Sometimes, although it’s rare, I can have trouble sleeping. I recall vividly, summer holidays between grade 5 and grade 6 was the first time I experienced this. It was so strange to me. We were camping at the time, spending all day outside, running around, biking, fishing, hiking. Come night time, I would be tired, ready to go to bed, but then I’d just lay there, and the lay there, listening for grizzly bears outside the tent. Good times, good times… So that was my first memory of having a hard time falling asleep, and since then, I can likely count the other times on two hands. It’s as I said, a rare thing for me. When it does happen now though, it’s normally due to some excitement, or stress in my life surrounding change or uncertainty. My brain will stay active long after my body decides it’s time to fall asleep. Lately, I’ve been wrapped up in a lot, between work, home life, training and riding, helping out here and there with some other side projects and so on. I’ve got lots on my mind, which is how I like it, as the vast majority of it fun to think about, but come 11pm when I want to shut the ol’ noodle off, it hasn’t been happening. So, what now?
I think the first place to start is not how to quiet my mind at night, but to find a way to quiet it during the day. I am reading a book on this actually, so in a way, this all sort of timely. The book is called ‘Your Brain at Work‘ by David Rock. It focuses on how your brain works in a busy work/office environment, and then provides strategies for better and more efficient working habits. Fascinating stuff, if you want to give it a read, I’d recommend it. One of the things that struck a cord with me is how a common office environment with access to internet, phones, cell phones, email, texting and instant messaging, puts us in a state of constant alert, or even emotional crisis. Over time, remaining in this state of always being ‘on’ takes it’s toll, making us even more apt to distraction, never truly, fully, focusing on any one thing at a time, and in turn, not being able to think as clearly, work as smart, or efficiently as we’d like.
So, getting more to my point here, I think that if you can better organize your time, and your day, your mind will follow. This may not be all that easy though, if you follow the analogy of the Elephant and Rider. This is simply to say that the conscious mind is really just along for the ride (as the rider) and the subconscious is the one calling the shots, as the elephant. Sure, if the rider wants to go in one direction, and the elephant is agreeable, that works out well enough, but if the elephant wants to go a different way than the rider, there isn’t really anything the rider can do about it.
Try this for fun – it’s called a Stroop test:
Read ‘outloud’ the COLOUR, not the word
(research shows that to not read the word requires ‘inhibition’ of the autonomic response, which is run by our subconscious)
I wonder if this is what’s so hard about getting your mind to shut off when your trying to fall asleep? It makes sense. The conscious you, or the rider, wants to sleep, but the more powerful subconscious does what it wants, and so the wheels of the mind continue to werrrrr along madly… You can ‘inhibit’ one thought, but then another just pops into your head and so it goes. You get to know your ceiling pretty well when this happens.
Sleep problems aside, the mind is certainly a powerful thing, and can be very hard to control, at any time of day. I think this is something many endurance athletes might have in common, and our sport is a way to quiet the mind. Some people use meditation, yoga or deep breathing, while we choose distraction in exhilaration and, well, pain… I’m not at all saying endurance athletes are masochists because what we’re really doing is tearing ourselves down only to build ourselves up better and stronger. But, pushing ourselves to the point that the ‘discomfort’, be that the slow burn in your legs, the searing of your lungs as you crest a long hill, or power straight into the wind, allows us to focus on something so singular, and so simple. It quiets the mind and if you ask me, it’s fantastic. I’m off to bed now. It’s late :-)