Sleep and pleasure your way to success

A few weeks ago on Instagram I wrote about how slowing down was exactly what I needed. I think it’s a common problem in our busy lives. We just go and go and go, until we break. We miss the warning signals, and in my case, they were pretty obvious. It got so silly that at one point I was using my good left arm to move my bad right arm around on the mouse mat, so I could send emails out and finish some work projects. It sounds so obvious now as I’m typing this, but when your focus is on “gitting er done”, it’s almost unimaginable that we might *choose* to stop to sharpen the saw.
It’s been a bit of a challenging yet oddly enjoyable last 2 months as I’ve been struggling with an  injured bicep attachment in my shoulder.  I first hurt myself at the gym in December and was walking around with the “it’s fine, it will heal” idea in my head for months.

It really didn’t seem like much.

Until the moment in March when seemingly small things like dressing, cooking, typing, all started to become tiny little mountains to painfully climb each day.  I was forced into a complete shutdown of my normal routine for weeks.

This is one of those deceptive injuries that can exist for a long time, just under your pain threshold. My osteopath told me that without treatment, the pain slowly builds up over time. You don’t realise you have an issue until one day you just can’t stand it anymore.

Life gives you exactly what you need though – if you are open to receiving it.

So I was brought to a standstill and forced to rest, but I must admit that almost immediately my thoughts greedily turned to “Ooooh, a time chunk! How can I harness this piece of time in a productive way?” As a busy woman, I keep lists. And there are so many things I am interested in and excited about. When my injury dictated that I must stop doing some of the things that normally occupy my time, my mind immediately switched gears and speedily pulled out list number2, cleverly entitled: The Backburner List!

Are you seeing the problem? Step 1: Clear schedule. Step 2: Fill schedule. Different things were going back on the schedule, but my impulse was to take advantage of this newfound large time block and simply shift focus from my work to-do list to my personal to-do list. “Git er done” strikes again.

Fan the flames of your pleasure

Luckily the first item on my personal to-do list was to revisit one of my favourite books. Mama Gena (the fabulous Regena Thomashauer) has written a glorious tome called Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, about how we can all use a little fanning of the flames of pleasure in our lives in a culture where pleasure does not exactly top the priority list.

It got me thinking about how not staying in alignment with my own personal list of basic pleasures that fuel, satisfy, energise and enliven me brought me to this place (stuck in bed for days with an arm that refused to move even a millimetre in any direction without excruciating pain.) My arm had been sore for months, but I wasn’t treating it, or me, any differently. And having faced this in the past, and wielded pleasure as a secret weapon for good, I truly know better!

So I drew myself an epsom salt bath, did some meditating, bought myself some fresh flowers to place in each room, and listened to some favourite music. Most importantly, I let myself sleep as much as I needed to. Of course when you experience a load of pain in your body over days,  you get incredibly tired. But this sleep debt I was feeling was more than that.

Sleep is the most underrated health habit

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Most of us are running around on less sleep than we need and while we can normally push through it, it’s doing an enormous amount of damage to our bodies, our relationships, our creativity, our ageing process, our state of mind, and our work performance.

Arianna Huffington’s well researched book Thrive explains that “the Western workplace culture – exported to many other parts of the world – is practically fuelled by stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout.”

Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, notes in Thrive that “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.” I think Huffington gets to the heart of this issue with her astute insight that “too many of us are fueled by the fear that getting the proper amount of sleep means we must not be passionate enough about our work and our life.”

I know I’ve been there. I bought into the whole “sleep when you’re dead” thing. During my early 20’s I started a business, and the toll of living as an entrepreneur working 15 hour days came, not at first, but eventually.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in one study conducted by Harvard Medical School faculty, 96% of leaders reported feeling burned out. I have certainly been there – many times. Each time, I came to a similar conclusion. My excitement, drive and ambition, qualities I value and would not give up for anything,  had gone into overdrive. While I was challenged and loving every minute, I had also denied myself some equally critical things that feed my spirit.

Nourishing yourself isn’t optional

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“Often, the very first things we give up are those that nourish us the most but seem ‘optional,’ ” write Mark Williams and Danny Pennman in Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.  Sleep and pleasure are two such things we often shuffle into the optional pile. My hope in writing this post is that you’ll find the compelling evidence you need to give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to get more sleep and pleasure in your life.

A good night’s sleep could ward off Alzheimer’s, increases our gray matter, and enhances our confidence, creativity, immune system, ingenuity, decision making, mood, ability to focus and access to higher level cognitive functions.

Studies show that insomnia is costing the U.S. workforce $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity. Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D. has said that “it’s an underappreciated problem. Americans are not missing work because of insomnia. They are still going to their jobs but accomplishing less because they’re tired. In an information-based economy, it’s difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity.”

Sleeping and pleasuring your way to success

Thanks to the power of rest, simple pleasures and bodywork, my arm is working beautifully again, and I have been thankful for the downtime this injury forced me to take.

Sleep, time off, indulging my whims, planning fun things to do (and doing them), singing, decluttering my space, and saying no to external obligations for 30 days has given me back my body, balance, productivity and joy.

As Thomashauer says, “Not too many people seem to have the  time or the interest to explore pleasure – how to attain it and the rewards that come with it…. I learned that the pleasure women are capable of – that energy – is the greatest untapped natural resource on this planet… True generosity does not occur until you give from your own surplus.”

This week’s habit is to make sure you take care of these 2 life basics:

  1. Get 30 minutes of extra sleep. It’s easiest if you go to bed 30 mins earlier.  If that seems insanely difficult, just start with an extra 15 Healthy habit for this weekmins this week, and then add another 15 minutes the week after that. Set your alarm tonight and stick to the new time for 1 week. Notice how much better you feel.
  2. Do one silly little fun thing just for yourself that truly makes you grin. It could be listening to music, going for a walk, spending a few minutes to choose your outfits for the week, having a pampering bath, doing some yoga, reading a fun book, going out with a friend, meditating. Whatever floats your boat. Just make sure you schedule it, and do it. Don’t leave it to chance. Make it happen.


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A bonus of taking care of yourself is that the people around you benefit so much when you make sure to top up your own energy and pleasure tanks each day. And for those of you that worry that taking time for pleasure will take up too much time, or diminish the overall impact or results that you want to create in your life, there is ample evidence that taking time to sharpen the saw and take care of yourself does in fact make you a more effective, happier, and energetic person.

I wholehearted agree with Mama Gena that it’s critical “for women to inspire one another to move towards their best life by embracing the pursuit of pleasure, rather than the ‘No pain, no gain’ philosophy that most of us are well acquainted with.” The opposite way is so clearly not working and women are more negatively impacted than men. Huffington noted that “Women in stressful jobs have a nearly 40% increased risk of heart disease, and a 60% greater risk of diabetes.”

So get your Zzzs and top up your pleasure tank. Take care of yourself first this week. Have fun!