It was 2am and the sun had been down for hours. My room was completely silent and the only visible light was that of a street lamp illuminating the road for the rare car passing by at such an early hour.
My mind was racing uncontrollably and yet, I could barely put a coherent thought together. I felt like my mind was full but empty at the same time. I looked around my dark room once more to check the clock and prayed it hadn’t moved since I last looked. After all, the next day was a big day—one of the biggest in my young adult life.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the clock… “Damn it, it’s already 4 a.m.! How the hell am I going to perform tomorrow if I haven’t slept in two days?!?
As that thought eventually faded into the background of my incessant thinking, I rolled over and continued trying to “will” myself to sleep.
“Okay okay okay, if I fall asleep now I can still get 2 hours of rest in before I need to be up and ready for the most important test of my life,”
“Come on JC, don’t think! Just relax….”
Within a few seconds, another thought came abruptly to my mind and sent fear trembling through my entire body.
“But wait, if I miss my appointment tomorrow, not only will I have to re-register for the test again, I’ll also have to pay for it again! That’s $300 that I don’t have! I mean come on, I’m a broke college student! I can’t afford that! What the hell am I going to do? What if I never get this opportunity again? What if I don’t get into grad school? What will my family think of me then? I’ll be such a failure and then no one will…”
Beeeep Beeeep Beeep!!!!!!
Shit… Time to get up
This is the true story of what happened to me the night before I took the GMAT back in 2011. The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admissions Test. In short, the GMAT is the test someone takes when seeking admission into an MBA program. The idea is simple: the higher you score, the higher your chances are of getting into a better school—or at least, the school of your choice.
This unfortunate story reminds me of a different time in my life; a time when I was completely controlled by my thoughts. A time when I let my mind jerk me around like a schoolyard bully.
Now, why am I telling YOU this story?
I tell it because I believe we’ve all been there before. We’ve all kept ourselves up at night, worrying about the next day or things completely outside of our control. Some might even think of these sleepless nights as a badge of honor—a sign you’re becoming an adult or what not. It seems to me like our society relishes the idea of working through the night and wearing our stress like a symbol that indicates to others “I‘ve made it in life.”
But I have a secret I want to share…
It doesn’t have to be that way! Being an adult is not about enduring sleepless nights. It’s not about taking on all of the world’s problems and taking life so seriously that you can no longer find joy in life’s simplest pleasures.
To me, being an adult is about overcoming our mind and our impulse to immediately respond to emotions. It’s about transcending the ego and creating the life you want to live. As they say, you don’t find yourself, you create yourself.
Living a life of mindfulness has done just that for me—it’s made my life exponentially fuller. I imagine if I had a mindfulness practice back in 2011 I wouldn’t have suffered through two sleepless nights in preparation for my GMAT. In fact, I could argue that there is even more at stake in my life right now being that I have a mortgage, a beautiful wife to care for, a career to launch, and a future family to plan for.
The difference now, however, is that I fall asleep every night within minutes of hitting the pillow. (It drives my wife crazy because she says I can fall sleep anywhere, anytime!)
The key? You guessed it – mindfulness.
On nights when my mind is racing and there is a lot on my plate I can use my mindfulness practice to help separate myself from the thoughts. I don’t fall asleep because I can empty my mind, I fall asleep because I can see my mind and stop believing what it’s trying to tell me.
When my mind tries to pull me into an “important” thought, all I have to do is simply remind the mind that I’m safe, in bed with the love of my life, in our beautiful home, and I can’t do anything about tomorrow, tonight. When my mind tells me how stressed I am I can simply say no I’m not, I’m at peace.
So the next time you can’t sleep, try being mindful.
First, see your thoughts. Then realize that it’s okay to have thoughts however, they aren’t useful at 2 in the morning. Finally, direct your attention away from your mind and into the present moment. You can do this by simply feeling your breath, listening to the sounds in the room or even doing a quick body scan.
The more space you create between you and a thought, the more restful you feel.
Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!
In fact I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU to try meditating the next time you can’t fall asleep. If you are indeed able to meditate successfully while lying in bed at night I have a feeling the next time you open your eyes it will be morning! Give it a shot and let me know how it goes! I look forward to hearing about all the amazing dreams you’re having now that you know how to use mindfulness in order to fall asleep.
Thank you as always for reading.
Until next time, many many blessings.