Could It Be That Simple?

Three days have elapsed, and I went to bed when I was tired without much fuss or friction. Why did I ever make a problem out of going to bed? Could the tentative experience of observing what was going on in mind when I was on the point to go to bed have worked so readily?

It is, of course too early to say, but let me share two patterns I have observed. The primary one is that before going to bed, I have a strong feeling that something is missing and I have a strong draw to seek the comfort of social interaction. Probably related, the second pattern is that I am attracted to the dopamine boosts provided by the virtual world of social networks or online entertainment. Lastly, there is the feeling that I have not managed to do enough during the day and that I would feel much better if I could cross an extra item from my to-do list.

On Friday, my partner wanted to watch a drama episode of a series that we have started following – something we enjoy doing together. Even though I had not moved much during the day, I was already tired and was apprehensive that it might stimulate me and give me a second wind. I know that sometimes watching a film or TV programme before going to bed switches my thinking on! But I decided to go with it and remained curious to see what would happen if I was more conscious about the process. Once the show was over, I took a cold shower and did not think about the show I had just seen. I went to bed at around ten o’clock but tossed for a little while. After resisting the urge to get up, I somehow found a balance between observing what was happening in my head and letting go of the day.

On Saturday, something similar happened. I had a conference call which I was committed to attending. Because of different time zones, the call went on until quarter past ten, and I was anxious that it would interfere with my experiment. I relaxed into the call and stayed tune to my body – I could have left the call before the end, but chose to finish with everyone else. Once the meeting was over, I went to bed pretty much straight away – without taking a cold shower this time. I fell asleep quite soon after hitting the pillow.

Was it just luck? The critical step has been to ignore the draw for mind stimulation, to listen instead to my body and to retire quite quickly when I felt ripe for bed. Not sure if I have gained new insights about how my mind works – but I may have dislodged a problem I had built over many years about not going to bed when I was tired.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Cris Saur

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Are urges ever urgent?

rasberries

An urge is like an itch; scratching may relieve it. Most often, it makes it worse.

On the whole, we have incredible instincts and going with the flow with our body’s intuition makes total sense. When you are thirsty, drink. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. When you need the bathroom, well, you get the picture. However, things are not always that simple; many habits power up urges and most often we are more than aware of this but feel powerless. We reach for that chocolate,  bite our nails, pick at a scab,  procrastinate. I recently observed that the hardest habits to tackle are those that are linked or triggered by some instincts. This is where another faculty is called for.

Time-management experts advise their client to watch out for those tasks that are urgent and non-important. When something pops up as urgent, the trick is to pause and to ask the question “Is it vital?” If it isn’t, consider if it is important at all. Finally, what are the consequences of not acting upon it? This is the theory. In practice, it is very easy to get caught off guard. Imagine that you are working on an important project, and your phone starts ringing. You will probably get an urge to pick it up. Your ‘chimp’ brain perceives the ringtone as an alarm – needing an immediate response. It is nearly compulsive. The ability to pause between stimulus and response is what some people believe distinguishes us from most other animals.

An interesting exercise is to become very mindful when an urge comes and slow the time down so to speak. Let the phone ring for five seconds say. Watching the process can sometimes stop the chimp in its track.

Many urges lead to undesirable compulsive behaviours. So getting to recognise and understand them is a really valuable exercise. Urges are much harder to control as long as there are seen as urgencies. Mindfulness slows down the process and can allow us to dismantle them. 

Breather*

One sentence journal – day 4:
“Being granted space and time should be a luxury, I am both grateful for having had it and disappointed with what I did with it ”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Jonathan Pielmayer

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