"Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts
to display qualities which he does not possess."
I thought of this quote today as I caught up with a friend. We were talking about how we tend to fight what comes naturally to us, instead of just leaning into it - like how her creativity is currently taking her down a new road, but she's beating herself up for temporarily abandoning her regular artwork; or how a client of mine just isn't into talking on the phone with friends, but always feels guilty about it and thinks she should change; or how it's in my nature to be working on a dozen projects all at once, but for the longest time I told myself it was "too much" even though I love it and can never seem to cut back.
And like how I've struggled with bedtime for as long as I can remember. Getting up for high school was literally the worst, I missed a bunch of school due to lack of sleep, and my mom even took me to see a specialist. In college I avoided all early morning classes, but after graduation it was back to struggle city as I had to get up for my "real" job M-F. Granted, anxiety definitely played a role in my lifelong battle with bedtime, but the other important factor here is: I'm a night owl.
There, I said it.
Society doesn't really run on night owl hours. For so many years I had to peel myself out of bed early every day, but found it impossible to wind down early enough for a good 8 hours of rest beforehand. I can't tell you how much - and for how long- I really beat myself up for this.
I've managed to change this habit for periods of time, but stumbled upon this New York Times article last summer, Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn't a Problem, and started to feel a little vindicated. A simple mindset shift, though it hasn't been easy to re-program the thinking that it's "lazy" to sleep til 10am, or irresponsible to stay up til 2. I mean, when do you think I write these emails?! Never before midnight. I've always found these wee hours to be my most engaged and productive, so why not use that? As the article points out, we all have different circadian rhythms, which means we all have different internal clocks that tell us when to be active and when to rest. They tend to be relatively synced up if we live in the same timezone, but they are unique to us...
Although circadian rhythms are endogenous ("built-in", self-sustained), they are adjusted to the local environment by external cues which include light [and] temperature...
Endogenous! Meaning, coming from YOU.
I finally stopped fighting my night owl ways by shifting my schedule to accommodate a later bed time and later wake up time. I no longer beat myself up or give myself anxiety about getting to bed on time. Now, I know most people have to get up and go to work and are expected there by a certain time. My point isn't that we should all rebel and stay up past our bedtimes - although more and more corporate and school settings are recognizing the need for staggered business hours, and that they can even reap benefits from people being "on" at different times throughout the day, so there might be more wiggle room there than you think - no, my point is that we make up these rules for ourselves and then beat ourselves up for not being different or "better."
What is that thing that you've always "wanted" to change, but like, not really? The thing that makes you feel guilty, not disciplined enough, or somehow unacceptable to society, but seems to be hard-wired in? What if you accepted it? Leaned in? Changed your thinking? Let yourself off the hook? Rearranged something else to make it work? Found a different way to accomplish the goal, while actually being yourself?
There are those things that are worth intentional change - creating new healthy habits, cutting back on sugar and social media, carving out time for yourself - and then there are those things that are just you. It's okay if you don't really want to change that part. It's important to know the difference between an excuse and a personality trait.
How can you use it instead of fight with it?