Don’t work on an empty stomach. Don’t sleep without a thought in your head.
No man can be wise on an empty stomach.
— George Eliot
Given the fact that George Eliot was most revered for the realism and psychological insight, I think we can take that quote from her on a serious note. And it’s true. There are few pains that could match up to the yearning of a man for food. It is a pain so profound that countless men — ranging from Albert Einstein to Mahatma Gandhi — have expressed their thoughts on it. Have you ever been truly hungry? Forget wisdom, you lose your ability to reason.
But this isn’t about that. Not really.
It is about not hitting the bed every night without a mind numbing question in your head.
Our brain is a mysterious thing. Decades of research and we have not even begun scratching the surface of what makes it tick and all the mysteries that are hidden inside of it. Maybe there are some tiny Harry Potter-esque house elves working round the clock for you.
We do know this. Your brain never takes a time off. It is working round the clock for you — whether you are aware of it or not. It doesn’t care, it just goes on about its business. Whether you are awake or sleeping, your subconscious is always working. Your subconscious can’t sleep because somebody has to make sure the engine is running. Much of your body’s vital functions — including all that blood getting pumped around — is controlled by your subconscious.
And that is a good thing.
Have you ever encountered a scenario where you had no recollection of knowing about something, yet somehow, at the right moment, your brain just handed over the needed information? That’s the work of your self-less, lurking in the shadows subconscious. It is always acquiring new information — things you just gave a fleeting glance to, what you overheard but didn’t pay much attention to. And it is always crunching all that massive data, and you didn’t even ask it to do any of it. But that is the thing. You don’t need to. Your subconscious is like an overzealous, super-passionate employee — always taking initiative, always working.
The true beauty comes into utilising all this relenting working capability (or at least utilising part of it) in a direction of our choosing. Chase the results you are looking for. Solve that problem that you have simply been striking out on. Figure out how the pieces of that confounding puzzle fit together.
We focus on mornings way too much. And for good reason.
No matter which source material you refer to, you would come to the ultimate conclusion that the best time to get something done is early morning — shortly after having woken up.
Makes sense. Your brain is relaxed, rested, charged up again.
It has been posited that a critical function of sleep is synaptic renormalization following a net increase in synaptic strength during wake. We hypothesized that wake would alter the resting-state functional organization of the brain and increase its metabolic cost. To test these hypotheses, two experiments were performed. In one, we obtained morning and evening resting-state functional MRI scans to assess changes in functional brain organization. In the second experiment, we obtained quantitative positron emission tomography measures of glucose and oxygen consumption to assess the cost of wake. We found selective changes in brain organization. Most prominently, bilateral medial temporal regions were locally connected in the morning but in the evening exhibited strong correlations with frontal and parietal brain regions involved in memory retrieval. We speculate that these changes may reflect aspects of memory consolidation recurring on a daily basis. Surprisingly, these changes in brain organization occurred without increases in brain metabolism.
This is why morning is considered to be the best time to indulge in any creative activity. To be honest, any activity that requires usage of your cognitive skills, would yield the best outcomes in the morning.
Therefore, the worst thing you could do in the morning is spend the first 30 mins or so going through your emails, checking on your facebook and twitter feeds. Your first couple of hours should be an intimate date between just your brain and you — no distractions, no interruptions.
But there is THE night that we all forget
True. Mornings are important. But to make them super productive, give your brain some good fodder. Give it some challenges, some puzzles, something to mull over while you are sleeping. The time you spend sleeping, your subconscious has little to do, so I would assume that from time to time, it is running around like a headless chicken, or a child dozed up on candy.
So give it a purpose. Before you head off to bed, spend a little time mulling over the challenges stymying you. Even if the thoughts are incoherent, don’t worry too much about it. Just go over whatever is in your head. That is what I want you to do just before you head off to bed.
As soon as you wake up, I want you to rethink of the problem, and just think of yourself as a 1 man conference. You are the person writing stuff down on the whiteboard, and you are every member in the conference room suggesting ideas on dealing with the problem. Just write it all down first. These are some of the possibilities that your subconscious could think of.
If you don’t really like the results of this experiment on day 1, don’t worry. It is a communication problem between you and your subconscious. It will get better with time.
Once you are done with the suggestions, now go over them one by one — looking at them with a wide angled lens. How will this work, what do you need to do, is this the right approach? You may not find the Eureka moment, but most of the times you will find yourself to be a step ahead from where you were last.
The more you do this, the more it can be the tool to design how your day should look like. What are things you should focus on, how should you approach problems.
Make this a habit. Do it every day for 30 days. Let’s talk again at the end of 30 days to see if it did make a difference.