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Changing Your Story

14 August 2023

“I can’t run”… “I can’t lose weight”… “I have a bad relationship with my sibling”… “I’m an anxious person”… “I’m not good enough to do my job”…

I’m sure we all have a few narratives or stories about ourselves, the question is, do you WANT this to be your story? If not, is continuing to tell yourself, and others, this story helping you make that forward change to improve your situation?

One of my main narratives is “I’m a bad sleeper, and always have been”. Since my early teens I've found sleeping hard. I’m a light sleeper, and regularly go through periods where I struggle to get to sleep, then wake up a lot in the night and often can’t get back to sleep as I start thinking about things. One of my go-to anecdotes being: “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept through the night without waking up”.

 

Now, as part of always wanting to optimise my health (as well as recovery) in training, this is an aspect of my life that has caused me a lot of stress, and that I feel like I do a lot to try and improve — including: using an eye mask, ear plugs, lavender spray and herbal remedies, taking my own pillow everywhere, making sure I don’t eat heavy meals late in the evening and always allowing for a decent amount of reading time before bed. You name it and I've likely tried it. But even though I'd put all of these behavioural steps in place, I was still a ‘bad sleeper’.

 

One day I decided to try and tackle the mindset, my cognitions, around my poor sleep. Why was I continuing to tell myself and others that I’m a bad sleeper, what was I gaining from that? Maybe I wanted sympathy, to be the victim, to give myself an excuse for being grumpy / tired / overwhelmed or for underperforming? Or maybe I wore it like a badge, being weirdly ‘proud’ that I can still achieve what I do despite very poor sleep and recovery? The reason itself is less relevant, but the fact was this story wasn’t helping to improve my situation at all. In fact, maybe it was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy — tell myself I am a bad sleeper and I will be a bad sleeper.

So, I’ve stopped personally and publicly pushing this narrative about myself and have focused on using some cognition-based techniques (as well as all the behavioural things I do) for when I wake up in the night, to actively try and change my situation in a forward direction. Rather than waking up and stressing about the fact that I’m awake and can’t sleep, and thinking thoughts that don’t help move my situation forward but just continue to add to the problem, I’m instead choosing thoughts which serve me better. It’s not easy, and takes a lot of effort to change decades worth of my normal behaviour and thought patterns, but now my story is: “improving my sleep quality is an area I’m actively focusing on!”.

And now, some questions to ask yourself: What narratives do you have about yourself and are they something you’d like to change for the better? If so, what purpose is that story currently serving you — Is it acting as an excuse for your current situation or behaviours? Is it protecting you from fear about change? What stories and thoughts could you replace it with that’s going to help you move your situation forward?

Published: 12th August 2023

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