Tuesday May 3, 2016
For more than six months, I struggled with insomnia. I had a bad habit of going to bed too late, despite my best intentions of turning in at a reasonable hour.
Even on the days when I went to bed in time to get a full eight hours of sleep, I would usually end up tossing and turning for hours, painfully aware that I’d be lucky to get six hours of rest before spending the next day groggy and struggling to concentrate.
And to make matters worse, even on the days when I did go to sleep on time, I would wake up hours earlier than planned, and be unable to get back to sleep despite the fact that I was already tired. I just couldn't win.
Why was this happening?
There were a few obvious reasons: not prioritizing getting to bed on time, having too much on my mind when I went to bed, and drinking so much water that my bladder woke me up early.
But there was also one hidden factor that was not only helping to keep me tired, but was also hobbling every other aspect of my life.
The secret source of my exhaustion:
After being sleep-deprived for so long, I’d started to talk and think about myself as a person who was always tired. And even worse, a lack of sleep had become my go-to excuse for everything.
If I was having trouble making a big, daunting or difficult decision, it was because I was too tired to think clearly about it.
If I wanted to relax and spend time by myself instead of starting a conversation or going out to socialize, it was because I was short on sleep.
If I didn’t want to get into a complex and time-consuming discussion or debate because there were other things I wanted to spend my time on, it was because I didn’t have the mental energy for it.
If I let myself zone out while working instead of focusing on the task at hand, it was because I needed to rest my brain.
Granted, there was some validity to those excuses. Being short on sleep and low on energy does make it challenging to perform tasks that take concentrated thought.
But blaming things on insomnia had become so reflexive that it forced me to realize that being tired wasn’t merely a problem anymore. It was becoming a part of my identity, my mindset, and my story about myself.
Do you have a chronic problem that you blame for everything?
It could be shyness, past abuse, a health problem, an aspect of your personality, or a part of your body that you don’t like. It could be your career, your friends, your family – or, yes, it could be insomnia.
If there’s a factor in your life that you’re using as a reason why you can’t enjoy life, do the things you want to do, or reach your goals, you are giving that factor the power to define and control you.
And if you’re using that factor as an excuse not to do the things you DON’T want to, not only are you giving it power over you, but you’re also dishonoring your own right to choose what you do and do not want, without having to justify it.
What can you do about it?
If you’ve been struggling with a chronic problem, here are four steps you can take today to start breaking its power over your life:
1. Notice that you have a problem.
While it’s important not to make your problem a part of your identity, you still need to acknowledge that it’s there.
2. Change the way you talk about the problem.
When you talk about your problem as a thing that’s still happening, your subconscious mind tries to turn your words into reality. Your subconscious can’t tell the difference between a statement and an order, and it hates to make a liar out of you.
So instead of saying “I’m tired” or “I can’t sleep”, I’m working on changing my self-talk to “I used to have trouble sleeping, but I’m choosing to go to bed earlier and let myself relax at night”.
3. Don’t use your problem as an excuse.
Whenever you’re tempted not to do something you want to do because of your problem, instead of telling yourself you can’t do it, ask yourself:
“How can I do it anyway?”
“What can I do to compensate for this limitation, and take the next step toward my dream?”
“Is there a different or easier way to do this, that’s within my current capacity?”
4. Don’t use your problem as a justification.
Remember that you have the right to do what you want to with your time, money, body, career, and life. You don’t need to use a problem or limitation as a reason to say “no”.
Instead, simply say “I don’t want to do that”, or “I’d rather do this”, and value your own opinions and desires enough to stand by them.
Have you been struggling with a chronic challenge?
What caused it to continue as long as it did, and what did you do to overcome it?
I look forward to reading your comments.