I found it very difficult to switch to a regular sleep, and wake, schedule after university.
I even started using one of the loudest and most annoying alarm clocks I could find. (That sound still gives my university housemate flashbacks.)
In my search for ways to fix my sleep schedule, I came across a seemingly simple piece of advice:
Lie still in bed.
If I remember correctly, that article, like many others, suggested sleeping at the target time every day. To do that, it said, you should lie still in bed with your eyes closed.
It explained that most people fail not because they go to bed late, but because they play on their phones, watch TV or read a book. So, they go to bed earlier but still go to sleep late.
The logic made sense and I tried it. Of course, it didn’t work the first night. But it did in a couple of weeks.
Eventually, I was able to take that to an extreme and became a morning person.
Over the following ~10 years, I’ve successfully applied a generalized version of this advice to several other things.
And over that time I’ve realized three things about practice.
1. You can practice anything
Just like you can practice going to sleep at a reasonable hour, so can you practice keeping your bed made, liking a particular food, or doing collage.
Most people I talked to about this disagree. But I think they underestimate themselves. And for whatever reason, they don’t prioritize practice highly enough at that time.
Perhaps there are exceptions, but I doubt it. I certainly haven’t come across any.
2. Use your willpower to lie still
You have limited willpower so use it for the hardest parts.
And try to make the hardest part as small as possible by simplifying it and eliminating as many variables as possible.
If you want to establish a regular sleep pattern, going to bed is often the easy part. But putting your phone away and closing Netflix might be tough. That’s where willpower comes in.
Focus on the simplest possible unit of work – lying still – and apply it there.
It becomes easier if you eliminate as many variables as possible. For example, go to sleep and wake up at the same time even on the weekends.
Another example might be trying to exercise regularly. You don’t need willpower to do the exercise but to change and get out of your house. And if you exercise at the same time and for the same duration every day, you need even less of it.
3. Your progress will be in much smaller steps than you think
Most of us expect results to start showing very quickly. If I go to bed early once, I must be able to go to bed early every day from then on.
I want to exercise, so I must be able to run 5k in a week.
And when we can’t do this, we feel discouraged.
Consistency and recognizing small, barely noticeable, improvements is how you get better at something.
To fix your sleep, you must lie still in bed. On the first night, you’ll grab your phone after 2 minutes. But on the second after 4. And while you will not have fixed your sleep schedule in those two nights, you will have made exactly 6 minutes of progress. But progress nonetheless.
That it took almost no willpower to change today, even if you didn’t hit your targets at the gym, is progress.
Recognizing progress in the face of setbacks is also crucial. Your motivation will wax and wane, and you might not be able to practice every day. It’s only natural. But recognize that even though you failed to practice today, you’ve still made progress overall.
You’ve had an hour more sleep this week, and you’ve exercised more this month than the entire last year.
Lie still in bed
So, if you have never been able to do something, it’s simple. Just:
Lie still in bed