I once heard someone say that stress is caused by the world not being the way you think it should be.
As a new parent with a 5 month old, I’ve got lots of opportunity to test what makes me stressed and how to avoid it.
Around 3 months ago, it was my turn to feed our son Jake in the middle of the night. It can take anything from 40 minutes to… forever from him waking up to getting him back to sleep.
That night, I knew I needed it to be a fast turnaround. I had a big day of work ahead with an early start and I hadn’t had much sleep recently, so I needed as much sleep as possible to get through the day ahead.
Before long he’d guzzled all the milk Tori had expressed and I was gently rocking him to sleep. But I had a feeling the monster in him was stirring, he was still wide-eyed and without any more milk I didn’t have the ammo to put him to sleep. Panic started to set in.
Two hours later it was 4am and I’d tried every trick. I’d been in the bathroom with the dehumidifier blaring, I’d been in the kitchen in front of the extractor fan (both surprisingly effective most of the time) and I’d been in the living room in complete darkness and quiet. But with every extra wriggle he woke himself up more and was now screaming louder and louder. Right next to my ear hole.
I found myself getting more and more frustrated.
I eventually snapped and went into the bedroom waking up Tori furiously and telling her (convinced by that point that it was entirely her fault) that she’d not given me enough milk and she’d have to get her arse out of bed to get him back to sleep.
What a dick!
I was stressed, she wasn’t happy (much!) and Jake was screaming. I was too wound up to sleep and it was a tough day.
I spent a lot of that day thinking about how wound up I’d managed to get in the middle of the night and considered that the reason was all to do with my expectations, or the way I thought the world should be:
“…it needed to be a fast turnaround. I had a big day of work ahead with an early start and I hadn’t had much sleep recently so I needed as much sleep as possible to get through the day ahead”
That was the story I told myself from waking up to feed him right through to snapping.
To test my theory I decided to do an experiment. From then onwards, every other day before I did the night feed, I would fully accept that he might not get back to sleep at all. I may have to stay up all night with him to comfort him and if I didn’t get any more sleep I’d make it through the day one way or the other.
Its only 1 day of being a bit tired you loser!
It’s now close to 3 months later and, since adopting this attitude, I’ve never got frustrated during any one of over 40 night feeds. In fact, I don’t remember any feeds since that haven’t gone very smoothly and, instead of focusing on making the task as short as possible, I’ve just enjoyed the time alone with Jake with no disturbances and nothing else to think about.
I don’t know if my more relaxed attitude towards the feed has made me more able to get him back to sleep, but I do know that changing my expectations has altered how I approach the feed and that has made every one of them easy with zero stress. Honestly.
I think that setting expectations the right way can make life so much more enjoyable.
I’m a goal setter and I like to be ambitious with my goals (you would laugh at loud at some of them!). But my problem is that, although I’m good at planning, I’ve never been as good at sticking to my plan so I’ve consistently fallen short of my goals or given up before reaching them.
What’s changed this year (for the better) is that I’ve still set some very ambitious and exciting goals, but I’ve accepted it might take me months or years, instead of weeks or months, to achieve them. I’ve also accepted that I may have to work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life to achieve them, but it will be worth it (they are exciting goals!).
That acceptance has resulted in me staying up a little later and getting up a bit earlier, which has given me 2-3 hours a day of time that I’ve never had before.
What I’ve found is that this willingness to work harder and for a few hours longer each day has actually got me to my goals even quicker than I expected.
I didn’t plan to write my first blog article until mid-April, but you’re reading #5 before the end of March.
So as a result of that horrible night, I now set my expectations for how much and how long it will take to achieve things that are important to me and this year (so far) has been by far the most productive and satisfying I’ve ever had.
Having just become a dad which demands so much of my time, I am calling my experiment a success.