Paula Levin

#coached8 Waking up to life

Sterna and Andi - a double shot of coaching. (courtesy)
Sterna and Andi - a double shot of coaching. (courtesy)

Becoming a morning person has been a dream of mine for years. But pushing back with equal and opposite force is my bed. That glorious feeling of slipping back into sleep, of getting back into bed for another guilty hour after dropping the kids at school in my pjs. Could I really give that up? One of my dearest friends, Andi Saitowitz, is a really successful coach in Israel, and she has long been the cause of my morning envy. Andi’s posts about her morning ritual, like watching the sunrise, meditating, journaling, davening and exercising have been the thorn in my side or pea under my mattress for years! (She doesn’t even know this!) I once even commented on one of her posts, “can you turn me into a morning person?” But I was joking. I didn’t really want to be a morning person. I didn’t really want to give up on the extra sleep.

Then last month Andi came to visit, and here was my childhood best friend, now nemesis 😉 (frenemy) in the flesh, with her productive, energizing, enriching mornings in my face. She met up with Sterna and me for coffee, and an idea began to take root in my mind. Maybe, I could actually put this problem to these two outstanding coaches. In our coffee, Sterna mentioned a coaching model she was interested in studying further. Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan’s Immunity To Change theory. Watching Andi and Sterna animatedly talk about the possibilities of Lahey’s process was like poetry in motion. Such passion for people! Such excitement about helping clients unlock their potential.

But really, there was not much hope for me. Not when it comes to mornings. I knew I was self-sabotaging, and putting a stumbling block in front of Sterna, but I decided then and there, I was going to ask her to change me into a morning person.

Lahey’s discovery is that just like our body has an immune system built in that fights infection, our psyche’s have an immune system that fights change! This is the reason why knowledge alone is not enough to inspire action. “Everyone knows how toxic it is to smoke. Kids know that we must wear a helmet when we cycle, we all know seatbelts save lives and we mustn’t text and drive. So why do we do things we know are bad or dangerous?” Andi asked. “Clearly, knowledge is not enough. Something else is keeping us stuck in behaviours we know are bad and that we want to change.”

But interestingly, willpower is also not the key to change! In a podcast Sterna sent me, Brene Brown (Dare to lead) talks to Lisa Lahey who explains that this misunderstanding – that motivation is all we need to change our behaviour – is the reason why we often feel like failures when we don’t change. We think we just aren’t motivated enough. This is why people trying to lose weight feel so frustrated with themselves when they break their diets. Then they feel depressed and ashamed (remember my last post). This shame spiral is because we think we just don’t have what it takes to stick to our goals. And that’s deeply disappointing and can be humiliating if we’ve shared our goals with our loved ones (or the world, in the case of this blog). The failure feels so personal, we feel so inadequate and for many people, this self loathing perpetuates the very behaviour they are trying to avoid.

But it’s even deeper than that. Remember that equal and opposite force – the call of my bed? This is what is working against us. We all have behaviours we really, really want to change. And reasons for that. But we ALSO have values pushing in the exact opposite direction. We are ALSO highly motivated to keep the status quo. So lack of motivation is not the problem, and neither is lack of willpower or discipline or action or deadlines! Lahey’s model helps us become aware of what’s driving the behaviour we’re trying to change.

Andi gave an example. “Imagine I really want to meet you both for coffee. I really want to connect and I value our time together. But every time we make a time, half an hour before, I’m in the middle of my work so I phone and cancel. This is because I also really value the work I’m doing. So two values, requiring two opposite behaviours clash. How do I change my behaviour of cancelling the meetings? I need to find a way to honour both my values.” The podcasts Sterna asked me to listen to shed more light on this clash of behaviours. Lahey guides Brene through the immunity to change process and reveals that there is an assumption underneath the behaviour that needs exploration.

I really want to be a morning person. I want to wake up half an hour before I need to wake Aliya. I want to start my day with a beautiful modah ani (prayer of gratitude and acknowledgement), wash my hands and face, do 20 deep belly breaths and daven brochas with focus and only then walk into Aliya’s room. I want to wake her up gently, cuddle a bit, giggle and play. I want her to have time to get dressed and have a nice breakfast and get to school 10 minutes early to acclimatise and chat with friends. If I want all that, I need to wake up at 6h30.

What do I do instead? I set my alarm for 6h40. Then I press snooze every ten minutes till 7h10. Then I rush out of bed, forget modah ani, run and wash, and wake aliya up. She also needs a few minutes to snooze. But now it’s 7h15 and we have to leave at 7h45 latest, so I’m rushing her, stressed and disappointed with myself. No giggles, no cuddles, and we start looking for her other school shoe which is usually misplaced. There’s no buffer time built in for these contingencies. My stress rises. Her stress rises. This is horrible to admit.

But something is driving this snooze button. Another value. I know I’m going to need so much energy for the day. I know it will demand a lot from me. I will have to be productive at work, animated in interviews, I will have to multitask as I make kids’ appointments, respond to teachers, plan dinner, shop for groceries, exercise, connect with my family and some friends and and and. I need tons of energy for that. So I must sleep as long as I possibly can.

I once asked my wonderful therapist if it’s normal and ok if I get back into bed for an hour in the mornings after I drop the kids, because I had a vague unease it was dysfunctional. And she told me it was perfectly fine and healthy. It was my way of nurturing myself and preparing myself for the massive demands on my energy. She was right – and wrong.

My assumption – and hers – is that sleep is what will energise me. Sleep is how I charge my batteries. But Lahey says to challenge those assumptions and that is exactly where Sterna leads me in our coaching session. I shared that I really don’t like rushing from sleep into my day. Whether from when I wake Aliya, or on days I go back to bed. I sleep to the last possible minute, cutting out makeup, breakfast and davening. Sterna helped me see that a morning routine could give me the energy I want – even more than I would get from extra sleep! Davening would give me the strength to be more present and aware, more connected to Hashem and myself. Eating breakfast would give me strength. There was only one thing to do. Test her theory.

For the last month, I have resisted the urge to go back to bed, and have come home to a glorious routine of davening, breakfast and a chat on the phone with someone I love – sometimes my sister in Israel, sometimes my sister here. I have lots more things I still want to add to the routine. Journaling, meditating and putting on mascara. Baby steps. I told Sterna that waking up Aliya earlier was still a massive struggle. The snooze button was really my nemesis – Andi was my inspiration! Sterna suggested moving my phone away from my bed so I had to get up to snooze it. Brilliant! I love how practical she is!

So last week I had 4 gorgeous mornings with Aliya which energised me and filled me with happiness. We giggled, we cuddled, we played, we even danced. Assumption shattered! I don’t need extra sleep to power my day. Connecting with G-d, connecting with Aliya, connecting with my loved ones, looking after my body with breakfast – and my self esteem with makeup – are all really energising! I need 8/9 hours sleep like everyone else – not more, no matter how untrue this feels at 6h30am, when I’m sure I need another 10 minutes or at 8, when I’m sure I need to go back to bed till 9. (Going to bed so that I get these 8 or 9 hours is also a discipline – but that’s for another blog I guess.) I can conquer the snooze button and I can conquer the grogginess with a shot of caffeine, and with a double shot of Sterna and Andi. And Sterna has helped me see for myself that I can master my mornings with rituals that awaken and feed my soul – and let its infinite energy power my day. It can’t be said enough – thank you Sterna!

Checkout Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast with Lisa Lahey and the resources she posts at the bottom of the pages. It’s so worth actually doing the immunity to change exercise with its four tables.

Contact Sterna

About the Author
Paula is a wife, mother and writer - based in Johannesburg, South Africa, dreaming of Israel. She is a full-time thinker, part-time copywriter at her husband's advertising agency, journalist and published author. The former editor of Jewish Life magazine, she is now a regular contributor with a passion for contributing goodness, kindness and wisdom to this world.
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