59 pages 1 hour read

Robin Sharma

The 5 Am Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life.

Nonfiction | Book | Adult

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Summary and Study Guide


The 5 AM Club (2018) is a self-help book by Robin Sharma that takes the form of a fictional narrative. The book is designed to impart lessons and methods to readers to, in the book’s view, elevate their lives. The story focuses on the importance of personal growth and the significant benefits that arise from finding an effective mentor. As the title suggests, the book contends that of all positive habits one can develop in their life, rising at 5:00 a.m., because of the discipline and commitment it takes, is the most foundational. Sharma is a well-known author in the self-help genre, which often discusses topics of inner spirituality and stress management. He has founded the training company known as Sharma Leadership International. Though he started his career as a lawyer, he switched to writing full-time in his twenties. His most famous work is The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (1997), but two of his other notable books are The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO (2002) and Who Will Cry When You Die (1999).

This guide refers to the Kindle edition published in 2018 by Harper Collins.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide discuss death by suicide. The source text also refers to people who are unhoused using problematic and offensive language.

Plot Summary

As the narrative opens, an unnamed woman is suffering evident hardships in her life. She is the founder of a successful technology company and has invested her life into it; however, competitors within the company have conspired to push her out. Feeling betrayed, the woman, who remains nameless throughout the duration of the text but is referred to as “the entrepreneur,” spirals into despair. She is at a point in her life where she is contemplating death by suicide. She has been given tickets to attend a seminar produced by a well-known motivational speaker, but she does not know who he is, nor has she ever attended anything of the sort before. Figuring she has nothing to lose, and with low expectations, she makes up her mind to attend the seminar.

The main speaker at the seminar is a man in his eighties who is later revealed to be “the Spellbinder.” His seminar focuses on both inspiring the audience and also providing them with practical ideas for improving their lives. The entrepreneur has mixed feelings about the speech, but as it progresses, she begins to warm up to some of the Spellbinder’s directives. Eventually, the Spellbinder shows visible signs of exhaustion until he collapses. His staff remove him from the stage, and there is apparent uncertainty about whether or not he is dead.

The entrepreneur meets another attendee of the seminar, a man who is referred to as “the artist.” They discuss the drama surrounding the Spellbinder’s collapse and are eventually joined by a third person, a man who is only referred to as “the homeless man” (referred to in this guide as “the unhoused man”). The unhoused man, appearing disheveled and out of sorts, speaks as a man with inside knowledge of the Spellbinder’s work. He also reveals that he is wealthy and eventually invites the others to visit his private retreat on Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean, all expenses paid. He tells them they will travel on his own private jet. Both the entrepreneur and the artist are highly suspicious of the man, but as they are both feeling lost in their lives, they decide to accept the man’s offer. The unhoused man directs them to meet outside the conference facility at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, which they do. They are then escorted to the airfield where they board the private plane, and they travel to Mauritius.

Upon arrival on the island, the artist and entrepreneur are escorted to the unhoused man’s private retreat, and during their travels, they learn the man is not “unhoused” after all. His name is Stone Riley, and he is a billionaire. When they arrive at Riley’s compound, they see a figure standing on a large deck overlooking the ocean. At first, they believe it to be Riley himself, but as they approach the man, they discover it is the Spellbinder.

The next day, their lessons begin. As part of Riley’s first lesson, he explains to them the reason why waking up early in the morning is such a big deal. He contends this is a “keystone habit” (77), a fundamental habit that, because of its difficulty, forms a strong foundation for implementing a lifestyle change. Riley uses the evidence of his own life as an example of the effectiveness of this habit, suggesting that of all the things he has done throughout his life, this was the most immediately impactful. He also provides scientific justification for the habit, which will become a common rhetorical device throughout his lessons.

The series of lessons generally follows a similar structure and execution. Riley introduces the day’s topic and then calls on an assistant to bring forward an object that has written on it a diagram showing the day’s lesson. For example, the first in this series is entitled “The 3 Step Success Formula.” Riley then explains in detail what the concept is, how it is enacted, and what the benefits are. For the formula, the focus is on becoming less superficial and more granular, or detail oriented. The way to go about this, the text explains, is to become more aware and make better choices, which leads to better results. Riley speaks often about the ways modern life in the digital age steers people away from depth. He warns against the omnipresence of distraction and urges his students to gain control of their ability to resist. Also, Riley introduces a primary concept in the book: that anything truly worth achieving requires sacrifice, commitment, and discipline. He concedes that this is difficult for most people, but the difficulty is the precise reason for pursuing the endeavor, as this is what builds resilience and leads to growth.

The series of lectures Riley presents are “The 4 Focuses of History-Makers,” “The Habit Installation Protocol,” “The 20/20/20 Formula,” “The Essentialness of Sleep,” “The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius,” and “The Twin Cycles of Elite Performance.” The first half of the lessons take place at Riley’s compound on Mauritius; however, he also escorts his guests to India, where he gives a lecture at the Taj Mahal. He brings his students to Rome, where he lectures in the catacombs, and to South Africa, where the group is joined by the Spellbinder as they tour Robben Island and the prison where Nelson Mandela was once an inmate.

Through the lecture series, the artist and the entrepreneur both begin noticing positive changes in their outlook and overall mood in general. Their pessimism prior to seeing the Spellbinder and the ensuing tutelage of Mr. Riley is replaced by a much more hopeful outlook. The narrative also provides further insight into the adversity faced by both the artist, who struggles with acts of self-sabotage and procrastinates often, and the entrepreneur, whose family history includes her father’s tragic death by suicide. As their time with Riley wears on, they come to recognize the importance of letting go of the past in order to fully realize the future they want for themselves. They also begin to open up more to each other, which eventually leads to a romantic relationship and marriage.

We learn more of Riley’s personal story, including that he was once married to a woman named Vanessa who tragically succumbed to a disease and passed away. Mr. Riley never remarried, nor did he ever really seek another companion in his life. As the lectures intensify, it becomes evident that Mr. Riley is suffering from some illness. He appears to be well aware that his illness is becoming progressively worse, yet he continues to mentor the artist and the entrepreneur. He attends their wedding in Brazil, and he becomes close friends with them both.


The Spellbinder appears occasionally, usually in a surprising or unexpected fashion. He joins the trio in the book’s last chapter as they tour Robben Island. He and Riley are very close friends, and when the seriousness of Riley’s illness manifests, the Spellbinder seems to already know just how serious it is.

The Epilogue of the book is narrated from a future perspective, five years removed from the trip to Robben Island. Mr. Riley died some five months after giving his last lesson. He sold all of his assets to charity except his compound in Mauritius, which he willed to the artist and the entrepreneur. It is also revealed that Riley had a daughter. For their part, the entrepreneur and the artist both became successful, in large part because they adopted the methods and protocols of Riley and, by extension, the Spellbinder. They took up the mantle left by Riley and are now mentors themselves. The Spellbinder, who was in his eighties at the beginning of the narrative, is still alive and giving seminars all over the world.