When I was working as a consultant in the technology industry, I would get calls from customers with problems. A typical conversation may have gone like this:
“My workstation is so slow. I can barely get anything done.”
“Okay, what changed?”
Not likely. Something must have happened…unless…
“Was it ever working?”
“Well, yeah, but I came in this morning and now it’s terrible.”
“Well, something must have happened between when it was working and this morning.”
Thus began the process of troubleshooting the issue in order to find a resolution. This works in life too.
“I haven’t been sleeping well at all,” I lamented recently. “I keep waking up in the middle of the night, usually around 4.”
“You know, you force yourself to go to bed when the kids do. You used to go to bed around midnight.”
I thought about my husband’s words the entire day. I used to go to sleep by midnight and wake up at six. Now I was going to sleep at ten and waking up at four.
If I forced myself to go back to sleep, I woke up a few hours later feeling groggy and out of sorts. Unfortuntely, this lasted throughout the day. If I got up and did work, I would crash by mid afternoon and feel awful for the rest of the day.
“I’m getting too much sleep,” I realized.
It was easy to see how I got into this mess. When my kids were newborns and I was getting almost no sleep, I adjusted my life to try and compensate. This included changing the time I went to bed at night and drinking copious amounts of caffeine (primarily espresso) just to function.
Under normal circumstances, I might have naturally readjusted my lifestyle and sleep schedule once life settled down. The problem was, life didn’t settle down. Not by a long shot. During the years that followed, we moved 3 times (twice to new states), I started a new career, and had another child. Not conducive to restful sleep. More recently, things have settled to the point I no longer needed the extra sleep. Unfortunately, I hadn’t readjusted my routine.
To test this theory, I decided to reestablish my old pattern by staying up until midnight. It was tough. By eleven, it was hard to keep my eyes open. However, I forced myself to stay awake and sure enough, I woke up at my normal time feeling great. What a simple fix to solve a problem that had become chronic.
I thought back to a time when my life was going fairly smoothly. What was I doing at that point that I may not be doing now? I started by thinking about the routines I’d had.
I typically drove through McDonald’s in the morning to get a coke (they have the best Coke outside of a can of anyone) and would have a cup of tea in the afternoon. I did not drink coffee!
Since I know that not all caffeines are the same, I decided to skip the morning cuppa joe and try a Coca- Cola instead. I felt great! No midmorning crash that would lead to either a second cup of coffee or a cup of caffeinated tea.
I continued thinking back…what were the things I did that brought joy and made my day better?
For one thing, I didn’t wear pajamas to work. I’ve seen commercials that show men and women doing conference calls in slippers and pajamas, the kids playing in the background. The reality is that if I stay in my pajamas, I don’t feel like I’m working.
My mom once told me about someone who not only dressed, they left and drove around the block before coming back home. This kept up the routine of going somewhere to work.
I decided to switch to my old morning routine in order to reestablish the old pattern I associated with work. This resulted in a more professional atmosphere in the home and I started the day with a feeling of accomplishment.
I have begun analyzing many of my health habits in an attempt to identify those which need to be changed. The irony is that many of them actually need to go back to what I was doing before. Sure, my life has changed, but the adjustments I made during times of change and turmoil were not meant to be permanent. During times of stress they helped me survive but now that things have settled a bit, they actually cause harm.
When looking at any part of your life that may be off-kilter, it may be worth going through a troubleshooting exercise in which your first question is “What changed?”