Bedtime is tough for many people. Distractions that keep our mind busy during the day subside, leaving us with debris we don’t want to see. In earlier years, as I lay in bed ready for sleep, I reviewed everything that had gone wrong that day – the unexpectedly high bill we got in the mail, a rude driver that flashed her finger as she cut in front of me, my boss questioning how I handled a client, or the zit sprouting on my chin. With these thoughts in mind, I fought sleep. When I finally drifted off, I was fully primed for distressing dreams and tensed muscles as I held anticipation of tomorrow’s continuing challenges.
When I learned the value of controlling my thoughts, I realized my bedtime routine needed to change. Of course, it is valuable to examine negatives for insight and solutions, but that is best accomplished during the day when you have time to conclude with positive reinforcement. Prior to bedtime is the worst possible time to examine problems because your body retains that tension, making it difficult to move into deep, healing sleep.
I set out to create a mental field that was open to solutions and inspiration as I slept. Experimenting with varying bed time scenarios, I narrowed it down to five questions to answer before moving into sleep time.
Before sleep, ask these 5 questions:
1. What did I learn today about myself, or life?
Each day brings opportunities to gain insights. Experiences offer feedback to guide you toward improvement. At bedtime you don’t want to work in depth on this, but to simply recognize any lessons the day offered you. If you see that a pattern repeats, what are you doing to set it up? If a problem only happens to you, but not those around you, in what way are you encouraging it?
From asking myself this question, I learned many of my challenges reflected impatience, poor planning, defensiveness, or lack of confidence in my skills. This guided me to make changes in daily life by reading books and attending seminars on self-improvement. Over time, problems decreased because instead of blaming, complaining, worrying, or repeating ineffective habits, I changed my behavior, based on what I learned, and began to receive better results.
2. What positive things (at least 3) happened for me today?
If your habit is to look at what is wrong with life, this is challenging. So make this easy on yourself – maybe it’s that you found a good parking spot, you got your favorite table at lunchtime, or your dog didn’t chew on any furniture today. As you continue this process, it is easier to find things to be grateful for. Inspiration, hope, self-empowerment and possibilities are nurtured by focusing on the positive. What we focus upon will expand.
Observing your thoughts, and intentionally moving them away from constant review of what is always going wrong in your life, to instead focus on what is going well for you, brings a heightened awareness of the many plusses that fill your day. As a result, negatives eventually weaken, leaving you a stronger, happier, more optimistic person. Studies show that optimistic people are healthier and live longer.
3. How did I help/serve/assist today?
This question moves attention away from ourselves so we can notice other people in our lives. Instead of “What did I get today?” ask “What did I offer today?” If we do what we can to help others, we experience life as increasingly cooperative and supportive.
This may be as simple as holding a door for others, sharing a smile, listening patiently, or allowing other drivers to merge in front of you on a freeway entrance ramp. Each time you do this, you create a smoother day for someone else, leading you to feel better about yourself.
Studies show that altruism decreases cortisol which contributes to aging, and increases desirable oxytocin which helps you establish relationships. So find someone who is having a bad day and encourage them. Clean up the break room instead of complaining about the slobs you work with – your co-workers aren’t going to change – so clean the room and feel good that you are someone who cares.
Do it for you.
Turn around a situational response from a burden you resist, to a choice for constructive action. Let go of being a victim and choose to take charge. You are performing the exact same action, but making it a personal choice to do so with a positive intention. Such service places control back in your hands so you end the day feeling empowered.
4. What did I do today that moved me toward my goals/mission/purpose?
Anticipating that you will be asking a question at night, you are more likely to intentionally take action so you can give yourself an acceptable answer. When you take a step toward a goal, you experience satisfaction and renewed motivation. It keeps you on track in a world where we are easily lured off-course.
If you feel stuck on your journey, this question reminds you to take charge of your life instead of only reacting to whatever showed up that day. Forward movement can be measured in small steps as well as giant leaps. Want to lose weight? Your action may be running a full mile that morning, or simply setting aside a half-eaten slice of pie when you remember your goal.
Want to get a better job? Perhaps you filled out an application online, or began a list of your job skills. Every intentional step forward dispels a sense of hopelessness and puts the power back in your hands.
5. What will be my starting focus tomorrow?
Preparing your mental field and attitude for the next day helps your body and mind release tension. Awakening with a plan in mind helps launch your day. If you face a problem tomorrow, visualize yourself waking up with clear ideas on how handle it with confidence; overnight your subconscious will explore possibilities as you sleep and answers can arise.
If you have an important meeting, what will you wear and are your clothes ready? If you expect a negative encounter, how will you act to display confidence? If your self-esteem is low, what can you do tomorrow to empower yourself? On mornings when you awaken and simply respond to your morning mood, you are a victim of outside circumstances.
But instead, if you awaken and take planned steps toward the day’s goal, you regain control of your life. To this day, I continue to lay out what I will wear in the morning and plan what my first action step will be. Upon awakening, this helps me get started instead of lying there in a mental fog. My body and mind are naturally directed toward constructive action.
After working with these five questions, you will find others that are equally relevant. Additional questions to consider are: What am I grateful for? What personal strengths did I express today? Who helped me today? Who did I thank today? What challenging situation did I take steps to resolve? How was I strong in the face of a challenge? Who can I talk with to help me sort things out?
If you find five is too many questions, narrow it down to two or three. The important idea here is to take charge of your life by consistently focusing on constructive thoughts prior to sleep. Commit to this practice for twenty-one days and notice how your life improves. Take your life in hand and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.