Prepare to be wowed with some scientific claims of dubious validity. Well, there is some real science, and then some additional thoughts from me. Full disclosure: I am not a scientist.
These thoughts were prompted in part by Jen Louden’s Freedom from Self-Improvement Week.
Last weekend I watched an episode of Nova Science NOW on PBS. There was a segment about sleep, and its connection to memory. (You can watch the full segment here.)
We still don’t know the true purpose of sleep, but nearly all organisms sleep in some form.
Scientists are finding that there is a connection between sleep and memory.
And what is memory? Or, rather, what does memory allow us to do? Learn.
Remember that thing that happens after playing Tetris, where you keep seeing the pieces fall when you close your eyes to go to sleep? That is part of your brain’s way of learning how to play the game better.
Scientists (which ones? I didn’t bother to write down their names…you know, they) are also able to watch brain activity in rats as they learn how to navigate a maze.
That exact sequence of brain activity is later observed while the rats sleep, as though the brain is replaying the memories so that the rat can learn to navigate the maze more efficiently.
And then there’s the old adage of “sleeping on” a problem. You’re trying to work through something but you can’t come up with a solution, so you decide to sleep on it.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve woken up to solutions quite a few times over the years.
Ready to make some not-so-solid logical leaps with me?
What if this process of integrating knowledge, or transferring memories from short-term to long-term, or whatever you want to call it – this brain magic – wasn’t limited to actual sleep?
What if it applied to relaxing, too? Or even having fun? Or general hanging-out?
Does science back this up? I doubt it, but I don’t care.
What does this have to do with Freedom from Self-Improvement?
The idea behind Jen’s Freedom from Self-Improvement Week is that we are wonderful and loveable, just as we are.
And that we don’t always have to be striving to Get Better or Be Better or Do More. We have nothing to prove. We are who we are – beautifully.
And here is where my thoughts begin to fall apart just a little
What I would like to suggest is that giving ourselves permission to Just Be is the very thing that will allow us to…
Well, maybe this kind of goes against the spirit of Freedom from Self-Improvement Week.
But what I was going to say was…
Giving ourselves permission to sleep and relax and Just Be is the very thing that will allow us to make the improvements we want to make.
And here’s why I think this still fits with Freedom from Self-Improvement
Yes, you could argue that if we’re really fine the way we are, we shouldn’t want or need to make any improvements.
Here’s my answer to that:
Am I loveable just the way I am? Yes.
Do I have patterns in my life that are uncomfortable for me? Yes.
Do I want to replace some of those patterns with ones that are more nourishing? Yes.
Can I learn to work on my patterns in more compassionate ways? Yes.
Does that compassion sometimes involve choosing not to work on my patterns? Yes.
Self-improvement becomes excruciating when we don’t acknowledge our need for Rest.
Our brains need to sleep in order to learn and function more efficiently.
I believe our Selves are no different. We need periods of not trying to improve in order to integrate what we’ve learned thus far in our self-improvement efforts.
Yin and yang, push and pull, work and rest. We need both sides of the equation to maintain balance.
Granting ourselves freedom from self-improvement is, paradoxically, like a more enlightened form of self-improvement.
Rather than suppressing who we are, it makes space for change that can come from a place of honoring who we are, just as we are.