Monday Musings...How to Get a Good Night's Sleep!

There are two kinds of people in the world: the surface thinkers and the deep thinkers. If you are reading this blog you are likely in the latter category.

The difference is simple.

The surface thinkers skim over thoughts and emotions, seldom letting things enter their head space and even more rarely allowing them to descend into the deeper recesses of their mind. Surface thinkers appear to coast through the day, with little concern about issues surrounding them or others, and they generally display a positive demeanour. When troubles come, they most often blow them off and say things like: "Don't worry. It will get better." They are the minimizers, the shruggers, the Pollyanna types. (Note that I said they were ‘surface’ people and not ‘superficial’, though the reality may be that such traits are not mutually exclusive. But for the purpose of the blog, I am focusing on the location of the content of a person’s head space – the treasure trove of thought and emotion.) And while surface thinkers may be annoying to those of the contrary persuasion, the deep thinkers often secretly wish that they could be just like them.

For those who find themselves in the deep thinking category, they also wonder why it seems that most in their social circle are surface thinkers. "Is there nobody that thinks like me? I wish I could find someone who wants to discuss things beyond the surface. Isn't anybody else bothered by the things that I am?"

And so the deep thinker begins to over-analyze…everything…

You see, the deep thinker is an observer of their surroundings. They constantly see patterns of predictable behaviour and scratch their heads. The deep thinker is also a processor of information and spends copious hours thinking seriously about issues and ideologies. He or she exudes great effort unravelling and attempting to make sense of the unpredictable, believing they will discover the elixir that will bring understanding for themselves and others. And lastly, the deep thinker, by very nature of their name, is an incubator - they are astutely aware and impacted by what other people say or do, and so they brood. It is difficult for them to let people, or situations, or comments not bother them or weigh them down. The deep thinker observes, processes, and incubates and their head space becomes full to its maximum capacity.

Now within the category of the deep thinker there exists a dichotomy: those who are realists and those who are idealists. The idealistic deep thinker lives very much in a future state of mind. They always begin with a hopeful attitude for they are a cauldron of wisdom and ideas that will surely catapult them into being a catalyst for change… only to find that surface people are not interested, barriers arise to prohibit productivity, and what they thought would be possible, is unfortunately not. It’s like they are driving on a highway with a permanent elusive mirage - continually chasing what may never be. They may even start over and try again, being the idealist thinking that maybe next time….But the deep thinker who was once energized and fueled by the anticipation of the ‘what if’s’ of anxiety , must routinely face the disappointments that life seems to continually throw, and the result, quite often is a descent into depression. Do you see the pendulum shift for the idealistic deep thinker? There is the upward swing of hope-filled excitement which is fueled by the possibility of a perfectionist utopia but as it swings upward even further, the anxiety builds as doubt and fears encroach; the pendulum reaches its extreme arch only to swing backwards, past reality, to the inevitable sense of defeat and meaninglessness. These motions follow the idealistic deep thinker back and forth, day after day, night after sleepless night…and therein lies the plea: “If only I could be a surface thinker!”

But what of the realistic deep thinker? Perhaps some people, especially surface people, would call them the pessimists, but this is a misnomer as really they are the rationalists. The realistic deep thinker lives in the present and while they too observe, process, and incubate they do so with the intent of immediate solution. Their incubation period is in the pressure cooker, not the slow drawn out contemplation factory. The realistic deep thinker understands the abundance of surface people, and realizes that these individuals will not likely change, or rather, the deep thinker understands that in their own strength they cannot change the surface thinker. This is more powerful than it appears; in essence the realistic deep thinker is a chameleon. Instead of being frustrated, the realistic deep thinker is an adept student who molds their thoughts and emotions to minimize the stress inflicted by others in the moment. I cannot change that person/situation/comment so I will learn to change my own reactions so I can feel ok. They will not lose sleep as they will conclude that other people, situations, or comments come from a different perspective, and so the realistic deep thinker’s task will involve living and working in understanding: “Oh now I get it – that person doesn’t see the world like I do.”

As was said by Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment.” But we must add to this that to be truly at peace in the moment, one needs to be realistic about themselves and those they live and work with. Expectations of ourselves and others need to be reasonable or we will surely swing into anxiety which can rebound into depression. We need a safety net that provides the boundaries of what we can handle so we can be caught gently instead of crashing to the ground in our minds.

Do not pine for the surface thinker. You may tend to think of them as simple; in fact, they are not. Some may have been blessed with an idyllic childhood and current existence that poses few challenges, but that is rare. Instead, many surface thinkers are actually anxiety-ridden. In fact, living on the surface can be a defense mechanism that keeps them in denial of the realism around them, so they may be less content than you think.

You may believe that idealistic deep thinking is the epitome of intellectual pursuit. While this may sound magnificent, pragmatism is left wanting, and often mental distress follows the idealistic deep thinker.

So deep thinkers unite! There are many of you out there!

Choose a realistic path, where anxiety and depression may try to raise their voices, but where peace and sweet sleep can be found when one realizes through observation, processing and incubation, how fallible everyone is and how worrying about what others think is a waste of time and mental energy.

David Foster Wallace, who I quoted last week, sums up realistic deep thinking beautifully: “You will become way less concerned about what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” On that thought – sleep well!

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