Wake-up calls come from many sources and, at their best, incite us to transform the ways we live. Recently, I heard Arianna Huffington speak about her realization that she needed to make concrete changes in the number of hours she worked and slept. The co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group broke her cheekbone and gashed her eye as a result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep. Surrendering to the realization that something had to change (and then making changes), Arianna is now inviting us to challenge assumptions we hold about what's needed to live well and succeed.
Promoting her latest book, Thrive, Arianna shared with a Philadelphia audience, "We're all living under the collective delusion that to succeed, you need to work 24/7." She went on to say that wherever she's speaking, she hears people expressing sentiments like, "I don't remember the last time I wasn't tired. We so disrespect ourselves that we think it's OK to be perpetually tired," and "Our relentless pursuit of earning money and attaining power has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life and, ironically, our careers."
A few years ago, I, too, found myself face-to-face with my own patterns of overdrive and sleep deprivation. Having spent a couple of years editing a book and co-authoring another, I lost the ability to guide my body to restful sleep. I spent late nights being very productive at the computer, but it left my brain signals messed up, activating me in high alert for awake mode just at the time I most wanted to be asleep. My natural circadian rhythms were out of whack.
My wake-up moment occurred when I realized that I hadn't yawned in months. I called a physician friend who asked me a bunch of questions and helped me face the need to make some significant changes in my night time behavior. My wake-up call marching orders were clear: No more late nights on the computer. The computer would need to be turned off at 10:30 p.m. rather than 12:00 a.m. The directive to develop better "sleep hygiene" made sense, so in spite of my worry that I would lose productivity, I set time limits and trained myself to focus on the positive outcomes. I began reading more novels in bed and practicing more yoga breathing techniques to re-signal support for the production of calming neurochemicals.
It's now been a year and a half since starting on this new path. I'm not fully cured, but I am a whole lot better off. I've accepted unplugging earlier and earlier in the evening and have found the rewards worth the discipline. I am no less driven and not really any less productive, just working at it all a bit differently.
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