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From 'good mourning' to 'good morning'


Work in Progress

James Adonis is one of Australia's best-known people-management thinkers

View more entries from Work in Progress

Does this remind you of yourself in the morning?

Does this remind you of yourself in the morning?

My mornings are characterised by psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. 

The first is Denial, which entails pressing the sleep button when the alarm goes off. Five minutes later it’s buzzing again, so I proceed to Anger. This is followed by Bargaining, during which I attempt to calculate how many more minutes I can stay in bed without being late. The stage of Depression hits as soon as I realise that – shit – now I’m late. And finally, when I get to work, I reach Acceptance.

I’m not alone. Earlier this week, I conducted a (totally unscientific) social experiment. With a clipboard in hand, I sat on trains during peak hour and noted the number of people who looked happy, those who appeared sad, and those who were neutral. Of the 240 commuters I observed, only 15 per cent seemed pleased to be there. The rest were either sad (39 per cent) or neutral (46 per cent).

But here’s the thing. I tried to make subtle contact with 40 of those people. A small smile here; a nod of the head there; even an occasional ‘how are you’. And yet there was almost nothing in return. Thirty-one of those 40 commuters either ignored my gestures or served back something half-hearted and insincere. I don’t blame them. I would have responded with the same derision.

One possible explanation can be attributed to our circadian rhythms, which dictate our energy – both physical and mental – throughout the day. 

The traditional nine-to-five workday suits the morning people perfectly. These are the ones who are bursting with cheer, greeting their colleagues with a big wide smile and a melodic “Good Morning!” The afternoon or evening people, on the other hand, are more inclined to view it as Good Mourning, unable to function until at least after lunch.

That’s why some organisations allow employees to select their own hours of work. They acknowledge that greater productivity can be derived from matching work schedules with employees’ circadian rhythms. The mood we’re in when we arrive at work can affect our performance all day.

Of course, there are other causes, too. Some of that morning grumpiness can be due to the apoplexy people experience when using public transport. For others, it has more to do with an argument they had with their partner, a night of insomnia, car trouble, an uninspiring job, bad weather … or countless other reasons.

Dr Lisa Williams is a psychology lecturer at the University of NSW. She tells me that a “substantial amount of research from social psychology has shown that emotional states and moods do, indeed, influence our thoughts and actions, even when those states arise from something that happened earlier in the day”.

“For instance, happiness from a pleasant breakfast with friends can lead us to have a more optimistic outlook for the rest of the day, view the things we come across as more pleasant, and engage in behaviours that are likely to continue making us happy," she says.

"Likewise, getting angry during a traffic dispute in the morning can lead us to be more critical of the things we come across, make us take more risks, and lead others to treat us in a negative way.”

As the cliché suggests, we need to turn that frown upside down. In a survey of bad moods conducted in the UK a couple of months ago, nearly half the 2000 respondents said they snap out of their irritability as soon as they have their first coffee or tea. Other popular responses for getting over it included taking a shower, spending time in the sun, and sticking to a routine.

In the fabulous kids’ book by Moritz Petz, The Bad Mood, a badger called Badger wakes up feeling cranky. What’s the point of being like this, he reasons, if no one notices? So he starts talking rudely to each of his friends, passing the moodiness on until they're all feeling just as dreadful, wanting nothing more to do with him. 

The trouble is that, at work, some people can be just like Badger.

Are you a morning person? If not, how do you deal with it? Leave a comment.

twitter Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

16 comments so far

  • I'm a morning bloke but am sometims grumpy because of light sleep or thoughless people on the train who slept not to share the seat with fellow passenger(s) or bad service. I think my rhythms are produced as an early bird. My practice is not getting involved into studying (including reading a book that is hard to understand so that I need to use a dictionary as reading English ones, for example, life coaching book) after six or seven in the evening. Instead I am doing such works in the morning. It sometimes happens before 6 am.

    Date and time
    October 05, 2012, 12:22PM
    • I am an owl, living in a world ruled by chickens -- and I have been for a long time.

      I remember when I was in fifth or sixth class in primary school our teacher was rabbitting on one day about the joys of getting up early and experiencing the brightness and freshness of the day, and I couldn't really understand what he was talking about. He seemed to think that everyone would feel the same. I felt like an outsider, the only blind kid, singled out because he couldn't see the views.

      In those days, it was 9pm to bed and 7am to rise, so I wasn't totally sleep deprived. I just didn't feel on top of anything apart from the bed when my mother called to tell my brother and me to get up.

      I want to get started on a project around 9 or 10 pm these days, and find it hard to get to bed before midnight. The 6am alarm is never welcome.

      I loved the Olympics. To avoid traffic problems (I work near one of the venues) we could start at 7 or at noon. I was more than happy with the later time, even if it meant having lunch around the time most people have dinner.

      There should be more of it!

      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 12:59PM
      • It's the intolerant, "early to bed early to rise" self righteous primping that goes on that annoys me.
        These paragons of virtue have no end of virulent anti Owl sentiment that they are happy to dispense whenever possible so that others with different circadian rhythms can feel suitably chastised and straighten up and fly right.
        But how many of these Morning supermen function well late at night?
        Oh boo hoo leave me alone I'm tired and I want to go to bed!
        Day people seem to have very little empathy or understanding whatsoever.

        Date and time
        October 05, 2012, 1:46PM
        • Excellent point Rx. I wake up and come to work when I am good and ready and stay back to do my 7.5 hrs, or longer, when the job requires it. I find the early birds are out the door at 5 on the dot regardless of workload or unfinished meetings. Also, in direct conflict with my circadian rythms, I get to work at the crack of dawn when req due to early mtgs or pressing deadlines.

          Date and time
          October 05, 2012, 5:11PM
        • @Livvy

          You might well need to reset your biological clock. Melatonin levels which are dependent on exposure to sunlight almost always peak at night and induce sleep when the body naturally slows down.

          Having to start work very late in the morning is usually indicative that something is wrong - it might be a minor readjustment to your routine i.e getting up early at the same time for a couple of days or it could be depressive in nature which would require more involved attention.

          Date and time
          October 11, 2012, 8:12PM
      • I'm not a morning person and if the results of your little survey are a true refelction of the greater population how did we get into the con of the 9-5 work day? Even if my work day was 11-7 I would likely be depressed that I'm still at work after 5 when I should be at home with my family.. And if I did start at 11am I would sleep in until 10.55am and still be grumpy when I arrive at work.

        Maybe working a meaningless job making money for someone else is the problem.. I do seem to be happy when I have to wake up early to get a flight for a holiday..

        Date and time
        October 05, 2012, 4:35PM
        • Excellent point. Half the grumpiness most of us feel is probably due to a boring life and meaningless job. Scrap the rat race and live life as it was meant to be lived. On a tropical beach with drink in hand.

          Date and time
          October 06, 2012, 4:17PM

        Date and time
        October 05, 2012, 10:17PM
        • Our coping mechanism for being crammed into the tin snake is to pretend others don't exist. Try your on-train social experiment on the commute home. You'll find people are just as uncommunicative.

          So not a morning person
          Fogland until first coffee
          Date and time
          October 06, 2012, 11:15AM
          • I assume you are talking about circadian rhythms as a normal biological phenomenon? If so, then at what stage of man's evolution was it "normal" for him to get up late and go to bed late? We've only had electric light for 150y so for 99.9% of our history it was quite unnatural for people o spend a lot of time awake after the sun went down. I am a night person but I reckon it's only because now we have the ability to control our external environment and have access to a lifestyle late at night. However, this is a very recent phenomenon and "normal" circadian rhythm is based on the rising and setting of the sun and I believe this is probably much more healthy and natural. We have strayed from the "light".

            Date and time
            October 06, 2012, 12:43PM

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