My family and I flew back to California after nine months of being in Guam, and boy are our arms tired! OK, our entire bodies are tired, and our brains—we’re suffering from jet lag and feeling tired during the day.
This isn’t necessarily a problem—jet lag is to be expected, after all—but tiredness can affect everything in your life. I find myself less able to do work, more overwhelmed when I’m behind on email and messages, less able to keep up with healthy habits, more likely to eat junk food, and in worse moods.
Being tired can have such huge effects on us. And many people are tired much of the time, from being overworked and underslept.
So what can we do? Well, there are the usual methods of trying to get better sleep, like better sleep hygiene, setting a consistent bedtime and wake time, and so forth. These are highly recommended.
But what do you do today, when you’re still tired? What can you do tomorrow if you’re tired then too?
Here’s how I try to practice in the middle of the tiredness, which is sometimes unavoidable.
- Recognize that my battery is low. First I notice that I’m feeling tired, that my capacity to do things is lower than normal, that I am not as sharp or in as good a mood as I normally am (I’m normally a super dynamo, you know!). Bring awareness to my state.
- Lower my expectations. Next, I bring acceptance to the fact that I’m just not going to be super productive or on top of things as much as I’d like. I recognize and accept that I just want to curl up in a ball, watch TV and eat junk food. With this acceptance of my lowered capacity, I try not to expect myself to get too much done.
- Experience the tiredness. We try to eat junk food and procrastinate in order to not feel the tiredness. Instead, I try to actually feel it. That means to fully experience the tiredness as if it’s just as delicious as any other experience. I try to bring curiosity to the experience—what is it like? How do my eyes feel behind my droopy eyelids? What does my face feel like? What about my chest? Throat? Gut? Legs? I try to feel it as an experience, not something I need to get rid of.
- Show myself compassion. This might be so obvious or trite that many readers will skip this step, but I recommend that you give this a genuine shot. I pause and give myself some love—I’m feeling tired and down, so I wish for my suffering to end. It’s the same feeling if someone you loved were feeling anxious or hurt—how would you send them love? Do the same exact thing for yourself. This is a physical feeling of sending love to your tiredness, not an intellectual concept. Practice it now.
- Aim for small victories. As I have a lowered capacity, I just try to get small victories when I can. Don’t have energy in the morning? Maybe I can just answer a couple of emails. Don’t have the capacity to write a blog post? Maybe I can just write two paragraphs. So I’m not entirely abdicating my responsibilities when I’m tired—I’m just trying to do a small amount. It makes a huge difference.
- If I give in to temptation, really be present with it. If I decide to go for the pizza or ice cream, that’s nothing to feel guilty about. But for goodness sake, don’t do it mindlessly. If I’m going to eat ice cream, I want to be entirely present with the sensation of the sweetness on my tongue, the coldness in my mouth, going down my throat. Savor it. Experience it entirely.
That’s my mindful method, and I am imperfect at it. I violate every single one of these. But I try to practice, and when I do, it’s always wonderful.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit Zen Habits.