Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to sleep at night

While a large fraction of us between the ages of 20 and 35 have no trouble claiming that we are night birds and even insomniacs, most of us do not really know what a true nocturnal or an insomniac even looks like. Should we really pride ourselves in being that? As much as it is a great fad to claim our differences from regular society, to show that in irregular eating or sleeping habits has an awful cost to benefit ratio. While a structured life is seemingly dull, you will be surprised how much a structured life can do to allow you to do your favorite awesome things better. A low effort high reward means of structuring is to just sleep at the right times. They need not be fixed for everyone in the world, but they need to be fixed for you and they need to be normalized to your surroundings. Here I present the one thing that I have through years of not doing in grad school.

1. Physically exhaust yourself

If you are reading this, chances are you are not someone whose job description is "heavy macho-ness". You work, drive, and unwind in the same position with a screen in front of you and at the end of the day, you have put your mind through a cane juicer. Physically you probably have given your eyes a heat-stroke but nothing more. The discrepancy between your mental activity and physical activity is what makes you toss around even if you force wrap yourself into your sleep-face. But if you could have some sort of physical activity for an hour or two (you have to sweat) to end your day, the physical  exhaustion should automatically lull you to a good sleep.

2. Eat 

It seems alright and even fun sometimes to skip meals. But starting with your mood, it could go on to determine if your grandchildren live to be 30 or 60. It may be hard to whip up mom quality meals four times each day especially if you are single. A bare-basic meal will suffice but it has to be there. When you have your meals is also crucial. Start with a 7-day program where you eat at the same time each day and eat enough quality food and the difference will start to show. Preparing the meal and cleaning up later could be part of your physical activity.

3. Make yourself comfortable

In some cases this could be a luxury but it is obvious that you need to be in a nice relaxed position to doze off. A lot of times however the determinant of comfort is mental. You could be in the best therapeutic bed and still toss around with all the thoughts running through your head. Empty your mind. If ambient noise is your thing, have that work in your favor. Stop analyzing. If you survive to to see the next morning, you can think about it. If you don't, it doesn't matter anyway. A lot of times though, the mental wandering is because of something that fuels the itch, which brings us to...

4. Tune out

Turn off that computer. You really do not need the music running. Those youtube cat videos, those facebook updates, those not-that-funny memes, all those tweets and blogs that just came up will not change your world forever, though a good night's rest could. If everything were to disappear when you ignored it and went to sleep, you'd never take a vacation ever. Oh you don't? Never mind.

5. Have a partner

I found that when I had my sleep irregularities in grad school, I kept a perfect 11 pm - 7 am sleep schedule when I visited my parents on vacation. I definitely was not working hard though I was eating better and stayed disconnected from the interwebs. But mostly it was simply because everyone else in the house was doing it. It worked as some sort of group therapy where I was comfortable with sleeping at 11 pm and springing out at 7 am because the others were. Having a partner for sleep works just like having a partner at the gym. Now you don't have to work too hard and find someone that will live with you. You could just have an agreement with a similarly afflicted friend and work the program from where you are. 

5. Plan it

You will find that as much as sleep can help organize your life, organizing the rest of your day will help you sleep better. Make your sleep time that important to you. Do not skip that crucial time point that you are meant to retire at. For anything or anyone. Not everyday is an emergency. Those emails can wait until the morning. If they can't then it is too late anyway and the repercussions can be dealt with tomorrow. A good night's rest is a great reward to sleeping on time. Reward yourself for waking up in the morning too, with the thought or the song that you itched to listen to when you had to retire. It will give you something to wake up for.

You will find that a great many things will start looking better. Your health and energy will be on the upward trend. You will be able to restrain your need to do things impulsively. You will be able to channel your mind and body better. It is really all about the self-love. Once you have one important thing figured everything else falls in place automatically. If it doesn't, we'll deal with it tomorrow morning.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I worked hard. I gave it everything. I did not get the cheese. What went wrong?

Our major concerns are either long term or short term. Independently, their impact is short term, long term or intermediary; note the emphasis on the word independently. A lot of priority related issues are primarily because we treat a specific concern wrongly as short term or long term instead of what it actually should be. Beyond that, we also expect long term results for everything and that may just be unrealistic. Yes, the perfect project would require minimal work to tackle it, and should yield long term satisfaction with little or no running maintenance. But there is a reason why it is called the ideal situation; it does not exist. So it becomes critical to objectively view a project for what it is, what its scale should be and what should be realistically expected from it. Would that make us perform better? Would that increase the efficiency involved? Would that guarantee success? No. But it would save us a lot of frustration when the project fails amongst other things.

A long term project is something that should not require major effort on a daily basis. In fact, it should be a mostly self-running machine that just requires a little bit of regular maintenance. It is important that you do not abuse it; you do not keep prodding it to do a dance. Just give it that little bit of work because you really want it to work and it runs fine. Most relationships, life principles, true education and hobbies fall in this category.

A short term project is more intensive and may require more work through its time. It definitely would demand more focus. Anything you would call a project falls in this category. Calling your relationships a project is just weird.

For the most part, a long term project does deliver over a longer period of time. But the system of expectation and a lack of understanding of what the output really should be is the first problem. A good relationship with your parents is a long term project, but hopefully you are not doing it for the inheritance or because you want to be perceived socially as the perfect son. The driving force needs to be the fact that you just want your folks to be happy in an overall sense. You may not meet short term expectations like finishing your milk but you never do something to jeopardize the faith that if your parents' world and future depended on it, you would chug that milk. You learn to paint not because it would get you laid someday but because it is something that you just pursue as an art. It is your mode of expression and some day when you decorate the walls of your house with your art, it will tell you something about yourself. So expecting immediate results from your hobbies or from your parents may not really work. Well it could but it would still be something you would regret very soon. The long term project is a delicate machine that is not meant to take the load of concentrated ecstasy; it is more to make you chuckle to yourself when you see it still running decades from now. Many times, all you want is something running at all and these projects should run infinitely if you do not ruin them.

Don't care about the chuckle? No problem. Pick short term projects. They will give you great highs. A successfully completed jigsaw puzzle. A party you throw. These things will take all your time and effort increasing the risk of such a venture but the rewards are also quick and concentrated. For the most part, they are even worth the quick sense of elation. But the problem starts when you expect it to last past its lifetime. The only way of sustaining a life long high of this quality is LSD, though a short life comes in tow. But as long as you are happy with the short lifetime and the basal level risk involved in short term projects, they can be worked and they can be worked well.

Problem two is not how to execute your projects. It is how you deal with it after execution. Not always is a good outcome guaranteed (even with well executed long term projects). You could have spent twenty of your best years maintaining an athletic fitness only to see a career debilitating knee injury on your first day in the NFL. That sucks. At these points, a lot of us are at loss of the maturity needed to accept that we do not always get or even deserve all that we set our eyes on because it is just very hard. To see something fail that has taken so much of your effort is very painful. One cannot rationalize failure instantly and you must take your time but at some point it needs to be rationalized for what it is instead of what you want it to be. The correct organization of your long and short term projects and how they relate to their outcomes can really help you rationalize better. It does not mean that projects should be executed in a certain manner; you can do it the way you please. It is how you define what your results should be and what you do when you do not get them.

If what should be a long term project demands heavy focus that a short term project would normally demand, you are adopting the risk and reward that come with a short term project. So it is naturally bound to fail when it reaches the end of its now finite lifetime. So if you are astounded when you lose a friendship, it would serve you well to retrospect if it truly was one. You may just have lost track of when it stopped being that self-sustaining machine and became an intensive gas guzzler. Conversely, if you think you can develop those killer abs by just showing up at the gym and staring at the weights every day for fifty years, you may have bigger issues.

Once you have the a proper hold on the status of a project, it helps in a number of ways. For starters, you take less shock when it fails over random things that you do not have control over. It helps better define the choices you make and makes it easier to pick or pursue what you want to do in future. You realize that some things got to failure because you made a choice to take that risk in the past. You are more satisfied with your effort and it just saves you a lot of frustration and self-sympathy. Last but not the least, you have a better chance of not being part of the problem; helps your karma if you are into that stuff.

The final problem is sometimes not yours. Sometimes you have to work with others and unless your priorities match up, your styles may conflict. A lot of graduate students end up with mentors or programs that do not fit them and in a matter of months they end up disillusioned and full of self-entitlement. They are so attached to their works of art that they cannot take a word of criticism against it even though the biggest lesson to be learnt in graduate school is to take criticism constructively. Is there a foolproof solution to it? Unfortunately not, but if it really matters so much that the project needs to be completed, then the onus is on you to pick or create the right sustainable environment for it, however much the time taken or work involved. Sometimes it may involve just walking away to keep things alive for another day. You choose that.

It is more important to work true than world hard. Godspeed.