For most of my adult life, I have been hard on myself. Extremely hard. I have always set high expectations for myself, and when I don’t meet them or come up short, I’m disappointed. While I have been trying to be gentle with myself, it’s not easy. Even though I know it’s unrealistic for me to believe that I will succeed at everything or get everything right on the first try, deep down that expectation is still there.
The biggest challenge I’m facing at the moment is the adjustment to my work schedule. I stagger into the condo usually just before 1:00 am, grab something light to eat, complete a few tasks, and then climb into bed by 1:30 am at the latest. The ‘problem’ is that I still wake up naturally around six, even if I’ve taken melatonin or another sleep aid. In the beginning, I got up, wrote my Morning Pages, and tried to power through the day. That didn’t work so well. Now if I wake up early, I go back to bed once my partner is up. But tossing and turning, and unable to fall back asleep, I usually get up after an hour. Caffeine is my new BFF.
And with my eyelids sagging and waiting for the caffeine to kick in, I try to write. Or read. Or even just organize my receipts for the month. Sleeping only four or five hours a night has had a dramatic impact on my productivity and focus. That is why I’m making every effort to be gentle with myself, and to do things in small increments.
Listen to Your Body
In my twenties, I would have tried to soldier on—push through the tiredness and keep working (writing). Now, I don’t have that type of stamina or even willpower. With age comes wisdom, right? I’m listening to my body more. When it’s tired, when it’s in pain, when something just doesn’t feel right, I’m taking time to rest. To be gentle.
Last week, I started work again on the first part of a novel I had rewritten after letting it rest for two weeks. All the revisions had been done as I struggled to adjust to my new work shift. Tired and unfocused, it was clear that the writing was bad. Bad. But learning to be gentle with myself and giving myself the grace to try again, I’ve been reworking that section again. I can see an increase in my productivity and focus as I write now in twenty- to thirty-minute spurts. I’m more alert, and the writing holds up better, too.
As someone who has always been a perfectionist (and it’s showing in my approach to my new job and wanting to do everything perfectly), it’s easy for me to acquiesce to hopelessness and frustration when things don’t go as planned. But to keep going, we need to heed the advice of Steve Magness in his book, Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness. Magness writes: “We need to train hopefulness. To clear the path to continue. It doesn’t take big heroic efforts to train hope. Small signals that you are in control, that you can have an impact, will be enough to turn our prefrontal cortex back on.”1
Be gentle with yourself. In whatever we are trying to do, repetitive persistence will help get us across the finish line.
- Magness, S. (2022). Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness, HarperOne, p. 98.