsible for our employment and promotions expect us to figure it all out ourselves, to have all the answers memorized like we did in school.

But that’s not true at all. At work, you get to “cheat”. As a matter of fact, you’re expected to.

Your Manager’s Perspective

One of my favorite questions to ask your manager is “what does it take to be a top performer in my position?” (from this book).

This concept blew my mind. It totally changed how I approached my job, my priorities, and my career.

It’s like walking up to the teacher and asking “what’s the answer to question 5 on this test?“, and most of us are just as uncomfortable asking our manager/supervisor this question as we would be asking a teacher in school for an answer.

The difference is, your manager is happy to just give you the answer. You get to “cheat”, and it’s totally fine.

The answer to that question, of course, will vary depending on your position, your manager, or the nature of your work. But there usually is an answer.

Once you have your answer, it’s up to you what to do with it. You can use it to agree to a later discussion about compensation or promotion, to build your resume, or to simply measure and track your progress toward your own goals.

Your colleagues’ perspectives

The single most impactful things you can do at work is to ask yourself, every single day, “What can I do today that would have the biggest positive impact on the business or the people I work with?”

I manage software engineers , so that’s the lens I view this question through right now, but I’ve had many jobs over the years: sales, bagging groceries, customer service, IT support, web developer.

No matter the professional context, your goal should be the same:

Help people.

But once again, it’s hard to know what will have the greatest impact, or who needs help, or how to prioritize your work.

So, cheat.

And be direct, no need to be sneaky about it.

“Is there anything I can do today that would help you get your work done?”

Flip the script

Sometimes it’s you who needs help getting unstuck, figuring out a tough problem, or handling a workload that’s too big for you. What can you do then?


Ask for help! You’d be surprised how willing people are to trade a little knowledge from their experience for an ego boost, or even a simple “thank you, I was completely stuck, so I appreciate the assist“.

Always show gratitude, always give credit, and you’ll very likely always have someone willing to step up and help you.

Andrew is fine, by the way

I’m not sure what happened after class. I’m sure there were some consequence, maybe even a failing exam grade. And I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten about the incident in Spanish class all those years ago.

But, he’s married with kids now, working as an accountant, and seems to be doing pretty well for himself. And I’ll bet he’s probably still cheating, only now he’s allowed to, expected to.

The rules are different at work. Are you cheating enough?