The last several years, the primary focus of my private coaching practice has been helping people to birth, articulate, and complete radically brilliant projects.
I have helped people to write books, write screenplays, make movies, and launch new products and online courses. In the course of doing this with so many people, I have come to discover a number of key factors that impact Radical Brilliance, and one of them has to do with sleep.
When I start to work with any new coaching client, I always include these questions:
What time (on average) do you go to bed?
What time (on average) do you go to sleep?
How many hours of sleep do you get (on average) per night?
What time (on average) do you wake up in the morning?
What time (on average) do you eat your evening meal?
Which meal is usually your biggest meal of the day?
With 80 to 90 percent of my clients, I have them shift the answers to all of these questions within a few weeks, and it has an immediate impact on their level of brilliance. Let me explain why: Although we have seen dramatic changes in the way we live in the last few hundred years, and even more accelerated in the last few decades, our nervous systems are still very much wired to the way that our ancestors lived for thousands of years before us.
Edison invented the electric light bulb in 1879. Prior to the invention of electricity, everything happened by candlelight, and therefore according to circadian rhythms. Before the widespread use of electricity in homes (less than 130 years ago), almost all of our ancestors would prepare and eat their evening meals before the sun went down. For most people, it was impractical to cook and eat by candlelight. Once sunset hit there was not much else to do, and people would go to sleep soon thereafter.
Human beings lived like this for thousands and thousands of years; only perhaps kings and queens would be able to afford candelabras or gas lamps allowing for late-night revelry. This kind of rhythm also meant that our ancestors almost invariably woke up before the dawn, like most other mammals do, and they probably woke up hungry, which meant that the main meals of the day were breakfast and lunch.
That kind of natural rhythm persists more today for people who work manual jobs. Work at a construction site, for example, begins at seven or eight in the morning and ends at four or five in the afternoon. A plumber or a carpenter is more likely to be available at 8:00 a.m. than after 5:00 p.m. Contrastingly, creative people (particularly those living in big cities like New York or San Francisco) are more likely to have just a coffee for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and then to eat a large meal as late as 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., going to bed sometimes after midnight. Many of the people I coach (who aspire to be creative and brilliant and want to have new ideas) come to me for coaching in such a state, often staying up until 2:00 a.m., and complaining that they feeling exhausted, burned out, and foggy-headed. This seems to be particularly true for single men in their 20s and 30s. Sometimes it seems they are still rebelling against their mothers telling them to get a good night’s sleep.
So I suggest an experiment to my clients: keep a log of what time they go to bed, what time they wake up in the morning, how many hours they sleep, what time they eat their evening meals, and, most importantly, their energy levels during the day and the clarity of their thinking.
Then we start to chip away at bedtime. I ask my clients to systematically go to bed 10 minutes earlier every night. That means, of course, that in six days their bedtime becomes earlier by one hour. It is best to do it slowly and incrementally like this, or people start to suffer from insomnia. I tell them not to worry about what time they wake up in the morning, for that will naturally sort itself out once they go to bed earlier. I also ask my clients not to eat any solid food after the sun goes down. Notice I said solid food—something like a light soup, which is easy to digest, can be okay. Just this little trick dramatically increases my clients’ mental clarity and energies levels. A computer programmer who was working from home and habitually staying up until 2:00 a.m. brought his bedtime back to 10:00 p.m. in this way, in a mere 24 days. He started waking up naturally at 6:00 a.m. in the winter, which was still before dawn. In the second month, he reported much greater clarity, higher energy levels, and…wait for it…a 35 percent increase in his income.
Of course, helping people shift their sleep cycles is just one aspect of the work that I do when coaching, but it is an incredibly important one. Even if you are not planning to get coached in a one-on-one relationship, you can experiment with this exercise yourself. Keep a log of these things: your bedtime, your number of hours of sleep, the time you wake up, your energy level, and your mental clarity.
You may be surprised to discover that your ancestors knew a thing or two about natural rhythms.
Author: Arjuna Ardagh
Image: elizabeth lies/Unsplash
Editor: Emily Bartran
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