Do you ever have those nights where you desperately want to sleep, and yet you find yourself laying awake for hours, captive to a mind that won’t leave you alone?
If you’re a visual person, you may see videos in your head, replaying things that happened during your day, or imagining things that could happen in the future. If you’re auditory, it’s a never-ending conversation in your ears.
Either way, it can be maddening to experience this when all you really want to do is sleep.
I know for me, this has tended to happen on the night before I’m teaching a class, or attending an important meeting. When the stakes are high, even though my body needs rest in order to perform, my brain may step in at the last minute to remind me of all the things I need to remember, or be careful of. It may try to take me through a full-on rehearsal of everything that’s going to happen the next day. And while practice and visualization are good things, they aren’t the most useful at midnight the night before when you intend to get up at five.
This morning I listened to a podcast interview with Safi Bahcall, where he spoke about this very thing, and offered a method for working through it.
He called it the Chairman of the Board.
Personification of your thoughts
Is there a video or an audio stream in your head that’s related to something about work? If so, that’s your Work Guy (or Work Woman.)
Is there another one about your relationship? Give it a name. Relationship Guy.
Do this for as many issues as you have floating around in your head. Something with your kids? That’s Parenting Guy.
Tease out all the thought groups until they are separated and assigned to their respective characters.
Assume positive intent
Bahcall tells us that one of the points of this (besides getting to sleep) is to make friends with our thoughts.
And for those of us who have experience racing minds, this is a key factor. Because how many times have you wanted to yell SHUT UP to the voices in your head?
(Or is this just me?)
All of our thoughts come from within us. They are trying to help us.
Even when we’re annoyed because we want to go to sleep, we must remember that our brain is working to protect us. And for whatever reason, our brain is concerned about what’s going on in our lives and wants to make sure that we are safe.
So as we approach the thoughts, it’s important to be kind, and grateful for the intent.
Ask for the lesson
Bahcall instructs us to visualize ourselves sitting around the table with all of our thoughts. We’ve got Work Guy, Relationship Guy, Parent Guy, Golf Guy, and whoever else has arrived upon the scene.
One by one, we consult them, as in a board meeting, where we are the chairman.
First, we thank them for looking out for us. Then, we ask them how much time do they need to explain the important lesson that they’re trying to get across to us.
(Pro tip: shoot for 1-2 minutes each. Don’t let your board give speeches.)
Bahcall uses an example of Work Guy reminding us that we said something stupid to our boss today. (And if we didn’t do this exercise, work guy might be reminding us of this all night long!)
We ask work guy to share with us the important lesson from this thought. And we are told: think before you speak.
Okay. Got that. Thank you, work guy.
By the way, is there more?
And around the table we go, with each character receiving their time.
Is there more?
In order for process to be effective, it’s important to ask: Is there more?
Because often times there is.
(Side note: this goes for live conversations with other people too.)
And when you’ve gone all the way around the table, and everyone has clarified the lessons of their thoughts, and you’ve thanked them, before concluding, Bahcall suggests asking:
Is there anyone else that has something to say?
In his example, up pops Email Guy, out of the blue.
And Email guy wants to remind us of all the stuff we need to do the next day, that came across our email.
When Email guy pops up, we ask:
What is the lesson that you want me to learn from our conversation here tonight?
And Email guy may say:
I want you to write down these three important things that you have to do tomorrow, so you don’t forget.
And when that happens, you can take your notebook that you keep by your bed, and do as he asks.
And then ask:
Is there anyone else?
And when there is silence, you may fall asleep.
Do you have any strategies for getting to sleep when your mind is racing? I’d love to hear them! Find me on Facebook or contact me here, I’d love to know what’s worked for you.