I went to bed about 11pm the other night and couldn’t sleep. 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30!…I kept looking at the clock and given that my alarm clock was set for the usual 5:45am, I was getting more anxious as time went on. “Come on Bob – get to sleep. Come on you can do it”, I said to myself as I desperately tried to calm my mind. I needed to fall asleep fast but something was keeping me up. The more I thought about it, the more I was in a hurry to fall asleep because the mind plays this thread game – one thread of thought to another to another. Needless to say, getting up in the morning was miserable.
What kept me awake were two words my wife said to me before I went to sleep and they were: “What If?”
She was talking hypothetically about her business and what chaos might potentially occur if she were to lose her office manager in her growing, busy but new Optometry practice. Like many small business owners, my wife was thinking out loud about what would happen if she lost her ONLY employee. “What if that happened?”, she asked.
That was it. The train left the station of calm, racing on the tracks of uncertainty.
Scenarios of uncertainty and chaos ensued in my head as I tossed and turned in bed—She would be a mess. Holy cow! WE would be a mess. I would have to take precious time off from work to help her for a while but how long will that last? And should I be taking any time off given uncertainty in my place of work? Who would pick up the kids from school – the bus stop and the day care? How would we handle it if I had to travel for my job? Three hours after that simple question, I was still awake feeling like I had no control, anxious, uncertain and worried. Total chaos in my mind!
Apparently, that feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability didn’t bother her as she was snoring away. Something about the night that makes my mind go nuts.
As I dredged through work the next day, I called to ask, “How did you fall asleep so fast?” Her response: “Maybe ignorance is bliss. But most of the time I have faith in the bigger scheme of things. I don’t know but I realize that I can’t control those things but it’ll all work out somehow. I don’t know, maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s a self protecting mechanism that ignorant people like me have.”
It could be. But I don’t think she’s ignorant either. Either way, ignorance never worked for me. To overcome uncertainty and unpredictability I need reason. Logic. I need to get to the root of things. Only through finding a logical, reasonable path out of uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos can I shut off that “What If?” going off in my mind. Needless to say, my wife sleeps better than I do most of the time.
So here’s what I realized about myself as I learn to embrace the chaos when uncertainty pops up in the middle of the night.
The uncertainty of a potential future event that may or may not happen weighs heavier in my mind at night than it does for my wife. Not all the time but a lot of the time. And I think it is because I have not fully realized that I need to ACCEPT uncertainty. It WILL OR WILL NOT HAPPEN. It MAY OR MY NOT HAPPEN. Accept it. Who really knows? It’ll all be just fine. It all works out in the end no matter what happens. Let the future go.
How I accomplish this is by bringing my mind back to BEING PRESENT. To being in the moment. I don’t know the future. No one does. The only truth I know is standing before me right now which is the only thing I control.
I think since my wife started her business in 2008, both she and I are getting better sleep than we used to. Not because we’re so happy, confident or relaxed. We have more uncertainty with the responsibility of a new business. It’s just that you are so busy – so focused on the things you need to get done right now that your mind doesn’t have time to dwell on the “What If?” You’re so preoccupied with just getting through the day-to-day tasks – being in the present moment – that you’re a little more free from the handcuffs of uncertainty and unpredictability of tomorrow.
So, my new sleep aid? Get back to work…and hard work. I’m going to throw myself deeper into a project at work or thoughts of things I need to get done today. Remind myself to focus on the things I can control today, right here and right now. I think that’s the answer. For my wife, it has helped her sleep better at night, be less stressed, more content. I am realizing that she’s might have it all figured out when she said, “Chaos that could happen tomorrow is not my problem. I need to worry about getting through the next 30 minutes.”