You’re seeking to change. You already know how it fails when you approach the problem from outside, trying to force change by willpower and by making demands of yourself. Approaching from the inside and trying the naive strategy, ruminating on how miserable sleep deprivation is doesn’t help much. When you’re in a situation when you should be getting ready for bed but aren’t, the misery won’t be as real to you. The mental images and thought processes that drive your current situation will dominate, out of sheer inertia, and push your craving for sleep out of your mind.
It will feel strange and uncomfortable to change state, to shift into the state of mind needed to leave and pursue sleep, no matter how much you truly want it deep inside. Deliberately shifting your mental state from the one that drives one activity and thought process, to the one that drives a different activity and thought process takes skill. Expecting will power and responsibility to do it all is being unfair to yourself. Here’s a mental exercise that can make it easier.
Think of the worst time when you procrastinate on getting your sleep. If you made a list last week, go over it now. Does it happen when you’re in front of a screen–the internet, a game, or the TV? Is it when you’re out, and you don’t want to miss out on what’s happening, or you want to please the people you’re with? Are you trying to work, determined to do as much as you can before you quit for the day, but getting fewer and fewer returns for the effort you’re putting out?
Now imagine yourself getting up and leaving the situation. Whatever situation you identified, picture what it would look like to stop and walk away from it. Imagine closing out of your browser, closing the lid on your laptop, standing up, and stretching. Hear yourself saying good night to your friends, and feel your legs move and the air change as you step outside.
Now that you have the two opposing situations in your vision, try looping them. First play the image of the situation you want to leave. Make it vivid. See the web pages, hear the TV dialogue, smell the drinks. Now, just as vividly, interrupt it with the image of closing your laptop, standing up and stretching. Let the vision fade to black, then bring the TV or the party back again. Once it’s vivid, then repeat the standing up and stretching, or the saying good night and leaving.
Practice this exercise over the coming week. Next week, I’ll explore some ways to make the change more powerful and effective.