I’ve noticed something.

Every time I don’t get enough sleep I greet the day with the same thought: “I have SO much to do.”

It’s not the mother of all negative thoughts to be sure, but it is not a good way to start the day.

I’ve talked about the way this one affects me before, but for those of you who are new to my little corner of the universe, I’ll give you the short version.

startup-photos-5When I think “I have SO much to do,” I get anxious. I feel nervous and flustered and nothing has really even happened yet. Then I get grumpy about some of the normal everyday person stuff I have to do that is keeping me from getting to the looming list. The next bit can go a couple of ways, I can grump at people or I can kind of spin, not really being productive and just feeling generally overwhelmed. There is usually some digital time wasting in there too – not sure exactly how that happens, but I suspect it’s just my attempt to buffer the discomfort of the anxiety or the self-judgment at my grumpiness.

Yep, it can get complicated up in here.

So when I don’t get enough sleep, this is how my day starts. And I’ve noticed this because of a practice that I do in the mornings.

coffee-cup-desk-penI got this particular tool from Brooke Castillo, but other folks (including Julia Cameron) recommend similar practices. When I’ve gotten a cup of coffee or tea and have made sure the young people are tended to, I sit down and do what Brooke calls a “thought download.” It’s a free-write. I just write whatever is in my head for let’s say 10 minutes. I use a nice clean sheet of paper and a pen that feels comfortable (arthritis in the hands makes tool choice important) and I just write down whatever is going on in my head. I just transcribe it. I don’t try to make it pretty. I don’t choose my words carefully. I don’t repeat phrases for emphasis. (See what I did there?)

The immediate impact of those actions is that I feel a little relief if there’s something going on up there that is negative or not helpful. And I chalk that up to the fact that I am listening. The internal chatter, even when it is stupid and ill-informed, really wants to be heard and it will get louder and more urgent if we don’t attend. So writing it all down is a form of listening: listening to my most primitive self, listening to my least mature self, listening to the really bratty sometimes angry sometimes sad part of myself. Being heard allows the message to soften. As I’m writing I sometimes laugh a little because it seems so ridiculous as I actually give voice to all of it. And the laugh isn’t one of judgment; it’s not sarcastic and nasty. It’s more of the kind of laugh when a child has done something totally predictable and silly that you KNOW they will grow out of soon. A little shake of the head: “Of course you’re thinking that.”

The secondary impact of taking a few minutes to write down what’s going on in there is that I get to see what thoughts are rumbling around in there and when I find ones that are really giving me trouble, I can challenge them. “Is that really true? Is it absolutely true? Does it make me feel terrible? Is there something I could believe that feels better and is just as true or truer? What do I want to believe to have this day be what I want it to be?” It sounds like a lot, but when you do it over and over, it really isn’t. And it works. It creates the space where you can make some choices about what you are thinking so you can decide what kind of day (or at least the next half hour) you are going to have.

The long-term impact of this practice? You get to see patterns. You get to notice what your go-to crappy thoughts are and you get to notice what makes them pop up. Seeing the pattern of bad sleep/anxious thoughts allows me some space from it. It reminds me to get better sleep for one thing, which is something I can always use, but it also creates some perspective, some distance from those icky anxious thoughts. “Oh, that’s just that thing that happens when I don’t get enough sleep.” I see you tired brain. I see you bumbling around and making a mess, throwing a really clumsy tantrum. I see you.

When we know what some of our go to icky thoughts are they become so much easier to manage. They’re like irritating old friends. “Yep, here you are again. I figured you would show up. Man, you are really persistent.” It’s much easier to think something different when you see a thought that way instead of thinking that it is THE TRUTH.

What thoughts are getting in the way of your good mornings? What would change for you if you just wrote them all down? If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes.

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