I feel awful.
Or, as my dear friend Georgia would say, I’m feeling pretty crispy.
And I’m bracing for the day like it’s going to be a long, slow hike with a blister.
The only upside is that I don’t need to go searching for a reason.
And I don’t need to take it too seriously.
It’s clear why I feel like this.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
And I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
If I get fewer than six hours of sleep one night, I can usually expect to function fairly well the next day.
But if I do it again the next night, I can most definitely expect….this.
I hardly ever choose sleep deprivation deliberately.
Rather, it’s a creeping non-choice, the consequence of one tragic error.
Failing to heed the sign of sunset.
For those who have never considered sunset to be a sign, allow me to illustrate.
When I was a kid, the brightest part of life was Camp Tawonga.
Camp Tawonga, the best sleep-away summer camp in the world, IMHO, sits on the middle fork of the Tuolumne River just outside of Yosemite National Park, and it happens to be a Jewish summer camp.
I wasn’t really Jewish growing up. Technically speaking, my dad is Jewish, but he’s a cultural Jew of the secular variety. Other than belonging to the JCC in San Francisco, we didn’t follow Jewish traditions, unless we were visiting extended family. And Camp Tawonga was reform Jewish, in a sort of Northern California, hippie kind of way.
They made religion seem pretty okay.
But anyway, at Camp Tawonga, I got introduced to the concept of the Sabbath, and especially Shabbat dinner.
Each week on Friday, late in the afternoon, a special feeling would come into the air. We’d all vigorously shower off the Tawonga dirt and don white clothes. The mirrors in the women’s bathhouse would scrunch together with girls leaning in to put on makeup. We’d put clips or ribbons in our hair. Then we’d stand outside our cabin bunks and wait for the singing procession to arrive.
As the sun descended, a long, thick snake of people, led by two men in yarmulkes playing acoustic guitars, would advance toward us and we’d merge into the end of the line, strolling ceremoniously toward the dining hall.
We lit candles, broke bread, and said prayers.
We ate a big feast together.
We celebrated the sun going down.
It was the beginning of the Sabbath.
Because the day begins at sunset.
I’m half-Jewish by blood, but my religion, today, is the Baha’i Faith.
In the Baha’i Faith, similarly, the day begins at sunset.
The leaf of the new day doesn’t turn over at midnight.
Nor at sunrise.
It turns over at sunset.
A simple but powerful notion.
There is wisdom there.
Wisdom that applies to Bright Line Eating™.
Because for the Bright Line Eater too, an amazing Bright Line Day, bursting with the bliss of living Happy, Thin, and Free™, must be cultivated beginning at sunset the night before.
Sunset is a sign.
A sign that says, THE DAY HAS ENDED.
Time to look ahead to tomorrow.
Prepare well, because if you fail to heed the sign of sunset, tomorrow will fall flat.
I know this.
I don’t always follow it, but I know it.
When the sun sets, what I need to do is stop the day.
Stop the day, and start my evening ritual.
Plan my food for tomorrow.
Write it down in my little food journal.
Make sure the kitchen island is clear and the papers on my desk have been filed away.
Get the kids to bed with a bath, teeth brushing and flossing, a prayer, a story, some gentle back tickles, and a kiss.
Go through my smart phone and tie up all the loose ends from the day. Phone calls made or not made. Tasks completed or left undone. Move them to free spots on the next day’s calendar. Check the global to-do list. Look ahead to see what’s coming over the next few days. Review what’s on the docket for tomorrow until every last action item is cleared out of my mind and I can stop thinking.
Then shut down the electronics.
Brush and floss my teeth; swish with mouthwash.
Get undressed and put on my slippers.
Stretch, sink onto my knees, and touch my forehead to the ground.
Thank God for another Bright Line day.
Then climb into bed and start my lights-out ritual.
Fill in my Nightly Checklist Sheet.
Relive the day just passed and encapsulate it in my Five Year Journal.
Read a passage from the Baha’i writings.
Set the alarm.
There is one linchpin to this process.
One action so important that the success of the whole endeavor hinges on its successful execution.
Shut down the electronics.
That’s where I get stuck.
Maybe I get stuck there because the internet is addictive, I’m truly a junkie, and I need “just one more minute.”
Which sucks down one more hour. Or three.
Maybe I get stuck there because my commitments are numerous and there is legitimate and important work left to be done.
But I think I get stuck there because I fail to heed the sign of sunset.
THE DAY IS OVER.
What hasn’t yet been done is, fundamentally, tomorrow’s work.
Leave it for then.
This is the time for preparing for tomorrow, not living tomorrow.
When I surrender the day at sunset and turn my attention to preparing for tomorrow, I reap the benefits.
And when I manage to do it night after night, week after week, my life starts to explode with goodness.
I am more productive.
I am healthier.
But most of all, I am much, much, much happier.
Just like I thrive when I put boundaries around my food—no sugar, no flour, three meals a day, and weighed and measured quantities; I thrive when I put boundaries around my day—kids in bed by eight, electronics off by nine, lights out by ten.
And sometimes I organize my life such that I’m choosing to get up really, really early and then the nighttime routine needs to get shifted quite a bit earlier than that.
But no matter the exact hour, the principle remains the same.
And the linchpin remains the same.
Shut down the electronics.
So it’s worth mentioning some strategies I’ve used in the past to help me succeed with not getting sucked into the blue glow of a dastardly screen until the wee hours of the night.
First of all, having a very clear time boundary helps.
A Bright Line.
I don’t touch electronics after 9 pm.
That’s my current Bright Line.
But I’m not managing to be successful in sticking with it, so clearly I need more support.
I recently put it on my Nightly Checklist Sheet.
That’s a good move, because tracking is one of the best forms of personal accountability.
I added two new rows, with check boxes either to be ticked off “completed” or circled “incomplete” each night:
— I shut down all electronics by 9 p.m.
— I am turning out the lights by 10 p.m.
But if I review my Nightly Checklist Sheets for the past few weeks, what stands out is that I almost always circle “turning out the lights by 10 p.m.” as undone.
The scribbled writing underneath the box reveals the extent of my sin.
“Sin” as in the original etymological definition of the word.
“To miss the mark.”
I am missing the mark.
My lights-out time has not been 10 p.m. but rather 11:08 p.m.
Even 2:23 a.m.
So I need a more potent form of accountability.
The nights on which I’m successful at turning out the lights on time and getting a fabulous night’s sleep typically begin with me driving home from work and talking on the phone with a buddy, saying how tired I am and how I really, REALLY need to get to bed on time tonight.
Since I’m well aware that shutting down electronics is the linchpin to heeding the sign of sunset, I will often seize the moment and declare, “I commit to you, right now, that after I put the kids to bed tonight I will NOT OPEN UP MY LAPTOP AT ALL. No computer use whatsoever. I’m just going to go into my bedroom, start my nighttime routine, and get the lights out early.”
And she’ll say, “Okay! I’ll take that commitment. You got it.”
This verbal commitment will raise my odds of success from something like 30% up to something like 95%.
Them’s powerful words.
And, right here, right now, I’m going to throw my knapsack over the wall.
I commit to you, out loud, right now, that tonight after the kids are in bed I will not touch my laptop at all. Nor will I venture past the calendar and Evernote apps on my phone (i.e., no email, and no Facebook). And once I’m done doing my calendar and to-do-list review on my phone I will plug it in DOWNSTAIRS.
Tonight I will get a good night’s sleep.
Tonight I will heed the sign of sunset.