Its 2am and I haven’t slept in two days. My mind races and yet I can barely put together a coherent thought. It’s as if my mind is full and empty at the same time. I look around my dark room once more to check the clock and pray it hasn’t moved much since I last looked. After all, tomorrow’s a big day—perhaps the biggest day of my young life.
I check the clock again, damn it—it’s 4 a.m. now! How the hell am I going to perform tomorrow if I haven’t got any rest in the last 48 hours? It’s like someone is playing a cruel joke on me.
Okay okay okay, if I fall asleep now I can still get 2 hours before I need to be up and ready in order to make it on time. I just need to get up, shower, read over my notes, study a little more, drive down town and sign in before 7a.m. If I’m late, I can’t take the test and I’ll have to try again in another six months.
Come on JC, don’t think, just relax…But wait, if I miss my appointment tomorrow, not only will I have to reregister for the test, but I’ll also have to pay for it again. It’s $300 and I’m a broke college student! I can’t afford that. What am I going to do?
What if I never get this opportunity again? What if I don’t get into grad school? What will my family think? I’ll be such a failure and no one will…
Beeeep Beeeep Beeep.. crap, time to get up…
This is the true story of what happened to me the night before I took the GMAT back in 2011. The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admissions Test. In short, the GMAT is the test you take to get into an MBA program and the idea is the higher you score, the higher the chance that you get into a better school.
I tell this story because it reminds me of a different time in my life. A time where I was completely controlled by my thoughts. A time where I let my mind jerk me around like a schoolyard bully.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that in reality I had no control of my life at that time. I was moving from one pointless task to another. From high school to college. From college to getting my first job at a bank and then finally, applying to, and completing a gradate degree. But where did that get me? It got me a lot of insecurities and a very critical and active mind.
Now, why am I telling you this story?
I tell it to you because I think we have all been there. We have all kept ourselves up at night, worrying about the next day or things outside of our control. I by no means believe my story is unique. Some might even think of these sleepless nights as a badge of honor—it’s a sign you’re becoming an adult.
But I have a secret I want to share…
It doesn’t have to be that way! Being an adult is not about enduring sleepless nights. It’s not about taking on all of the worlds problems and taking life so seriously that you can no longer find joy in life’s simplest pleasures.
To me, being an adult is about overcoming the mind. It’s about transcending the ego and creating the life you want to live. As they say, you don’t find yourself, you create yourself.
Living a life of mindfulness has done just that for me—it’s made my life full. But I take exception to the phrase “mindful” in that being mindful is really about being present. The phrase might indicate to some that your mind is full but that’s not the case. Mindfulness is often about emptying your mind so you can be in the moment that exists right now.
Nevertheless, having a mindfulness practice has taught me that I am not the thinker. When I meditate I sometimes feel like I’m watching a movie of my thoughts going by and I can look away from the movie whenever I want.
Had I had a mindfulness practice back in 2011 I can promise you I wouldn’t have suffered through two sleepless nights in preparation for my GMAT. In fact, I would argue that there is even more at stake in my life right now—I have a mortgage, a beautiful wife to care for, a career to launch, and a future family to plan for.
The difference now is that I fall asleep every night within minutes of hitting the pillow. It drives my wife crazy because she says I can fall sleep anywhere, anytime!
The key? You guessed it—mindfulness.
On nights when my mind is racing and there is a lot on my plate I can use my mindfulness practice to help separate myself from the thoughts. I don’t fall asleep because I can empty my mind, I fall asleep because I can see my mind and stop believing what it’s trying to tell me.
When my mind wants to get me worked up about things I have to do, I can simply remind it that I’m safe, in bed with my wife, in our beautiful home, and I can’t do anything about tomorrow. When my mind wants to tell me how stressed I am I can simply say no I’m not, I’m at peace.
So the next time you can’t sleep, try being mindful. First, see your thoughts. Then realize that it’s okay to have thoughts but they aren’t useful at 2 in the morning. Finally, direct your attention away from your mind and into the present moment. You can do this by simply feeling your breath or even doing a quick body scan to check in with your body.
The further away you can get from the mind, the more restful you feel. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear if you have any other mindful tricks to help you fall asleep faster and with more ease!
Thank you as always for reading.
Until next time, many many blessings.