I’ve been trying a new technique that my holistic lifestyle coach and I have been calling “bookending” my day. As someone who is naturally a bit “wound up,” it’s good for me to ground myself now and then. So, we started by working on a morning routine. Ways to settle into a good mental and spiritual space before I even get out of bed or at least before I fully start my day. Now we’re working on an end-of-day practice, but that has proven much harder.
Her first suggestion was that I try going to bed earlier. She noticed an instant resistance on my part and asked why. Without knowing it, she had stepped on several triggers for me: my natural inclination toward staying up late; my longstanding and often-challenged identity as a night owl; my memories of growing up in a family of late-risers; my need for and reliance on alone time after everyone else has gone to bed; my rebellious nature; and even some childhood trauma.
By the end of our session, though, I made a pact to try going to bed one hour earlier for a couple of weeks, just to see if it made any difference. I’m stubborn, but I’ve also come to learn all things in life are open to change, and sometimes the time is right.
My coach recommended I stop ending my day by checking social media or looking at apps on my phone. That’s a logical suggestion, and a habit I was not resistant to change. But when she suggested I try not ending my day by watching my favorite TV shows (the ones my husband doesn’t like) or reading a book, I balked. Sinking into someone else’s story has always been one of the only ways I can step out of my own story and shut off my overactive and insistent brain.
Her reasoning, though, was that books and TV shows, even the mild ones that I tend to watch before bed, involve conflict and can raise emotions or ire. She’s not wrong about that. Have you ever watched an episode of Call the Midwife? You’re practically guaranteed your weekly cry before the episode wraps up.
What did that leave, though, as a means to end my day? No TV, no books, no phone? How the heck was I supposed to settle down for sleep. And when was I supposed to carve out alone time, if I couldn’t do it after everyone else was in bed?
I’ve learned over the past few years, strong resistance often signals some part of my soul knows the suggestion is correct, but I don’t want to face it. Change demands work, after all. It requires creating new habits while letting go of old ones; it may mean asking our family members to also adjust their routines; it takes us out of our comfort zones; it makes us feel like we were “doing it wrong”; it marks the “end” of something; it shifts who we think we are; it requires us to accept who we could be, and that is sometimes scary.
I’m a week and a half into this experiment. Most nights, I’ve stuck to the new plan. I’m sleeping a bit better, partly because waking up earlier means rising before the noisy street traffic near our house really picks up. I’ve noticed my mind is a bit more settled and less likely to kick into gear at 3:00 a.m. and keep me awake for an hour. I’m feeling a bit less stressed when I go to sleep.
I don’t think I’ll ever be the person who wakes up at 4:00 a.m. (or even 5:00), although I suppose I should never say never. But I do want to be the person who sleeps more peacefully through the night, who remembers her dreams, who can enjoy lying in bed for a few minutes every morning without feeling like she has to jump up and get going. I might even enjoy being the person who reads earlier in the day in a more attentive state, instead of falling asleep mid-page.
I don’t intend to beat myself up on the nights when I do succumb to the various temptations and stay up too late, at least not for now. It’s possible I really am a night owl to my core. But I don’t want to be the person who’s unwilling to try something new or to be honest with myself about whether it actually makes me feel better. And if it does make me feel better, I want to be the person willing to change, even when it’s hard.
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