Does this sound like you?
You go about your day-to-day life and you’re fairly content on average. Occasionally though, late at night, you find yourself longing for more and you see your goals and aspirations more clearly.
You feel motivated to make them a reality, so in the precious peace of the night, you plan out the days ahead. Later on you lie awake in bed, confident you will wake up the next day and get started on your journey. You sleep and when daylight comes you find it’s all fallen apart.
Most everyone has that light inside them that shows its face every now and then. Maybe a specific set of circumstances reminds you it’s in there. Unfortunately it’s not always just hearing some inspiring music, and not everyone can force ourselves into that mindset whenever we’d like to. That little light that pushes you to chase your dreams might seem dim at best sometimes because it loves laying dormant until it’s most inconvenient.
I’m not going to ask you to drop what you’re doing right now
Whether it’s browsing pointless websites, playing video-games or watching back-to-back Netflix, just saying ‘stop’ doesn’t work. You’ve heard it all before and you probably know that only the best of us have enough self-discipline to make it happen. Whenever the moment comes around though, I’d urge you in fact to say “go”.
You know you shouldn’t waste your time, you know you have to make your own opportunities to get what you want. What you might not know, is how to squeeze those opportunities dry once you get hold of one. The bad news is, I don’t know you or how to milk your opportunities, I’m just here to remind you to try with everything you’ve got, when you get the chance.
If you struggle training yourself to create opportunities, instead hold onto that spontaneous tenacity at any cost.
Sure, you don’t always have the time, the place, or the means to hold onto the feeling, but the key takeaway here is to recognise when you have that feeling, that it’s more important than almost anything else you could have going on.
Don’t let it go. Let’s say you’re in bed staring at the ceiling one night, and you are feeling motivated with total clarity over your situation. You don’t want to be tired tomorrow because it’s an important day at work and you need your rest. Is it more important though, than making meaningful progress towards your deepest desires?
Can you afford to let it slip? Maybe you or your big commitment has to lose out, maybe it’s you creating problems for yourself later, but just make sure you don’t rob yourself of these rare opportunities.
Why does this happen?
The reason these magical moments seem to only come about when the stars align, is because there actually are a number of factors coming into play at once behind the scenes.
At night you might feel more awake, concentrated, inspired, motivated, or capable because you’d then have any or all of the following traits:
- Free of time constraints
We as irrational humans have the remarkable ability to automatically fit any task to any time chunk of time. If we book plans for friends to visit a week in advance, we might lazily clean little bits of the kitchen every other day before that day. If instead, we have only 10 minutes to clean the kitchen before those guests arrive, you’re damn right social pressure will make us make it happen. On the flip side, once the clock strikes midnight it’s already past bedtime. What’s another hour when it’s already 3am? The only ‘real’ deadline is your 8am commute.
- Running on an empty stomach
If your last meal was several hours ago you will have already escaped any post-eating fatigue (a.k.a. food comas) as your body has already beaten the brunt of digestion. When you aren’t full and you aren’t hungry, you can think more clearly because more of your body’s energy can be channelled into your thoughts, rather than digestion.
- Free of distractions
You aren’t going to be bombarded with e-mails, texts, phone calls, family, or roommates beyond midnight. The air is quieter with fewer cars on the roads and lower temperatures, and this is great for concentration. With no commitments to bother you, your subconscious mind has some time to stop stressing out. This is similar to how you have your best ideas in the shower.
- Ignorance of the smaller rewards
Right before sleep, the possibility of playing video-games and Googling ideas for new career choices are both about 8 hours away. This makes it easy to choose the more sensible option, but when waking up the smaller reward is more imminent and so preferred by our monkey-brains. Your body wants you to go for the instantly gratifying action, and so motivation towards the other goal decreases. This is explained by the Ainslie-Rachlin model of self-control.
Clarity and control are a powerful combination
Better understanding why a lot of us function better as night owls should help us understand how to take advantage of it. Having all the facts will bring you a step closer to avoiding your own downfalls. Mastering self-control is no easy task, but simply remembering to capitalise on our nighttime mental state is much a more manageable feat.
The fear of letting yourself flourish
If anyone’s ever told you that being selfish is important sometimes, you should consider just how often it applies. You might consider it immoral under certain circumstances, but perhaps you could make peace with it being the lesser evil a lot of the time. If your wildest desires never blossom it is because you are holding them back, though the art of balancing the selfish choices with the other ones will come with time once you are conscious of them.
It may be that when trying to make yourself pursue your grand ambitions, nothing has worked for you in the past. If you don’t have the late-night clarity it’s easy to shut yourself down with doubts or distractions. Maybe it’s time to try jumping into the deep end, because as soon as you hit the water the fear will be gone. It’s only going to get easier as you swim towards the happy middle of the pool where you can stand, but if you start in the shallows, the fear could very well stop you from reaching the middle at all.
Maybe your wish is to move far away to start a new life, or to quit your job in hopes of forging yourself a better one.
The truth is, it’s unsustainable to maintain this productive mindset in permanence, at least to begin with. If all it takes is to work up the courage to drop what you’re doing at the right time, or spring out of bed and work on the thing that will take you to a greater version of your life, you might do it. When it’s clear in your head and you really understand the benefit, it is easy to jump on the opportunity when your mental block has left you alone.
When trying to make progress, we might set aside time to meditate and slowly build good habits, but when an opportunity presents itself we find any excuse not to snatch it. This is the default human condition but once you have recognised it, you can much more easily choose to ignore these biases.
When you hear that special song that sings about dreams of moving to sunny California, reach out, grab that feeling and hold as tight as you can. Don’t turn it away because it may be the only thing you ever find that’s strong enough to keep you going in the right direction.