THE MORNING HOUR
We all work hard. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our profession, with meetings, continuing education, training, emails, and the ease of communication between ourselves and our patients, team, colleagues, and specialists. We do it for the sake of living out our destiny, our purpose, for the flow we experience, however frequently or infrequently. We do it all, most importantly, for the sake of our kids, our families, our “home.” Therefore, if asked what is the most important hour of the day, the most expected answer would be and maybe even should be: the time we spend with our loved ones.
It should be that hour because our parenting and happily married selves would be expected to name that time as the highlight of the day. Important as those moments are in driving us to do better and to be better, that hour we spend with our kids or spouses or close friends… that hour is the reward. With more consideration over the last couple of years, it has become apparent to me that there is another hour that sets my days apart from the rest, the hour that sets my drive, motivation, and organization apart from the rest, the hour that seems to set me apart from my peers.
The most important hour of the day, of my day, is the earliest morning hour. In the winter, it’s the dark hour; in the summer, it’s the hour of hearing birds chirp. It is the hour spent alone in quiet and peace. It’s the hour dedicated to reflection and meditation, sometimes prayer. It is the hour that determines the intent of the day, as opposed to our reactive selves playing to the mood of events. It is the hour spent in contemplation and planning. I have noticed that since I have been taking this one hour for myself, I have been more productive and profitable as a provider and owner.
I have lived a more present life; I have been calmer (though not entirely calm) and am certainly much more deliberate with my intent. I have habituated myself to rely on this hour. When missed, the world seems more disorganized, my ability to react to changes and hiccups in my day is sometimes too sudden and sometimes much delayed, often emotionally regressive, and inappropriate. The most important hour of the day has become my favorite hour of the day, and I often give up evening activities and socializing to prioritize its presence.
NOT A MORNING PERSON
I was not born a morning person; I had never been one. I remember in my teens and even in my early 20s, sleeping until 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays was the norm. This habit formed a strong distaste in the eyes of my parents. I cherished sleep and needed it. I sincerely enjoyed naps with the sun caressing my blanket through an open window. During my early practicing years, I would wake up with only enough time to park in the back of the office building, rush to put down my bag and coat, and run into the room, sometimes arriving to anesthetize ten minutes after the appointment start time.
In those early practicing years, I traded a daily huddle for an extra 15 minutes of sleep. As I matured in business ownership, I started to “adult,” much to my own chagrin, and began working thirty minutes before the first patient arrived, squeezing in a huddle. However, it wasn’t until the pandemic that I started to open my eyes to what the morning hours might bring. Although it had a rough start, I set the alarm for 5 am on a Monday, only to snooze it until my usual 7 am wake-up time. I gave this a try a dozen times before realizing it wasn’t working. I then decided to wake up only ten minutes earlier, and I was joyous to have those few extra minutes to myself. It was ten minutes of uninterrupted peace in my life.
Eventually, I began using that ten minutes to sit still in the quiet of my private office. With time, those ten minutes turned into thirty minutes, and now I have at least ninety minutes of morning peace. I now have a meditation mat and a diffuser with lavender in my private office at Happy Tooth. I use a meditation app and noise-canceling headphones to zone out and push away reality. On workdays, after a shower and a short drive to work, I sit and turn down the noise of yesterday.
The rest of my ninety minutes of freedom is used for reflection, planning, and thinking. I catch up on charts and check things off my endless “to-do” list.
MORE ON MEDITATION
The first time I resorted to meditation as a from of support or maybe even medicine was mid work day plagued with a severe migraine. I went into a dark room, closed the door, put in earplugs and rested in the darkness of my mind. It’s a strange sensation of looking past my eye lids and slightly up. Some might call it your third eye, some the ajna chakra, and others simply feel their higher power. But meditation doesn’t have to remain a type of alternative medicine for crystal loving hippies. Many people who pray, regardless of their faith, knowingly or unknowingly meditate in prayer. It’s a way for them to reignite a bond with their higher power.
It’s a way for them to leave the earthly problems outside of the realm of what is important in this moment and connect with their God. Meditation is also akin to flow, though not exactly. It’s a state of ease, a lack of worry, a sense of peace, and feeling the heaviness being removed from your shoulders. With repeated meditation one can enter a trance-like state in which nothing other than what is in front of you matters. The experience blurs what the rest of the room and the world holds, and it is the most rewarding rest. Interestingly, meditation is one of the things that has made the morning hour my favorite and most important hour of the day.
FROM THE EXPERTS
Many very successful people in the world create a morning hour to bring intent and harmony to the day. Benjamin Franklin planned his routine around waking up at 5 AM. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Disney CEO Robert Iger are up at that time, as is Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank, Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code). In fact, I have come to find out that one of the most successful dentists I know, Dr. Dave Diehl, who wakes up just as early, is able to relate to much of what I’d written above.
Diehl didn’t just come to mind because of how he’d built up his practice over the last 2 decades, offering patients “a new hope” for their smile; Diehl came to mind because he’s the complete opposite of me. He’s calm, composed, and still. Thoughtful and intentional, the genuine smile he bears invites others to share their story with him. It’s something that has, without a doubt, helped him change many lives over those last 2 decades. Dr. Diehl finds that the early hour of meditation and prayer deepens his purpose and reaffirms his servant heart.
His readings in this hour center him to provide the best possible care he can to his patients in the upcoming day, especially as difficulties arise. He is able to reframe life and hold himself accountable to the person he aspires to be. He starts, like all of us, with routine; and for him, it’s latte art.
He finds it to be simple and comforting. It also lessens the amount of chaos that inadvertently comes knocking on the other side of that early hour.
One noteworthy part Dr. Dave adds is that the most important hour of the day starts the night before. It starts with turning off the TV; it starts with turning down late dinner invitations because sleep preceding that important hour is the first step in capitalizing on it. As I think about the legacy that Dr. Diehl has created in having served hundreds if not thousands of smiling human beings, I make the realization that part of what has made his passion come to life is the capitalization of that most important hour of the day. I cannot unsee the investment that has paid him back, not in money, but in servitude, in mission, in self-worth, in satisfaction, joy, and pride for the hours he’s woken up early to read and recenter. I’m quite a bit behind in what it is that he’s been able to accomplish for his own heart and mind, but I am well on my way… as I hope you would be soon as well.
COST OF DOING BUSINESS
Routine is sanity, and as you can imagine, veering off from that routine, adding a small extra step, or any spontaneity weighs heavily on the soul. The older we get, the more difficult this becomes. Thus, every change in life has to be expected and walked into with preparation. What I am trying to say is that creating this morning hour for myself, as a person who was heavily addicted to sleep, was not easy and did not happen overnight. But as cumbersome as it may have been to fit into my day and give up watching TV or other mindless evening tasks, it has now become a part of my pattern and routine.
Going without it would be equally cumbersome. And yes, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Finding an extra hour (gasp!) is going to be different for each of us to figure out. We must keep in mind that as we say yes to one thing, we cannot say yes to another. I happen to be lucky enough to have an old enough singleton who can rely on Alexa to wake up and a husband who can get her off to school. I also have a daily babysitter to cover food prep, groceries, some laundry, and homework at home. I chose to hire her, and by doing so, I had to give up things to make it feasible financially.
No Starbucks, infrequent dinners out, fewer purses and shoes, less luxurious vacations, and a smaller house make it all worthwhile. As mentioned above, my social life is significantly cut short because I go to sleep early (lights out at 9 pm), though I tend to celebrate that as an introvert. It’s often hard to attend webinars or continuing education courses because of that. But the changes and sacrifices I’ve had to make over the last few years in creating this hour have allowed me to gain a fire that drives and strengthens me. I am invited to be all things to all people, as much as humanly possible, with slightly more ease. And I’d like to encourage, inspire, and ignite you to try the same.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a general dentist (Elmhurst, Illinois), an author, and columnist (Dentistry Today). She completed her formal dental education, earning a doctorate of dental surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Augustyn reads, researches, writes, and speaks on the things that make us human first and dentists second. She has also been featured on various podcasts bringing attention to mental wellbeing, the things that make us hurt, and those that make us come alive. She is an inspirational speaker around the country and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.