For many years, our family’s evening routine was pretty typically American. After dinner, my wife and I would help our kids with their homework, get them to bed, and then settle into the 9 o’clock evening news. We’d enjoy a bowl of ice cream or popcorn and finally turn out the lights around 11pm, after watching our favorite late night talk show. At 6:30 AM, our alarm clock would signal the start of a new, busy morning. After a full day of rushing around, I really cherished those late nights. It was “my” time to relax and forget about the worries of the day.

I had friends who called themselves “morning people.” They would talk about all the great things they were able to accomplish before they went to work. I kind of wished I could be like them, but I knew that the early-riser gene just wasn’t in my DNA.

And then, one day, all of that shifted. Sometimes, if you want something to change, you have to go ahead and make some changes. So I tried a new schedule.

After putting the kids to bed, we skipped the evening news, avoided that bowl of ice cream (torture) and turned off the lights at 9:30. For an hour, I laid in bed wondering if I was ever going to get to sleep. Finally, I drifted off and, before I knew it, the 5 AM alarm came calling in all its glory. It was painful!

That morning, I took 30 minutes and read from an uplifting book. I then exercised for 30 minutes, something I hadn’t done in a long time. I found that when it was time to go to work, I felt excited. I felt great and I couldn’t wait to take on the challenges of the day. That evening, we tried it again, and this time I couldn’t wait to get to bed at 9:30 because I was dead tired. The 5 AM wake-up wasn’t any easier, but, just like the first morning, after reading an inspiring book and working out, I felt great and couldn’t wait to take on the day.

My wife and I have been early risers now since 2012, and I’m astounded at the results. As you can probably guess, we’re both in much better shape. We’ve even taken up running as a couple and we both qualified for the Boston Marathon this year. But some of the biggest benefits have been mental, even spiritual. Thanks to all my morning reading and the quiet time I take to get centered before work, I’ve seen considerable improvement in my performance at work. And, most important, my relationship with my spouse and my children has become even more meaningful. I feel like I’m much more in tune with their needs, now. We’re just more connected.

Some of the most precious moments and insights of my life have come in those early morning hours when my mind is fresh, when the sun is just breaking over the mountains and inspiration flows. Back when I spent my mornings rushing out the door to beat rush-hour traffic, those moments just didn’t happen.

I now know that the “morning person” gene isn’t a gene at all. It’s a decision. And it’s a decision you can make, too. It’s just a question of what you want for your life and how you want to prepare for your day.