I was at a point in my career when my manager believed I was ready to take on greater responsibilities. It was time for me to step up, to lead bigger projects and raise my profile further. I was thrilled and felt ready for the challenge. Then after a few weeks I began having trouble sleeping.

At first it came by complete surprise. One night I woke thinking about a particular issue. Over the next few nights, a whole host of topics came to mind in the early hours. I started to keep a notebook beside my bed as I played out a variety of scenarios in my head. Then I also began thinking about why I was waking up so much. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for this challenge after all. Perhaps I was stressed. Perhaps I had been found out at last!  In other words, plenty of unhelpful thinking about the reasons for my broken night’s sleep.

It was at that time that a conversation with my coach and a chance encounter with an inventor completely transformed this experience for me. The lessons of which are still with me 20 years on.  After confiding in my coach my concern about what was happening for me, they told me about the origins of Second Sleep. As recent as the 19th century, part of our culture as a society was to get up during the night to do some work or chores for an hour or so, then return to bed for our second sleep. This was perfectly normal behaviour at the time.

By complete coincidence, I got chatting to an inventor at an event a few days later and they happened to mention something remarkably similar. When their creative juices were flowing they would jump up in the middle of the night, work until their ideas were captured, then head back to bed. It struck me how remarkably normal, perhaps even proud, they seemed of this approach. Quite a contrast to my own reaction, I remember thinking over the reminder of that weekend.

“Nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so” William Shakespeare

I realised the cause of my challenging experience was less about waking up. It was my thinking about waking up that actually created the challenging experience. Something shifted for me instantly. I chose to think about waking up as

  • Perfectly normal for me
  • My intelligence is reminding me of something important I can resolve
  • An opportunity to take an action before going straight back to sleep, for my second sleep

The irony, of course, was that I immediately began to wake up less. Whenever I did, it became a natural, resourceful and useful experience.

While this in itself remains a specific and valuable learning for me, my most significant insight was the power my own thinking was having on my experience.  I resolved to follow three guiding principles about any negative experience :

  1. It is not ‘the thing’ that creates our experience, it is our thoughts about ‘the thing’ that creates our experience
  2. We have the capability to create new thought in an instant and therefore improve our experience
  3. To enrich our thinking through conversations with a friend, trusted colleague, coach or even an inventor

We can easily find a whole host of tools and strategies to ‘fix’ a challenge such as sleeping. By using these three principles to evaluate your thinking and the meaning you are making of any event, you may just find it easier than you expected to create better results.