Hey sleep enthusiast, do you ever find yourself slipping into thoughts of comparison for where you are at in life compared to others? Maybe feeling behind because you have not achieved certain milestones yet. Or feeling deflated by seemingly not being able to stick with the habits you intended to create.
As a sleep coach and former insomniac, this sense of failure in comparison to others is a common conclusion that I know well. How could I progress in life when just getting through the day after sleepless nights was such as struggle?!
How shame can keep us stuck and feeling behind in life
When we get into the sleep coaching process, there can be a lot of shame that comes with acknowledging not being able to commit to habits or keep up with routines that support sleep. Combine that with the exhaustion of sleep deprivation and the demands of everyday life and it’s no wonder that we then struggle to progress in other areas of life!
Feeling like you can’t do anything in life can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that many people experience and can lead to avoiding effort wherever possible. This is where the phrase ‘goblin mode’ comes from. It became a thing during the stay-at-home times of the pandemic when many people opted to ‘give up and slob out’. Whilst it came from a time when our usual freedoms weren’t so available, the phrase continues to sum up a lifestyle choice that people resonate with when their energy is depleted.
Change and rest are possible in ways that are uniquely you!
The truth is that we do have the freedom to choose how we want our lifestyle, well-being and sleep to fit together. That change is possible. It's not about setting goals or where you want to get to compared to others. That's a fast-track into the all-too-familiar experience of shame and stories of being 'not enough'. It's a cliche, but we really are all on our own journeys, so it doesn't make sense to compare the raw reality of your life to what you see of someone else's highlights reel on Instagram. When working with clients as a sleep coach, I help clients to measure their progress compared to their past selves, rather than where other people may be at. In this blog article I'll share some gentle ways to bring more hope, and even enjoyment, for progressing with goals in ways that work for your life. As well as getting the rest that makes it all possible.
Why routines and habits may not happen
The way to reach your goals and progress in life is through the cumulative effect of the everyday actions you take. If you haven’t had the best track record with habits and routines, it’s not because you’re broken or can’t do anything in life! Firstly: let’s acknowledge that breaking out of old ways takes effort. That’s because ‘a stunning 43% of everyday actions are enacted habitually while people are thinking about something else’, according to research from the American Psychological Association.
Secondly, it’s even more challenging to break old ways and create new habits if you are using what little energy you have after a poor night's sleep to just get through the day. When new habits and routines involve going hard on yourself or making big changes, they can feel overwhelming or like a chore. When you factor in all the other challenges that life brings, it’s no wonder we often revert to our old ways for some ease (also why 80% of New Years resolutions reportedly fail).
Making habits manageable
You can consider guidelines from CBT for insomnia and what makes up an optimal evening routine. What is crucial with these is to adapt them for what may be manageable for your capacity and lifestyle. It’s not a case of relying on pure willpower alone to complete every step in these, or other, guides to get the best results.
What’s needed is habits that feel doable even on our lowest energy days. This is why James Clear talks about turning habits into their smallest possible form. These can then be used as building blocks to get to where we want to be over time, getting 1% better every day.
How do you design habits and routines that you want to do?
In his bestselling book, Atomic Habits (which you can read more about from a Restful Sleep perspective here), James Clear introduces how a key phase in forming new habits is to make them appealing. Two questions to help with making habits and routines that you have more chance of wanting to do are:
How could you personalise what you are doing?
What wider meaning could you attach to it?
Designing habits and routines with these questions in mind helps to make them more relevant and enjoyable, from there we can even come into more of a sense of ritual with our regular actions.
What are rituals?
When you think of rituals, there may be cultural traditions that come to mind. For example:
Counting down until midnight strikes to bring in the new year,
‘You may now kiss the bride’ at a wedding ceremony,
Bands returning to the stage for an extra song (after their ‘last song’),
Candles being blown out on a birthday cake, as well as...
Candles being lit in various religious traditions.
The familiarity of rituals means they can be enjoyable in a way that creates a sense of consistency and calm for those who participate in and witness them. They bring communities together, cultivating a sense of belonging during festive holidays, funerals, weddings and other events.
Along with these traditional rituals, we likely have our personal rituals that we may do without realising. Everyday actions can be packed with significance. For example: the daily ritual of starting your morning with brewing a tea, lighting a candle and writing in a dream journal to capture the dreams of the night before. What makes this a ritual, rather than just a habit, is how it is infused with meaning. It is not just the act of writing into a journal, but reflecting on dreams and what they mean to you to connect with a deeper sense of yourself.
This is great news for those of us looking to get more Restful Sleep because it means that even a five-minute ritual has the potential to be deeply restorative, making rituals powerful stuff!
How rituals can help us to be more restful
Making rituals out of intentional moments that have our own meaning helps our well-being because we can cultivate:
Less anxiety and stress
Research shows that “simple, novel rituals reduce anxiety, lower elevated heart rates, and improve performance – provided they are imbued with symbolic meaning.”
Rituals bring concentration and attention to detail, quietening the mental chatter for a more peaceful state of mindfulness and presence. And they’re easier than meditation!
A way to practice gratitude
Once you start to enjoy the rituals, gratitude can start to flow for what you have built for yourself. Whilst the benefits of gratitude continue to be researched, it is understood to positively impact emotional health, relationships and even physical health, especially during difficult times.
A sense of control
Small moments of predictability in an uncertain world help to cultivate self-trust so that you have more power to keep going.
Experiences of awe
Another mental state that enhances mental well-being is awe. Awe is a cool brain hack with many benefits, in particular being able to experience greater life satisfaction. Which makes a big difference if you’ve been in a depressed-like state.
Bringing some playfulness to your day
They can even be irrational and silly as long as you can embrace them! Playfulness brings yet more well-being benefits, as it has been shown to boost creativity and help with managing stress.
Even more impact in a group
By getting together with others with shared intentions, you can amplify their benefits by creating a space for sacredness to the ritual. You can get inspiration for how these could look in the restful socialising blog article.
Whilst bringing rituals into your life may take a change of mindset, it may not need much of a change of behaviour when you consider that you may already have some rituals. Ready to get curious about how rituals could help with your sleep?
Rituals for sleep
Typical rituals that I have discovered with clients and used for myself include:
The goofy way you and your partner say goodnight on your evening phone call,
A 15-minute dance party with your children to get the wiggles out before their bedtime,
A short walk in the quietness of the night, regardless of weather, to find beauty in the place you live in,
Spending 5 minutes writing the intentions for the next day, to have a positive thought to go to bed with,
Fluffing the pillows and spraying them with a lavender smell.
However short or silly they may be, sleep rituals go beyond routine; they become a conduit for a deeper connection with our inner selves and the world around us. Such rituals serve as a bridge to tranquillity, helping us leave the worries of the day behind and enter a state of calm and relaxation. In the process, they signal to our minds and bodies that it's time to unwind and rejuvenate.
With rituals, we can cultivate sleep spaces as being sacred, setting the stage for restful nights and revitalized mornings. As well as supporting our overall mental and physical health, they can go a long way in terms of building resiliency when battling with persistent anxiety, loss, grief, instability and more.
Has reading this blog article made you wonder about the habits and routines in your life? If you’d like to find out more about how to break out of feeling behind in life to create rituals to reach your goals, you’d be welcome to book a free Restful Sleep coaching discovery call. You’ll get the chance to ask any questions and find out what kind of approach could be supportive for your situation.