What Happens When Your Mind Turns Against You…
It’s 5am and I’m lying in bed.
I’ve been awake for an hour and I just can’t fall back to sleep.
Sometimes I wake up from a dream, sometimes a noise from the neighbourhood, or Ramses my cat decides he wants breakfast.
Whatever the trigger, once I am up, unless I fall back to sleep immediately I’m in for an hour or more of rolling around in what I affectionately call sleepy hell.
It’s all my brain’s fault.
Once I’m up within minutes my mind will start to assess all aspects of my life.
And I really mean ALL aspects.
I contemplate what I am doing with my blog and business, what other people from my industry are doing, what I should be doing, what things aren’t working and how I have wasted time and money.
Then I do the same thing with my personal life, falling deep into negative holes lamenting about failures, missed opportunities, compare myself to others, review rejections, losses and disappointments.
Have you noticed the lack of positivity in these thoughts?
The Negative Sleep Deprived Brain Of Doom
I’m one of those people who significantly decrease in function as a human being when I lack sleep.
If I make ten hours of slumber I feel awesome. As long as I get at least seven hours sleep I can perform at standard capacity.
Perhaps it’s because I am a sensitive introvert that I struggle when physiological things are out of whack. Maybe my nervous system is just wired without much of a buffer when it’s not reset properly after a good nights sleep.
Or maybe I’m just pathetic and need to man up!
Whatever the case, Yaro is not a happy chap at 5am in the morning. The result is a stream of negative contemplation triggering the release of stress hormones that makes it difficult to get back to sleep.
What I find amazing is if I do get a full night’s sleep my mindset is completely opposite.
I may still think the same negative things, but I reframe them instantly. They don’t have the staying power like they do at 5am.
The Animal Brain Vs The Human Brain
I’m reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
It’s about introverts, why we are the way the way are and how we can slot into a world that rewards extraverted traits.
One of the aspects of the book I find particularly interesting is the results of brain scan experiments.
I won’t go into too much detail, but in simple terms there is an older part of our brain – the reptilian emotional part (the amygdala in your limbic system to be exact) – that fires up strongly in introverts, resulting in more sensitive reactions to things.
As we mature, the prefrontal cortex in our brains (responsible for organising thoughts and actions) starts to act as a controlling force, telling the animal brain that there is no reason to freak out.
The thing is, the animal brain will always react. It’s a survival mechanism.
Your ability to function as a normal human being and not freak out at every potential threat, real or imagined, depends on the newer parts of your brain keeping things in perspective.
I’m pretty certain at 5am in the morning my frontal lobe is not functioning at peak performance. Hence when I wake up mid sleep cycle, my old animal brain is free to get a bit carried away.
I recall when I was younger I had a much harder time controlling my nervous reactions and poor thought patterns. It got so bad for a period of time I had full blown panic attacks, the ultimate hissy fit by the animal brain inside me.
As I grew older – in particular after 25 years of age with a fully developed adult brain – things became more stable.
When Spider Senses Don’t Make You A Superhero
I am a much better sleeper today than previously.
I used to require perfect sleep conditions or I would be in for a rough night.
I couldn’t sleep if I was in an unfamiliar bed, if the room wasn’t dark enough, the temperature had to be cool with no random noises or people talking near by, or any kind of movement around me.
This was such an issue that any girl who stayed over my place had to sleep in a separate bed. I would even book hotels with two beds instead of one large bed if I traveled with a girlfriend.
As you can imagine, this wasn’t always a well received request.
I was hyper-sensitive. My senses picked up even the slightest changes to my environment and kept me too alert to sleep. I’d become over-tired and start thinking all those negative thoughts, making it even harder to sleep.
The next day I’d be tired due to lack of sleep, which led to irritability, fatigue, negative states of mind – life just sucked even if nothing was that wrong.
Today I am not as bad. I’m still sensitive, but not to the degree I was. Sleep comes easier. I’ve become good at napping too, which helps catch up any bad night’s rest.
And yes, in case you are wondering, I can sleep in a bed with someone else, although I’ve since been surprised when girls have also wanted their own bed!
How To Relax The Sleep Deprived Mind
Over the years I’ve developed a few techniques to help combat my night time over-active mind.
Some of these ideas are common insomnia cures. Since they work for me I’m going to share them with you.
If you find yourself lying awake at night, thinking stressful thoughts that are keeping you awake, try this…
- Read a fantasy or fiction book
Reading is great because it forces you to think about the words you are reading, and not the rest of your life and business. It’s important that you read something entertaining, not a business book that will make you think about all the things you should be doing for your business.
As I type this I am reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman, which almost always puts me to sleep within a few pages.
- Count to ten backwards in your mind and repeat
This is like meditation, and surprisingly difficult to do. Once again it forces your mind away from business contemplation onto something reasonably mundane. Don’t feel bad if you start and find your mind wandering. Just bring yourself back to ten and keep counting down. It’s like exercise, you keep working at it and you will get better…or fall asleep trying.
- Remind yourself that you can’t solve business or relationship problems lying in bed
Your create internal dissonance when your mind tells you there are projects to work on, emails to reply to and problems to solve… when you are lying in bed, a place they cannot be solved.Your bed is not your office (definitely do not do work in your bed!). I find reminding myself that there is a time and place for different things helps.
Continuing on from the previous point, if you simply can’t stop thinking about work, get up out of bed, go to your office and brain dump everything on to a piece of paper.The act of taking jobs from your mind on to paper helps relieve some stress and also gives you a checklist to work on tomorrow.
Read my blog post for more advice on brain dumping.
- Acknowledge your own irrationality
This is one I have only started to apply recently, yet it has become one of the most useful for me.Lying in bed thinking I often go on negative thought trains, linking one “bad” thought to another, increasing stress and tension in my body.
Eventually I catch myself, stop and acknowledge that I am being irrational because I am tired.
I’m choosing to see the negative. I focus on past mistakes. I complain about the present. I’m viewing everything bad in my life as permanent and continuous.
All classic pessimistic frames.
The thing is, they are frames – how I have decided to view things in my life.
Since I’m choosing these thoughts and choosing these interpretations of reality, it’s entirely my fault for feeling like I do.
What I do next is change my mind and reinterpret reality… all while lying in bed.
Often I find myself laughing at how silly I was to waste so much energy on what doesn’t help me.
It’s nice to be your own friend rather than enemy.
The powerful thing about having awareness of your own interpretation is you gain the ability to change it proactively, rather than just reactively.
I began positivity training after gaining awareness of how negative my thought patterns were during my early twenties.
It’s surprisingly hard at first because you have to unlearn a way of thinking that stems from your genetic disposition to being negative and any learned negativity you have from what influenced you growing up.
It takes practice, but now, like what I do at 5am lying in bed, once I realise I am harming myself with my thoughts, I can instantly snap out of it.
This is a skill you can develop that will help you not only sleep better, it can alter the entire direction of your life… and certainly your business.
In fact I believe Positivity Training is so important I included a section on it in my Mindset And Productivity guide for bloggers.
If you like discovering why you think the way you think and share my belief that you can “hack” your own way of thinking as a means for better blogging results, you will love my guide…
Master Your Mindset: Productivity And Mindset Training For Professional Bloggers
Inside the guide you will learn –
- What thought patterns lead to failure and how to change them
- Why a small group of people succeed and so many others fail
- How to stay productive when you feel like giving up
- My three core productivity concepts that form the foundation for everything I do online
- How to stack the deck in your favour using “Inevitability Thinking”
…And so much more!
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I hope the ideas I have presented to you in this newsletter help you sleep better.
To a good night’s rest!
P.S. You can find an archive of previous newsletters here.