I caught myself ruminating the other night. Actually, it’s been on and off for several weeks now. I’ve been pensive – worried about nothing in particular but seemingly everything all at once – health, family, money, the passing of time… it got existential real fast! One worry leaped to the next until a suffocating web of angst drowned out any possibility of sleep. Comically, not being able to sleep triggered yet another recurring cultural program that not enough sleep instigates illness. And on and on the spiral went.
In a desperate attempt to snap myself out of the vortex and get into my conscious thinking brain again (so I could fall asleep), I went to my go-tos: I tried some deep breathing, a body relaxation scan, repeating a mantra. Nothing was working. Out of options, I decided to coach myself in the moment and sit with the angst rather than try and push it away. (Yes, this is what coaches do in the middle of the night – they practice their craft!). What did my angst want and why wasn’t it leaving me alone?
I took the first worry that popped into my head: “What if something happens to my husband?” (Poor guy is the obvious character in the story given it’s 4am and he’s right next to me fast asleep). Before my brain seduced me to follow its trail of worry-thoughts, I confused it with a declaration of gratitude. “I’m so grateful to have this incredible human being sleeping safely and soundly next to me in bed.” Boom. The angst was gone.
I tried again – next worry popped in: “What if Henry’s dog walker can’t take him next month when we want to go away and we’re stuck?” (Henry is the next obvious choice in my worry-story given his 18lb-Boston-Terrier-self takes up three quarters of the bed). Before following the worry to its next stress stop, I slammed it with gratitude. “I’m so grateful for our incredible dog walker, Megan, who loves this creature even more than we do. What a blessing to have her in our lives.” Bam. My heart swelled a little bit and the worry-thought disappeared.
I went on for about 5 rounds of this before I drifted off into a very sweet sleep. This is in no way a Pollyanna attempt to lure you into a gratitude practice (you should be doing that anyway!). Combatting What Ifs with gratitude creates What’s Trues. These reframed truths instantly dilute the pain or fear behind your worry wart thought in the middle of the night. It’s a coaching magic trick.
“What if there’s not enough time?” > “I’m so lucky to have this time today and every day up to now. This year will be the best one yet.”
“What if that project falls through?” > “I’m so grateful that the right clients always seem to find their way to me. Thank you for abundance and impact.”
“What if I can’t say no?” > “I’m so proud of the courageous things I do each day. I always find a way to say no if that’s what I really mean.”
Your What Ifs can be tiny gnat-like worries, or mega bear-like worries. We don’t discriminate. Frame the fear as a What If and cancel, clear, and delete it instantly with a recognition of the opposite in your life. An aspect of the opposite exists in you, I promise.
I’d recommend this self-coaching as a way of life. But if nothing else, it will help you fall asleep faster!