Tom Bilyeu, host of the Impact Theory Podcast, never sets an alarm to wake up in the morning. He lets his body tell him when he’s had enough, and attributes much of his creative energy to this connection.
I am a regular listener of his podcast, and have admired this about him for a while. I wanted to do it, too, give it a try. But I found excuses. Many excuses. Many “justified” excuses.
What if I don’t wake up until 11 a.m. or something, and then my day is gone?
Can I still wear the label “disciplined” if I let myself sleep until I’m ready to wake up?
These days I find myself bone-tired by . . . 9:30 p.m. Which is annoying. Lots of fun things happen after 10 p.m.
I’ve worked with myself in this manner, claiming that I’m far more creative and energetic in the mornings. So I go to bed around 10:00 p.m., sometimes later or earlier, and wake up early. In this manner, I’ve crafted an identity as an early-morning person. Used that to justify my tiredness in the evenings.
If I try the no-alarm, will that mean a breach in my identity?
I want to become more connected with myself. I want to learn how I breathe, how I process, how I think. Part of this “discover-yo’-self” includes taking the time to listen to my subconscious. Sleep is a pivotal way that my subconscious communicates. Both in how much I need on any given day, and the dreams I have during.
I talked myself into a trial week, 5-days of no-alarm in the morning, simply letting my body wake me up when it’s done doing what it needs to do.
I should say Monday was a bit of an outlier. I woke up around 6:00 in a bit of a state, panicked it was something like 3:00 p.m. and I had slept through the day. I couldn’t get back to sleep, although tired, because of this looming lack of control. It was a bit ridiculous, honestly.
Tuesday was better. I woke up around 7, only a bit later than usual and felt rested. I noticed the effects on running in particular; that I ran with a bit more clarity and focus. That night was poetry open mic night at the Thirsty Dog, and I got back home around midnight. I was nervous that I was too tired, that my body would sleep for too long the next day and I would waste the day.
Only two days in and persistent themes of self-control and self-trust.
On Wednesday I woke at 8:30. I was relieved, initially, because I hadn’t “overslept” (which wasn’t supposed to be possible, in this trial week of mine), and the day was still mine. Then my relief turned to judgement, as I thought about how I used to function well on a 11:30/6:13 sort of regime. Why did I “need” so much more sleep now?
It was a productive day, for the most part. Lots of writing, lots of reading, some good conversation. And then my mind shut down at 10:00 p.m., again. I was annoyed, how could I only seem to be awake and functioning for 13 hours? That’s ridiculous, really, I’ll waste my entire life sleeping or being tired.
Then I took the time to sit down, consciously, brew myself a cup of Earl Grey and write myself a letter. As much as I want to practice connection, I want to practice letting go of self-judgement.
I can sense that this sleep thing is really bothering you.
That “being tired” equates to “being weak”, for some reason. You’ve done this for a while, too. The less sleep you get the stronger you think you are. Sometimes it’s empowering to be able to wake up early, really early, because it feels like you have control. Like you are in control. That feeling of empowerment is often strong enough to fuel you for the day. But it disconnects you from yourself, and I think you underestimate that. It’s fighting your nature. You are gaining control at the extent of only yourself. As you get stronger, in this manner, you also get weaker.
You judge yourself based on Societal Person. This Societal Person wakes up early, goes for a long run, doesn’t feel tired afterwards, doesn’t feel the need to sit down or watch TV, eats only vegetables and whole foods, reads in all her free time, socializes properly and intelligently, doesn’t get tired, stays up well past midnight, and repeats this process. This Societal Person you look up to as someone you want to be. But this Person does not exist. It is an expectation you put yourself through. It is a perception of the truth, which has become your reality, and it’s causing further disconnect.
What can you do about this? What you are doing. Practicing. Being aware. Connecting, consciously. Cultivating passions which excite you and make you want to live life. Traveling. Launching yourself out of your comfort zone. Recording the aftermath. Noting what makes you feel sad, what you envy, what you dream about. We are a 7-year-old at the skate park on the scooter for the first time, puttering around, falling down, watching 13-year-olds doing awesome tricks.
You’re human and that’s fun because it means we’ve still got some things to do.
Cheers to you,
Thursday I did things differently. I woke up and without looking at my watch, my phone, the clock, I shuffled into my running gear and hit the road. I reminded myself that time isn’t real, that I don’t have anywhere to be, that I am not a slave to my routines that I am more than the petty things I tend to identify myself with. I lost myself in the run and when I came home forgot to notice the time. I just moved on to the next thing.
The resulting day was less rushed. More creative. More focused. I ate dinner with the family, spent the evening reading and then went to sleep when I was tired. Perhaps that was 8:45. Perhaps 11:15. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I liked myself a lot that day.
Friday I had somewhere to be at 9:00 a.m., and wanted to make sure I got a run in and a shower beforehand. I was so, so tempted to set an alarm—just 7:00 or something, that’s not too bad, right? You’d probably wake up naturally around then anyways—but a sense of commitment (or perhaps pride) told me to stick to the week’s goal. I prepped myself on Thursday night to be okay with whatever time I woke up the next morning. That if I woke up too late to get a run in, that was okay. I’m not a slave to running. That if I woke up later than 9:00, then that was okay. I could apologize and reschedule.
I told myself that I had a commitment to me before a commitment to that.
But I woke up around 6:30 completely refreshed, both physically and relationally, and ran a little extra-slow to celebrate (perhaps that will be the next Week-Challenge; running without a watch).
“Pressed for time” is such an apt description of what some days feel like. I squeeze myself into this structure that I have created for myself, and I let myself feel squished and squashed into the routine of it. I feel guilty if I’m not writing or working by 9:00, but when I am seated with a cup of coffee by that time, I’m often uninspired, not “warmed up” to be creative anyways. And I waste time deciding what it is I want to do. The annoyance further blocks creativity.
Sometimes there are real commitments—like being at work by 6:00 a.m., or picking Samuele up from school at 2:50, or having dinner on the table by 6:15—but there is a lot of the day, of the week, of the month that I control completely. Days off, mornings off, the evening, an hour here or there.
Even the “real commitments” that I have, I have chosen for myself. I was the one who applied for the job at Il Forno, who sought an au pair position, who put myself in all these situations. In the same manner, I can take myself out. Really. I really can.
That feels way more like control than tamping myself into formulas and alarms.
The podcasts I listen to, the articles and books that I read, there are countless people advocating the “right way”.
“Always wake up without an alarm.”
“Always set the alarm at 5:30 and wake up an exercise.”
“You should eat a vegan diet, you’ll live longer.”
“Gluten is killing you. Paleo is the way.”
“You must quit your 9-to-5, sell all your possessions, live in a van for a while, take to the world. How else will you find connection?”
Really, I think all that matters is the season of life you are in and what you need.
Need more soul-connection? Try a week without setting an alarm. Need to practice discipline? Try a week of setting the alarm early. Wanting to practice isolation? Independence? Travel somewhere far and unknown, alone. Wanting to practice relational connection? Use couchsurfing, where you’ve got to interact with at least one person, instead of opting for the hide-in-the-shadows hostel.
It’s not what you do, really, it’s what You need.
And You includes all of you.
Peace and blessings,