To create, do this one thing every day
This is generally indicative of an ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ attitude to the body.
Creatives are probably the worst culprits on this point.
Many people who create products of the mind tend to overlook the part the body plays in supporting the mind (in any case, evidence suggests cells in the body are our ‘minds’, so the separation of mind and body is totally artificial. But that’s for another day).
One of the problems of our culture in general is that all-nighters, working till late into the night, working all-day-none-stop-so-you-don’t-even-take-a-lunch-break is celebrated.
It’s the sign of dedication; the artist’s willingness to make ‘sacrifices’ for her art.
It’s also a sign of an unsustainable behaviour that needs calling out in creative work spaces.
Changing the culture
Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and one of the most powerful women in media called it out recently when she talked about her extreme exhaustion, and how it led to her collapse (literally).
Huffington has recently installed nap rooms in Huff Post offices, so people can recharge. Without shame.
My point is, if you’re overweight, lethargic, irritable, unable to shrug bad habits and have trouble focussing; if you’re full of great ideas but no outcomes, perhaps you don’t need mindfulness training.
You simply need more sleep.
Personally, I know that when I am in sleep deficit, I’m able to do tasks that are procedural and repetitive.
“ A little insomnia is not without its value in making us appreciate sleep, in throwing a ray of light upon that darkness. ”
But trying to write creatively when I’m tired feels like this:
You know those ads for life insurance, where the pretty, thin thirty-something woman is running on the beach (because the beach symbolises freedom and she is free because she has awesome coverage)?
Well, she’s doing it – the jogging – with ease, isn’t she? That’s because she’s running in the hard sand by the edge of the water. If she tried running in the powdery sand further from the water, she’d look like your mind feet look when they are trying to write while sleepy.
There’d be sneakers going everywhere, she’d be kicking that powdery sand in her own mouth, and she’d get puffed real quick, because each time she stepped, her feet would sink into the sand and she’d have to pull the foot out to take the next step.
So, she’d be sweating. Definitely. And her makeup would run. And … no one would ever buy life insurance ever again.
Not that I necessarily subscribe to the so-called merits of insurance, but I really do want to be that woman jogging effortlessly on the beach when I write.
I want my little Nike mind sneakers to move at an awesome sustainable pace. I want to feel light and capable both at the same time. Most of all, I want the self-congratulating moral righteousness that comes from knowing I did it hard, didn’t give up and kept moving forward.
Are you a good sleeper?
When my kids were little, my friends always asked me “are they good sleepers?” I’d give them a crooked smile, open my eyes widely, nod too emphatically and say “Yeah, they’re doing well. Reeeaaally well.”
Then change the subject.
Truth was, my kids were terrible sleepers.
And that’s mainly because sleep wasn’t high on my agenda as a behaviour for them to aspire to. I wanted them to be awake and alert and drinking in life, not dozing their way through it.
Looking back now I see this was really messed up thinking. In order for them to be alert and able to drink up life, they needed to have rested. It was only when I myself spent two years in sleep deficit as a new mother that I appreciated the need for sleep.
Although I finished a degree and wrote a novel during this period, the process was sluggish and painful.
After that, I fell into a hole for a year where I did barely anything creative. And looking back, it’s clear one of the reasons for my nil motivation was lack of rest.
So I had to right my mindset about sleep – and adjust some habits.
If you’re at the same point, here are some tricks I learnt for improving sleep habits:
1. Go to sleep when you’re tired
Spend time away from artificial light and you’ll be surprised at the sleep cycle rhythms your body creates. They probably won’t look anything like the ones you have at home. That’s because light allows us to push through sleepiness and continue to do things; things we shouldn’t be doing because we should be asleep. And this tendency is made worse by handheld devices you can take to bed.
So, monitor yourself. When the first wave of tiredness hits, relent and listen to it. Push against it, and you may find yourself unable to sleep until the next wave hits, perhaps hours later.
2. Get a ritual
As with babies, so it is with adults. We need to train our bodies through conditioning to know what’s coming up. Use regular habits to signal to your body to wind down.
Here’s mine: I go to bed with a green apple and a cup of hot water. I read while I eat the apple, drink my water. Read a bit more. When finally I brush my teeth, this is the signal it’s all over.
You can have any sign for your body, it doesn’t need to look like mine, as long as it’s habitual.
3. Take a daytime nap
And don’t feel guilty about it. Everyone has a period in their day when they feel sluggish. Set the timer for 20 mins and sleep it out. For the cost of that 20 mins, you’ll be so much more in tune, in focus and you’ll make better stuff.
Half an hour a day makes your body, as well as your brain, tired. Plus, if you’re prone to anxiety or depression (you’re an artist, how can you not be?) this’ll help you manage those too.
- it’s difficult to focus
- you can’t see tasks through to the end
- you’re constantly stuck for ideas
- you can’t see your way through problems or you’re just generally not cool to be around
… you might just be tired.
Sleep is that one thing all creative people must do, every day – and night.
See you on the other side of rest.