Meditation and self-improvement…

I sleep like crap. Rarely do I wake up and feel rested. My Jawbone UP shows me consistently getting 5.5-6.5 hours of sleep per night, about 40% of it deep sleep. This leaves me prone to craving sugary foods and making bad decisions. Sleep deprivation also does nasty stuff to our hormones, leading to “decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite“.

Clearly, I need a strategy that is going to reduce stress in my life and help me to sleep more and better. Having recently reduced the amount of sugary foods I’m eating (I’m in week 2 of a 3-week sugar detox), adding heaps of magnesium to my diet, and putting serious effort into getting into bed around 10pm every night, I haven’t really moved the needle much in terms of the amount of sleep I’m getting, nor on the quality of that sleep.

So I’m casting about for different strategies for managing the stress in my life, in the hopes that reducing stress will allow me to sleep deeper and longer. Exercise seems to increase awakeness, and given that my schedule pretty much forces me to work out in the late afternoon or evenings, I have to be careful to time it so that I’m tired when I need to be. If I work out after 8pm, it will mean I’m up until 11pm, no matter what else I do.

We’ve also cut back on the caffeine: I found that I was taking two or three cups a day, sometimes later into the morning. Gotta cut that crap out.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try meditation as an approach to managing stress and setting myself up for better sleeping. I’m working through Victor Davich’s 8 Minute Meditation — I really like this book because it has pulled all of the “woo” out of the meditation practice. (I am unremittingly allergic to woo, having spent far too much time in California and other locales where new-age hippie dipshits engage in all kinds of sloppy language in an effort to redeem their otherwise senseless spiritualism.)

I’ve just started last night, having sat through my first 8 minute session. Frankly, it went far better than I expected it to go. I’m a fidgety person, and feared that there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to be able to sit still for 8 minutes. Trying to stay focused on the breathing, and not getting engaged by all of the distractions and spins that my mind wanted to put on the situation was difficult, but I felt it was worthwhile. I did roll right into bed afterwards, and I did fall quickly to sleep. I don’t think I can say that I slept better, but I felt better when I woke up this morning…so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Because I’m so constitutionally opposed to things like this, I’m trying to really enforce the new habit by using Jerry Seinfeld’s Build A Chain approach: simply put, if you want to learn a new daily habit, do something of it every day. Each day that you succeed in doing the new thing, mark off the day on a big wall calendar. As you build consecutive days of success, you build a chain, and that chain becomes something you want to keep building — you don’t want to break it.

Today, my chain is one link. I plan to add another link tonight. (I’m also using Meditation Timer on my Android phone to time my sessions, and, not inconsequently, keep a log of my consecutive days — my “chain” of new habit).

I also found an interesting take on handling self discipline and self-regard in a comment thread on Reddit. (Read it here if you can take the Reddit-style of discourse, but I’ve summarized it below):

  • No zero-days: every day, do SOMETHING towards your goal, even if it’s just a little bit. (See the Seinfeld “Build A Chain” approach above)
  • Respect the Three You’s:
    • The Past You (or, Younger You): the person who, yesterday, made a good choice that set Present You up for today…
    • The Present You: the person who gets the chance to do something cool for their best friend…
    • The Future You: because, tomorrow? You’re going to wonder what that Past You was thinking…
  • Forgiveness: mostly, of yourself. You know better, you knew better. Whatever. People fuck up. Get over it and get busy unfucking it.
  • Exercise and Books: really, this is just about self-improvement. Shouldn’t require an explanation here. Grow your brain like you grow your bod.

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