By Rebecca Purdy, Deputy Director of Central Rappahannock Regional Library
We’ve all had those eureka moments in the shower. We probably didn’t even realize we were
thinking about anything in particular, and suddenly we had an idea! Over the course of the past year, however, I found I was regularly having eureka moments in the middle of the night. Like
many people, my stress levels have increased since the pandemic began. Add on top of that some age-related sleeping challenges (ahem), and I frequently found myself awake at 3 a.m.
On the worst nights, I tossed and turned and told myself stories that resulted in excessive and unnecessary worry. But, on the best of the sleepless nights…eureka! I found I was actually
solving problems, finding solutions, and coming up with ideas.
My first thought was that this was great, I could now be productive every hour of the day! And then I came to my senses, and recognized that I needed to come up with a new solution that
provided quiet time for pondering.
A book that I read recently helped me understand what was happening and how to capitalize on it. Most of us believe that thinking just happens naturally, and in some ways it does; but most
higher level thinking requires dedicated focus, attention, and effort. In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagaski, they discuss the “default mode
network.” This “is the time necessary for your brain to process the world” (pg. 159), and the only way to access it is by creating spaces when the brain isn’t focusing elsewhere.
Aha! So filling every free moment with podcasts, audiobooks, and Lizzo was preventing me from making those quiet discoveries? No wonder my nighttime ruminations were so effective! After
some trial and error, here’s how I’ve transferred my best thinking times to daylight hours:
1. Be intentional: Identify in advance a question, problem or idea that requires more attention than you can give when you’re rushing between Zoom meetings. You want to be prepared whenever an opportunity for quiet presents itself.
2. Figure out when: Evaluate what opportunities for quiet time already exist in your day or where you can create new ones. That meant I needed to cut out some multitasking so now I see time spent folding laundry as a chance for some reflection, as well as when I’m washing dishes or walking the dog.
3. Short is sweet: This isn’t a marathon thinking session, 5 minutes here and there is better than not at all. An added advantage is that brief intervals on the same challenge provide
space to revisit a topic multiple times before you finish with it.
4. Silence isn’t required: In today’s world with everyone in the house at the same time, all of the time, use sound to block out distractions. Personally, I am incapable of listening to songs without singing so most music doesn’t work for me. However, classical music helps and so does background noise, whether it’s the hum of pink noise or the sounds of the ocean.
5. Let go of perfection: Treat quiet time like meditation, if you start fixating on something specific or coming up with one hundred other tasks, or concerns, simply recognize what
is happening and return to the subject at hand.
With these new habits I may never catch up on my podcasts and may listen to fewer books this year, but the benefits to me, my family, and my workplace are worth it. Of course, there are still
some sleepless nights and still some late night rumination, but most of the time I simply reassure myself that I’m going to think about that tomorrow and roll over and go back to sleep.