On Making Change

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I have always envied people who can sleep anywhere. Whether on a plane or just on the sofa, they can fall asleep easily and enjoy good rest. This is not the case for me… I am a fussy sleeper; conditions have to be just right for me to fall and stay asleep. Lighting, temperature, blanket weight, it all matters. The most important aspect though, is sleeping position. For as long as I can remember, I have been a stomach sleeper. It’s darn near magical for me; as soon as I get into that position, I fall right to sleep in my sweet slumber cocoon.

Recently I read something about the benefits of each sleep style. While they all had their pluses and minuses, there was only one with literally no benefit; stomach sleeping. Further research on the topic indicated there are actually problems with my preferred position. Now, to be clear, I knew there were issues since at least once a month, I awaken with a pinched neck or shoulder muscle. It usually takes several days for it to work itself out and is pretty painful in the meantime.

After a recent bout of neck pain, I realized my sleeping position needed to change. But when you have done anything for a long enough time, it’s no small feat to do it differently.

This got me thinking about how we make change in general.

It often begins with some kind of crisis point (in this case, me being eligible to ring the bell at Notre Dame). Even if you realize change is necessary, it’s still likely to be emotional, particularly if that thing worked well or even well enough. Since I am someone who NEEDS to get a good night’s sleep (without one, I am an emotional, weepy baby), I was fearful that changing (what had been) the most important variable in the equation simply wasn’t possible.

Once I decided to really commit to the change, I had to set the stage for success. To increase the likelihood this could work, I waited until I was more tired than usual. I hoped that the pull of exhaustion would override the programming (the need for a particular position) I had long cultivated.

Luckily, being incredibly tired worked and I was finally able to sleep on my side.

When making change, the first instance of success is good, but we can’t declare victory just yet. Inevitably, there will be slipups and setbacks. In this case, a worrisome day that left me unable to settle down and get to sleep. As I lay there, restless, I realized what would solve the problem: my favorite sleeping position! I quickly determined though, that if I gave in, any progress I had made would be for naught. So, I fought the urge to do what I had done so many, many, many times before. Eventually, I did get to sleep, very proud that I had pushed through.

This isn’t my “new normal” yet and I definitely don’t have “unconscious competence” or really any kind of competence whatsoever. It will take a lot more times for this to become a default, for it to be “my way,” but I am on the way to that moment. I know the benefits and I am committed to seeing this through.

Deciding to pivot and reject outdated coping mechanisms, beliefs or habits isn’t easy, but it is worth it. If we can fight through the discomfort and awkwardness, we can get to a place where things will be healthier, and we can feel better about our choices.

And if that happened? I think we’d all sleep a whole lot better.