We are entering a period of unprecedented disruption to our lives and it could get messy. I’ve been through many disruptions over the past few years, and here’s what I’ve learned about how to win.
A Story About My Sleep Habits and My Disrupted Rhythms
For years, I had been on a very consistent schedule. Generally up between 6–6:30 am, even on the weekends. At the gym by 6:30/7, even on the weekends. Of course, my sleep wasn’t as consistent. Although I aim to be in bed by midnight, it’s typically more like 1 am, and sometimes past that, before I’m asleep.
In the 18 months that I’ve been living as a “digital nomad” since selling my apartment, I’ve had a few periods where I’ve fallen off my morning schedule, but generally I have gotten back on track after a few days, or adjusted to a slightly different schedule.
Since returning to NYC almost 6 months ago, however, I’ve been struggling. A lot.
At first I thought it was jet lag, and reacclimatizing to East Coast time. Then I realized acclimating back to the energy of New York was a challenge; it’s no longer aligned with my personal energy.
I have struggled to regularly wake up before 7:30. What’s worse is that my wake up times have sometimes been wildly inconsistent, which is not good for my sleep health.
Old Habits Come Back
The past 2 weeks have been especially challenging. Routinely up until 3 am, I have slept through multiple alarms and then struggled to get out of bed before 10 am, and even once I’m up, I’m often incredibly sleepy and in a brain fog most of the day. Until the evening, when suddenly it’s “lights on” and I’m wired until the wee hours of the night. And so the cycle continues.
These were the hours I used to keep in college and law school, and in the beginning of my career as a lawyer. Even in high-school, going to sleep between 2–3 am was routine for me (although I was on the bus at 6:30 am — which, studies now show, is not healthy for teenagers).
You know that saying, old habits die hard? I’ve found this to be true. And what’s worse, even when we successfully rewire habits, they can return. Especially in times of stress.
Major world pandemic spreading through your community. Having to leave the place where I’ve been staying in the midst of a global pandemic. Yup. Stress.
How I Resisted The Disruption
For most of the past 18 months, every time I found myself “out of rhythm,” I would fighting the disruption. I would be angry about it, frustrated about the “lost time” and ashamed that I couldn’t meet the standard I had set for myself.
But then I reminded myself this disruption to my rhythms is part of what I signed up for when I ventured on the journey of the nomadic life. Disruption sometimes is what we need most.
Of course, the energy I used to fight the disruption derailed my productivity, because energy, not time, is the currency of life.
As I reflected on the past few weeks, I had a breakthrough insight:
I noticed that over the past few weeks, I haven’t been fighting the disruption to my rhythm in my usual way. Rather than getting angry at myself or berating myself for falling off my schedule, or panicking about getting things done, I’ve been relaxed about it.
I trust that there’s a reason for this, and that it is designed to serve me in some way.
Resistance is futile. Instead, I surrender.
This has been revolutionary.
Curiosity: Investigating What Might Be Going On
I realized that maybe I just need “more sleep” (as in: a full 6-7 hours, consistently) because my brain is processing a lot of information that I’ve been digesting and my body is processing new movement patterns and trying to build strength — something it’s been doing all year, and that maybe I haven’t let it fully do because of my poor sleep habits.
Regularly getting 6–7 hours of sleep is something I knew I needed to prioritize this year, and maybe this is my body’s way of taking charge of that. Sometimes there is nothing for us to do other than to let natural processes happen.
I also realized that maybe this is my body’s way of keeping me healthy. Sleep is important for immunity. With the coronavirus spreading, I need to keep my immunity in peak condition. I don’t have a home where I can quarantine and self-isolate. I need to maintain my mobility. And that means maintaining my health.
As my rhythms became more out of sync with my ideal the past 2 weeks, I realized that I have displayed more self-compassion and self-acceptance. Instead of wasting energy fighting what’s happening or being in resistance to it, I’ve noted it, and moved forward.
Of course, this sleep is part of the energy of winter. Winter is the time for hibernation and sleep. And since I’ve been in cold Northeast all winter, maybe it’s just my body’s natural response to winter. Fighting it seems futile; it just uses energy that can better be used to more constructive ends.
I still start my day the same way — with my fitness and meditation — no matter what time I wake up. There’s no debate about it, no negotiating. I try to pare down my activities to the most essential.
Where possible, I’ve shifted appointments or events to later in the day, which is my general practice anyway.
And when it has been necessary for me to be somewhere early, somehow I’ve managed to make it work. It’s like the body knows when it really needs to be up and out early and when it can take more sleep.
Clock Time Is a Human Construct
In the meantime, I remind myself that clock time is a human construct. In a global world, we work with people who are in different time zones. If I’m waking up at 10 am in New York, it’s 7 am on the West Coast. Going to sleep at 3 am is midnight on the West Coast. So maybe I’m just on West Coast time while living on the East Coast.
How I Won: The Growth Shift
This, for me, represents a huge growth shift: letting go of the need to conform to a certain time schedule, surrendering to the laws of nature as they are playing out in my body, and giving my body, mind, and spirit what they need to stay nourished and nurtured. Not just the sleep they clearly crave, but the self-compassion and self-acceptance of the current situation.
These are things I write about and speak about; they are central to my teachings. I also am the first to admit that they are often easier said than done. By no means am I always a model of self-compassion and self-acceptance. Sometimes I forget to trust the higher power that controls what’s going on. These are qualities that I work to cultivate daily. And so it’s nice when I have a moment where I can recognize:
Hey, I’m doing better here. My inner mean girl didn’t show up to criticize me today.
We have to celebrate our wins.
And, because I’m not wasting energy fighting what’s happening, I’ve been able to get more done some days in less time than it would otherwise take to do the same tasks.
It’s amazing what can happen when we treat ourselves with kindness and direct our energy to what really matters.
I think there’s an important lesson here for our current climate of chaos.
I’ve been through a lot of disruption over the past few years. Although much of it has been self-imposed, disruption doesn’t discriminate. Once you’re in it, it doesn’t matter where it came from.
So the same lessons apply: In times of disruption, we need to be extra compassionate with ourselves, extra accepting, extra kind, extra gentle.
You can fight the disruption, but where will that get you?
Trust me on this one: it doesn’t get you far.
If you want to use your energy for productive ends, then choose your battles wisely.
Resistance to what is happening is a fool’s game. To win, we must surrender.