We spend a lot of time trying to improve our tennis swing. And our abdominal muscles. And our capacity to make money.
There’s nothing wrong with these things. It’s a good idea to know how to make money so that you can support your craft and buy food, and it’s nice to have fitness and athletic goals to work toward.
Unfortunately, in the pursuit of greatness in some aspects of our lives, we neglect other vital aspects.
Sleep, for instance, is more than just a little important. It impacts everything else that we do: keeps our brains primed to form memories and think abstractly. Regularly and completely clearing the adenosine from our systems (the chemical that builds up over the course of a day and makes us tired, and which we disperse by sleeping) has also been connected with the prevention of age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s, and helps us maintain a dependable level of hand-eye coordination, lessening the chances of car accidents or stumbling down a set of stairs.
Being good at sleep, then, seems like a fairly worthwhile endeavor. But how many of us put the same amount of effort into learning to sleep well as we put into learning how to make money? How many of us exert the same amount of time and energy pursuing sleep mastery as we spend on tennis mastery?
We don’t all need to be expert sleepists: it may be that you’re getting plenty of sleep already, and it’s wonderful if you are. The point is that we focus on a few important things to the exclusion of other, sometimes more fundamentally important things.
A lot of the problems we face societally, but also individually, could be remedied with more focused attention on our health, our sleep, our ability to calm ourselves and relax, a trained tendency to look both inward and outward for answers, and the confidence to filter the answers that we find. Can you imagine what the world might be like if we were all capable of calming ourselves when necessary? Capable of seeing the world from another person’s perspective before making a decision about who they are and what they want?
There’s nothing wrong with making money or playing tennis or having washboard abs. But such pursuits are a coat of paint on a house that’s falling apart if the rest of your world is brittle due to lack of sleep, mental fitness, or social stability.
Consider the payout of investing more in these fundamental assets. A deep, restful sleep every night may not be the simplest goal in the world to attain, nor the sexiest to pursue, but the benefits of the effort would positively impact just about everything else in your life. Including your tennis swing.
Update: April 19, 2017
Back when I wrote this, I had come to realize just how valuable my ability to sleep consistently well was to me, and recognized that this wasn’t the case for most people I knew. I took a step back to figure out why this might be the case, and found that it was at least in part that I had recalibrated my lifestyle so that I didn’t do things I would regret anymore.
Which is not the same thing as never making mistakes, which is something I’m sure I’ll never achieve. But rather not doing things that I know I’ll feel foolish or bad about later. Which is something that seems incredibly simple on its face, but is an amazingly difficult point to reach. Because many of these things are expected of us, or are things we’re told we’re supposed to want or supposed to do to get what we want. Coming to a point where I could comfortably say, “Yeah, but I sleep better at night when I do things this other way,” was a huge deal for me.