‘The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…
Why? Because no one is able to produce a great work of art without experience, nor achieve a worldly position immediately, nor be a great lover at the first attempt; and in the interval between initial failure and subsequent success, in the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present, must come pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation. We suffer because we cannot spontaneously master the ingredients of fulfillment.
Nietzsche was striving to correct the belief that fulfillment must come easily or not at all, a belief ruinous in its effects, for it leads us to withdraw prematurely from challenges that might have been overcome if only we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.’
(Alain De Botton, quoted in Brain Pickings, ‘Nietzsche on difficulties’, October 2015)
This has been a year where I wanted to focus on progress, and yet, even though I set up a series with the title ‘Making Progress’, I haven’t written much about it as I planned. Partly because I have felt as thought I haven’t MADE much progress. Many of the aspects I aim to change seem hard, not much fun, and I keep falling down, not achieving my aim.
I realised last week that in order to get through my daily activities, and have the energy and focus to progress in areas I crave more opportunity, enough rest, and most specifically, enough good quality sleep is essential. And the only way I can get enough sleep is to get to bed earlier.
Actually, realisation is not so much the correct word – it’s more an acceptance of what I’ve known for a long time and tried to avoid. I’ve been a late to bed person for most of my life – and it’s been a battle.
I’ve got a whole lot of reasons why I struggle to get to bed at a reasonable hour – from a desire to have time to myself, to embarrassment that something that seems like it should be easy is so difficult for me. It’s important to acknowledge reasons we find certain changes challenging, I think, rather than wipe them under the table, because if we don’t face up to them, we never work out why we continue to struggle. However none of my reasons are insurmountable. There are alternatives. And I know that. But I’ve been avoiding tackling them, and I don’t think I continued to.
Why? Because my lateness to bed has been getting worse over the past couple of years, and it impacts on the rest of life. It impacts on my timeliness in the mornings, it impacts on my willpower in terms of diet, exercise and so on, and it impacts on my interactions with others. It also impacts on how judgmental I am with myself. This became clearer to me when I actually DID have a couple of good nights of sleep when my husband and I went away and what a difference it made to my outlook, my interactions, and my focus.
So I made a conscious effort to try and improve this week, and asked my family to support me.
How did it go?
The first night worked well. The second – well, I got drawn into the rest of the family’s activities – including arguing over THEIR need to get to bed. By the third night, everyone had forgotten their agreement to be helpful to me, and I physically couldn’t get to bed (the bedroom was blocked by late night furniture repositioning). By the fourth, I couldn’t switch my mind off to get to sleep. And my temper was getting worse and worse.
This wasn’t working as I had hoped.
It is HARD to make changes – it constantly surprises me just how hard it is to lift myself out the entrenched patterns, or the rut, that I have created. It is possibly not reasonable to expect others to adapt to your needs – although within a family there should be some give and take. And it takes a lot of falling off, and picking myself up again. Trying, again and again.
But I’m convinced that this is necessary. Improving my sleep is that important.
I heard Angela Duckworth, the author of GRIT, speaking on Radio National’s big ideas this week. Her theory is that:
- Grit – or persistence – is essential to achieving outcomes, especially when it is mixed with passion. And I have got to the point that I am constantly frustrated that I can’t get to what I want to do. My passion for other things is getting closer to my resistance to going to bed. I need to capitalise on this.
- Talent’s important, but not as much as passion and perseverance. Which is a good thing, in this instance!
- An important part of persistence is not avoiding the aspects you find hard – your Achilles’ heal – because that’s what will trip you up. You might not feel like you are kicking goals all the time – that’s actually because you are working on what is hard. That can feel uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to reach success.
And so I will stop feeling bad about the previous week, pick myself up again, shake off my tendency to jump to judgment straight away, and try again.
And again. And again. If that’s what it takes. (I hope it doesn’t – but I’ll keep trying).
Do you – or have you – experienced ‘the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present’? How have you overcome this gap? I’d love to know the secrets!
Further reading / listening:
- The blogpost on Extraordinary Routines – Living comfortably with Uncertainty, which alerted me to the fact that I am in an in between space, and that is bound to be uncomfortable. Link here.
- Brain picking – Friedrich Nietzsche on ‘Why a Fulfilling Life Requires Embracing Rather than Running from Difficulty’. Link here.
- Radio National’s Big Ideas program, broadcasting the talk ‘Highlights of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance presented by the Free Library of Philadelphia’. Link here
- Sleepy habits blog – lots of good tips within! Link here.