Turn Down The Difficulty

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A few days ago, someone in my family had a minor medical emergency. They're perfectly fine, but when we went to the hospital, the wait time ended up being so long that we didn't get out of there until 6 AM the next morning. We basically had to sit overnight in a hospital waiting room, just waiting for someone to take us in. (Don't get me started on healthcare. ugh)

It straight up sucked, and was incredibly disruptive to our week, as you can imagine.

As I was sitting there, realizing that I was in for a really rough next day from staying up all-night. I realized that I going to struggle with functioning tomorrow. I'll obviously need to sleep in (since, ya know, I got home 1 hour later than the time I usually wake up), but even after waking up, I'll probably still have a lot of trouble being really productive. Any time I spend sleeping that day will still be really bad sleep, and besides, I wanted to make sure I didn't sleep in too late, since I don't want to mess up my sleep cycle too much.

Self-care and self-compassion has never been my strong suit. If I don't keep myself in-check, I'll work myself to the ground. I'm not the kind of person who has ever had trouble doing work - I've always had trouble stopping so I could do it again the next day. Really, it's a lot of why my time-budgeting approach to work has been so useful - it makes sure I actually stop and context switch when the timer goes off.

As I was sitting there, for some reason I found myself thinking "man, tomorrow sounds like it's going to be too hard. I think I should turn down the difficulty".

I should turn down the difficulty

The language struck me, because it doesn't suggest that I'm going to do anything different (take the day off). Instead, it suggests that I have the power to alter my perception of the world around me. I love that it's an action, instead of a consequence. "I can't work tomorrow." implies that there is some sort of shortcoming in myself, but "I should turn the difficulty" implies that I'm in control over how I react to the world around me. One of them says that I'm a victim, and the other one says I'm the master of my own experience.

After all, the "difficulty" of most days is mostly a reflection of the demands and expectations I place upon myself. This shift in perspective externalizes the challenge. When faced with a daunting day ahead, that will be difficult even without my own expectations, it offers me a simple question to reassess and re-calibrate my approach, all without making me feel like I'm a terrible lazy person in the process. Nice.

"How can I turn down the difficulty?"

Another benefit is when I ask myself that question, it prompts me to actually think about how I can take care of myself tomorrow. Where saying "I should take the day off" is prescribing a solution, "how can I turn down the difficulty?" is asking a question. This question encourages a proactive reflection on tangible steps I can take to ease the next day's challenges. Rather than settling on a one-size-fits-all solution, this question prompted me to consider a variety of practical actions to set myself up to recover quickly:

  1. Inform my oldest, who had a full night's sleep, that he would not be doing home-school the next day, and that we needed him to keep an eye on his brother while we slept.
  2. Unlock the kids iPads, so that they don't wake us when they inevitably need access to something in the morning.
  3. Set aside money for takeout.
  4. Take the day off of work.
  5. Order, and download a video game I had been wanting to play.
  6. Cancel all of my appointments that day.

This method stands out because it acts as a prompt that inspires action, rather than a rigid prescription for what to do. It gave me a framework which acknowledges the variability of needs and situations, and empowered me to create a plan of action.

Give it a try sometime. When you know you've got a difficult day ahead, ask yourself how you can turn down the difficulty. Maybe it'll help you out, too.

PS: The game was Card Shark, because it oozes so much personality.