20 Nov The Nighttime Battle
Moss Jackson, PhD
Psychologist and Success Coach
It is 3:30 am and I am lying in bed, fully awake. It is not unusual for me to wake up alert between 2-3 am. Sometimes I awake because I have to take a piss, sometimes because I am having an adrenaline or cortisol surge and other times because I am stressing or worrying about something.
Usually, I am able to administer an antidote that calms me down and eases me back to sleep. I will get to that shortly! Sometimes though, I am lazy and allow myself to stay stuck, like a swimmer caught in a riptide pulling me deeper into battle with my worrisome thoughts and increasingly agitated body.
Tonight, I decided to just pay attention to my thoughts and emotions, and I now feel like a war correspondent reporting on a skirmish in a faraway land.
Here is what I am observing in my squirming mind:
How is my wife feeling?
How are my daughters doing?
What will Trump bring into our lives as President?
How are my clients dealing with their issues?
What new issue will a client be angry about this week?
How are my inflammatory markers doing?
Will I ever learn how to do a video webinar?
When will climate change cause the seas to rise and flood my beach house?
How can I increase my book sales?
Is my androgel going to work?
Is the IRS out to get me?
Etc., etc., etc…
I wish I could say I was “thinking”, but I am not. I am “Thoughting,” experiencing the automatic flow of my mind at work. My friend Don Rothbart used this expression the other day at lunch. Thank you, Don. The big difference between thinking and thoughting is that the former is active, while the latter is passive.
The worst time to think is 2-3 in the morning. Actual thinking can be interesting; it involves an inquiry that probes for solutions to problems we are experiencing, and works through the pros and cons of each one. But such a thoughtful inquiry is a rare phenomenon at that hour when you are lying in the dark!
“Thoughting “is different than thinking. Thinking is an active process that is usually creative and solution focused. The automatic thoughts I listed above have no useful answers. They are just the battlefield antagonists that my mind and brain throw at me when they are in default mode.
The default mode is what our minds do when it is not focused, whether that focus be on some purpose, a personal mission or simply something enjoyable. My life is great and I love it when I live on purpose and with focus. According to Kelly McMonigle, a professor of compassion and mindfulness at Stanford University, when the mind is in default mode it does three unhelpful things:
1. We become too self-centered
2. We activate the shit storm part of the brain
3. We find people and situations to worry about.
So here I am, in my riptide of battlefield skirmishes and “shit storms”, doing nothing of value and noticing my emotions heating up as my body becomes inundated with bad stress chemicals. It’s like hanging out with Freddy Kruger in a hotel like the one in “The Shining!”
So, if you can relate, here is what I do to regain some self-regulation, inner calm and sleep. I do some comfortable mindfulness breathing, visualize a time when I felt safe and calm, count backwards from 100, or picture myself in the deck of my beach house painting. If these do not work, I get up after about 15 minutes, make a hot cup of green tea and turn on an old and familiar movie. Usually within 30 minutes, a sense of tiredness and calm takes over and back I go to the comfort of my warm bed, no worse for the wear.
I am noticing that I am now yawning and am beginning to relax and feeling my mind getting sleepy. I think will do some imaginary beach time painting and go back to sleep. And, if that does not work, there is always my cup of green tea.
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