Health & Sports, Wellness

How to Overcome Morning Peevishness: Advice from an Antarctic Explorer

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There are many lessons to be learned from the divergent ways Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led their teams in the race to be the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s success was due to his attention to details and the way he extensively planned for every possible exigency, including his men’s morale. One way he kept up their motivation was by giving them a consistent mileage goal each day – a “20 Mile March.”

He also came up with a scheme to ward off cases of “morning peevishness” – the grumpiness and reluctance to get going after waking up. His little tip for battling this common malady is something I’ve tried myself with success since reading about the expedition, and I wanted to share it for those who often wake up on the wrong side of the bed – especially since it’s so apropos with all the polar-esque weather the country’s been experiencing this winter. And really, I just want to disseminate the delightful phrase “morning peevishness.”

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During the winter months before Amundsen’s expedition was to begin, the Norwegian explorers holed up in a camp at the edge of the Great Ice Barrier and made preparations for their journey in the spring. Amundsen understood that for a small, isolated group, deprived of creature comforts, and living on a bleak sheet of ice, maintaining morale was paramount, and that how the men started each morning would set the tone for the rest of the day’s efforts. If you think you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, imagine motivating yourself to crawl out of your warm, furry reindeer skin sleeping bag to face another day of toiling in a tiny workshop built into the snow, as –70 degree winds howl through the barren landscape outside. As Amundsen’s biographer puts it, in such a situation “morning peevishness is a considerable emotional hazard.”

Amundsen told the men that he was holding a competition in which they each had to guess the temperature of the outside air each morning. Prizes were awarded to those who came closest to getting it right, and a telescope was promised to the man who had made the most correct guesses at the end of the season. The aim of the exercise, their clever leader told them, was to develop the men’s ability to assess the temperature intuitively, in case their thermometers broke during the forthcoming expedition.

But the real purpose of the competition, Amundsen wrote in his journal, was to motivate the men to step outside soon after getting up:

“Because of the prizes, everybody insists at going out to look at the weather. And that’s why the prizes have been put up. But nobody knew it. I find this little morning visit out in the open so beneficial. Even if it is but for a minute or two, it is unbelievable how that short time helps to wake a sleepy man and bring feelings into equilibrium before [the day’s first] cup of nice, warm coffee.

Even the best-humoured person in the world has a touch of morning peevishness and that has to be removed as unnoticeably as possible.”

Amundsen’s tip then for nipping morning peevishness in the bud was to step outside for a couple minutes of cold, fresh air. I’ve tried it, and it does indeed strip away the remaining cobwebs of sleep and give you a quick shot of vigor.

Of course the trick for us is getting motivated to step outside on a cold morning without the benefit of Amundsen’s whole “let’s guess the weather!” subterfuge. Although, and maybe we’re weird, trying to guess the weather each morning actually sounds kind of fun; after awhile you’d probably get quite good at it, and who knows, maybe the skill might even come in handy one day.

But if that kind of thing isn’t your bag, and sheer discipline won’t do it for you either, having to retrieve the morning paper or take your dog for a walk can certainly help get you out the door.

What if you don’t live in a cold clime, or have trouble getting going in the morning during the summer season too? Well, you can always splash your face with cold water, or even better, take a cold shower – guaranteed to shock you into full alertness! If you want to make such methods even more invigorating, try an “energizing” face wash like Chief’s for Men. The eucalyptus scent and chilly menthol add even more tingling zip to a cold water wake up call.

Try exposing yourself to a shot of cold air when you get out of bed tomorrow morning. But don’t attempt to cajole your grumpy wife or roommate into stepping outside with you; as Amundsen wisely observes: “If a morning peevish person notices that you are putting yourself out to remove his burden, he becomes double peevish.”


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