“Insomniac” does not describe me. I am good at sleeping. I go to bed tired, dream the entire night without interruption, and wake up rested. That is my natural rhythm.
Lately, however, that has not been the case. After my normal bedtime routine—brushing my teeth, taking my contacts out, putting on my pajamas, I crawl into bed and lay there with my eyes closed, unable to induce the sandman to sprinkle me with Zzzz’s.
I toss and I turn. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I sigh loudly. I roll onto my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows. I stare at the dark wall. I think about my life. I roll over onto my back. I throw my pillow on the floor. I cover my head with my blankets. I close my eyes. I think about my life. I sigh loudly. I roll back over and smash my face into the mattress. I turn to the side and curl into a ball. I doze off, fitfully.
I wake to the pesky sound of my alarm, and I’m angry at the morning.
The Proximal Cause
I know the reason I’ve been having a hard time sleeping. Too much caffeine. I consider myself a “one cup of coffee per day” person, and lately I’ve been drinking 2-3-4 cups, and sometimes having coffee after 3:00 pm which is an absolute no-no for my body if I expect to get a good night’s sleep.
The Easy Solution
On the surface, the solution is very simple: stop drinking so much coffee, and I’ll sleep better.
But that’s like pumping up a flat tire. It might appear to help for awhile, but the flat tire may be a symptom of a bigger problem and not the problem itself.
If the tire keeps going flat, then I’m treating the symptom and not solving the actual problem. The problem is not a flat tire. The problem is a damaged tire, and all the pumping in the world won’t fix it.
I suspect that’s the case with my recent bout of insomnia—what I initially thought was the problem is actually a symptom, and I need to dig down to find out what the real problem is. Once I solve that, I’ll be able to sleep.
The way to problem solve is to do a “root cause analysis,” or ask “Five Whys.”
(I’ve heard this before, but recently re-learned it in a Lynda.com video training. (You need a subscription to Lynda to watch, but in case you’re curious, there’s a link for you.)
- Why am I drinking too much caffeine? Because I’ve been taking a lot of coffee breaks.
- Why am I taking so many coffee breaks? Because a coffee break is a good way to distract myself.
- Why am I distracting myself? Because I don’t want to do the real work that needs to be done.
- Why don’t I want to do the real work? Because I’m scared.
- Why am I scared? Because I’m not sure that the effort I put in will be worth the outcome and everyone is going to be either disinterested or disappointed in the results.
The Real Problem
I’m afraid that I’m not good enough.
How universal is that? Raise your hand if you’ve ever had that fear!
The Real Solution
I need to surround myself with a support system that is louder and bigger than the negative voices in my head. I need constant reminders of how far I’ve come already from where I used to be. I need to focus on the small daily activities I can do to move toward my goals. I need to encourage and nurture the positive feelings I get when I think about my goals. I need to trust that there are other people like me in the world who are excited by the same things, thus making my contributions worthwhile to them.
I also need to put things out into the world for feedback to prove to myself that my fear is unfounded. I can second-guess myself all day long, but there’s no way to accurately predict an audience’s reaction when there’s nothing to react to.
Chances are, I’m already better than I think I am, and my ideas are already more developed than I give them credit for, and the products and services I am considering offering to other people will be more useful than I realize.
But I don’t know that until I try something.
This fear that’s keeping me up at night, making me drink too much coffee, causing me to toss and turn into the wee hours of the morning—this fear that I’m not good enough—it’s keeping me from being good enough.
The real solution is to change my thinking—know that I’m good enough already, and I can only get better.
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