“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
For the past couple of years, I’ve been dealing with a sleep problem. I’m great at falling asleep, and staying asleep. However, the quality of my sleep isn’t great. When I wake up, I’m just as tired as I was when I went to bed. You can see how this can be a real problem. The chronic, low-grade energy from lack of quality rest effects all aspects of my life. Luckily (or unluckily) as humans our bodies are incredibly resilient. We can push and punish our bodies and they will adapt to the new normal. Often this is beneficial. For example, exercising is fantastic for us and necessary for health. And 90% of the benefits of exercising outweigh the downsides of it’s stressors on our system. (An anti-example is overtraining. By training too much, you don’t give your system a chance to recover from the ‘good’ stress, so you reap less and less benefits, and the stress of constantly stressing yourself builds up and can reek havoc on you… eventually)
All that being said, when you don’t sleep well, you get used to the new normal. What else can you do but use the energy you have and continue moving forward? Tired becomes the new normal and you push through. From the outside looking in, nothing is different. You are just you. Which is a weird feeling, to say the least. Everything is normal, but not as effective as you know you could be, but you still have to be on your A game.
This experience has given me the opportunity to dive deep into the world of sleep and sleep optimization. (A few friends have asked me, so I might do a future post on the resources, tools and strategies I’ve discovered about sleep.)
This experience has also taught me the value of thinking and acting systematic when dealing with problems.
Here are five strategies you can use when facing an uncertain problem (in no particular order):
1. Question all assumptions
What are things that we do that are beneficial to us?
What are things that we do and think that are not beneficial to us?
It’s easy to assume that certain habits or actions are beneficial, but without testing those assumptions, we never actually know whether or not they are benefiting us or causing problems. Not everything thing is a net positive, and sometimes negative habits cancel out beneficial habits. Just like a wave can cancel out another wave, the downside of an action or way of thinking can negate the upside to another action or way of thinking. For example, taking a B-12 supplement isn’t really going to move the health needle in our favor if we are also eating ice cream and other delicious crap every day. Not all examples are as easy to spot what the problem is like this one, so it’s good to have a health dose of questioning all that you (think you) know and do, and test all assumptions and how much value they are each adding to your life.
2. Test Each Variables
What are the underlying factors causing the problem?
Donald Rumsfeld once said, “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it. There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint what the problem is without considering all the variables that potentially contribute to the underlying problem.
Sometimes you can’t know all of the variables that go into play, but making a list of the factors you do know can help you uncover what’s good and what’s not. By making a list, and, essentially checking it twice — isolating the variable and seeing how much pull it has on the problem — we can uncover what’s going wrong. Or at the very least, what’ NOT going wrong. (Checking off things that aren’t causing the problem can be just important as the ones that are.)
For sleep, variables such as:
- Number of hours in bed (How many hours of sleep are you getting?)
- Staying asleep (How restful are you during sleep?)
- Going to sleep (How easy is it to fall asleep?)
- Bed Time (What time are you in bed?)
- Dinner Time (How many hours between dinner and bedtime?)
- Stress (Work stress?
- Screens (Are you looking at screens before bed? If so what time / how long?)
- Reading (Are you reading before bed?)
- Blue Lights (Are you exposing yourself to blue light too late from fluorescents etc?)
- Shower (Do you take a shower / bath before bed?)
- Cold Thermogenesis? (What does an ice bath or cold shower do before bed?)
- Mattress (How new is your mattress? High quality?)
- Pillow (How nice / optimal is your pillow? Especially with an injury)
- Sheets (How nice are your sheets?)
- Room Temperature (How cold or hot is your room)
- Room Darkness (How dark is your room?)
- Air Quality (Is your air allergy / mold / toxin free?
- Sound Environment (How quite / noise-free is your sleep environment?)
- Food (How healthy did you eat today?)
- Exercise (How much did you move today?)
As you can see, even something as ‘simple’ as sleep can mask a large about of variables that come into play.
When you are tackling a problem, list all the variables you can think of and test each one at a time. You could do the kitchen sink method and try everything at once, which is a much faster (and yet more expensive) approach. But you won’t know what precisely worked for you. By ruling out each variable, your scientifically testing each possibility and determining which factors have the most effect.
3. Think it through.
What’s one thing you can do that solves 90% of the problem?
Not every variable has equal weight. Often, if we tackle on thing, like dominoes the rest will follow. This is a trail and errors game, but we can be smart about how we prioritize and what order we handle problems. What’s an easy win? What’s something you can do right now that will help immediately? (What would Steve Jobs do? 😝) Who’s had this problem before and what did they do to solve it? What’ are the small thing that could possible create a massive outcome? What does your instinct say? Be intentional, think it through.
4. Seek Wisdom from People Smarter than You.
There’s nothing wrong in asking for advice. In fact, if you are not constantly seeking insights from people smarter than you, then you are doing yourself a disservice and holding yourself back from overcoming problems quickly and with the least amount of resistance.
Whenever in doubt: Ask.
Even if it makes you look stupid. Being stupid now is better than always being stupid because you never ask, especially if you are in a position to ask someone you have access to directly.
And when you don’t have direct access to someone who might have an answer for you directly, then read, watch, learn EVERYTHING they’ve put out. A book or podcast by them can be just as powerful as talking to them IRL.
5. Go Easy on Yourself.
This one I had to learn from a friend. Problems can take time to overcome. We’ve got too mentally prepare ourselves for that scenario and play the long game instead of giving up because the circumstance feels hopeless in the present. Keep going, but go easy on yourself. In the end, we’re all just human, struggling and figuring life out as we go. Every obstacle we face is a chance to be better. Every failure is an opportunity for us to learn and be better. Treating ourselves badly only lets the problem win and control us. But focusing on the opportunities and taking things one step at a time puts the ball back in our court.
STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner
Daily Blog #578
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