When you so much want something to happen and it just doesn’t, or when you have ‘tried everything and nothing works,’ the first step towards relief may be to stop trying. So many frustrating situations and stress-related disorders arise from trying too hard for too long, or trying the wrong way, or both.
Sleep is one of those many essentials of the good life that can be invited, but absolutely can’t be pushed. In an experiment, one group of healthy students were asked to fall asleep “in record time.” Another group was told to go to sleep “whenever you like.” Not only did the first group take much longer to get to sleep, but for the rest of the night they kept waking and finding it difficult to sleep again. To want something really badly is a really bad way of going about it.
Insomnia – like infertility, like exam nerves, like writer’s block, like feeling inadequate, to name a few – often begins as a temporary symptom of anxiety that becomes more entrenched as you worry about it on its own account.
When something does not work out, it is only disheartening to be told – or to tell yourself – to try, try, try again. But nor is it helpful to be told “Try to relax.” Trying is the opposite of relaxing. A little tea and sympathy would be more practical. As soon as you begin to feel exasperated, it’s time to stop and do something different.
If we did not try, we would never learn anything new. If we want to acquire new skills and develop existing ones, we do need to apply effort, sustain attention, challenge ourselves, ask more searching questions, experiment with possibilities. But studies in how we learn have shown that this is only half of the story.
It is when we alternate concentrated trying with not trying at all that the brain gets really creative. Trying too hard for too long is like only breathing in, forgetting to breathe out. Relaxing, sleeping, playing is not time wasted or just time off. These are the times, while you are looking the other way, when your brain joins the dots, learns, consolidates its gains and discovers new understanding.
When you are trying to force or hasten an outcome, trying only means stressing. Trying becomes empowering when it means inviting, experimenting, discovering what works, and what works even better. Sleep comes naturally and inevitably when there are no tensions preventing it, and so do all our creative solutions.
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I help people to learn, sleep and relieve problems creatively and effectively. If this would be of interest to you, too, please subscribe to my blog above, or visit www.annapowell.com.
David Randall, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep 2012
Coursera online course, Learning How to Learn: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn