It’s 5:30 am. The sun’s rays are filtering through my window; the birds are chirping. And though I appear to be as tranquil as the scene around me, I want you to take a closer look: My eyes are bloodshot, and I’m muttering under my breath like I’ve lost it.

I have insomnia. And today is going to be another bad day.

It’s been like this for six months. I’m diligent in my sleep hygiene, completing 10 minutes of deep breathing exercises by 11:00pm, even donning those Robo-Cop-looking blue-light blockers at night to increase my melatonin. Yet night after night, the same story unfolds:

I toss, turn, and cuss out loud like I have Tourette’s.

The daytime is even worse.


Averaging three hours per night for half a year, I started to feel a little bonkers. So if anyone had an excuse to backslide a little, that was me, right? I thought so.

I began setting a new standard for sleepless Dan. It’s okay if I didn’t hit my article-per-day quota, because I was suffering. It’s all right if I put off some client work till later, because poor me and s#*!.

But then half a year went by.

Where I once felt like one of the most consistent people on planet earth—I make my living by holding others accountable to their goals—I was at the tail end of a catastrophic declension. I had used my insomnia as an excuse for everything I hadn’t done—for the progress I hadn’t made, and for the promises I’d gone back on.

“But it was insomnia’s fault!”

Except that it wasn’t.

Life got tough for me, just like it does for everyone. But instead of getting tougher and remaining congruent with my principles, I had cussed and blamed my way into the most weak-willed pile of excuses I had ever been. I altogether abandoned the routines that made me successful, and I embraced the low-value habits that I had preached against for so long—checking emails and texts constantly, logging on to social media again and again. What else was I supposed to do at 3:30 in the morning? (There was a LOT more I could do, as you’re about to read.)

I was helpless. Because insomnia and stuff.

But my bills didn’t care if I had insomnia, nor did my conscience. And it was in the middle of a midnight identity crisis last month that I was forced to face myself like never before—how I had abandoned my routines, let down people around me, and blamed everything but the person who was ultimately responsible…



Reality ended up being a tough pill to swallow. (How could I have let myself down like that?!?!) But in shining a light on my decisions, I was blown away by the simple truth:

My insomnia…this thing that had been my biggest, baddest wolf, and that had prevented me from being who and what I really wanted? It was actually a gift—a tool to help strengthen my decision making, and through which to elevate my standards. My biggest excuse was actually the ticket to my next level of personal development–if I started taking responsibility for it.

So I made a promise to myself:

Never blame insomnia again.

And more than that, I’d start using insomnia as a reason to be more successful.

Coming up with a strategy

Since blaming insomnia was no longer an option, I had to formulate a game plan that prepared me to face my nocturnal challenge with aplomb. That started with reading a mantra to myself every night:

“I will make good decisions no matter what happens. If I have insomnia, I’m going to work my butt off and use that time to accomplish all the work I really need to do, and I will feel incredible about myself. Instead of using insomnia as an excuse, now it will be my greatest strength. I will always better myself.”

Then on the back of that card I created a list of all the activities I could do to advance my career and to improve myself if I had insomnia: work on my client folders, write an article, read, practice French, play guitar, etc. On the other half, I wrote down the activities I would absolutely not do: check email, check Facebook, surf YouTube and the Internet. I also recommitted to my standard daily non-negotiable routines of writing an article per day, journaling, meditating, learning, and generally giving my absolute best effort.

I promised that I would never make an excuse for insomnia again. And now I had the strategy to fulfill that promise. That night I went to bed hopeful for a different outcome.


I read my mantra card and reminded myself of the empowered decisions I would make in the event of insomnia. I knew I was going to kick ass no matter what, so I wasn’t stressed. And I fell asleep right on time.

Victory? Not just yet.

I ended up waking up after only four hours of sleep. (3:30…my arch nemesis!) After five minutes of not being able to fall back asleep, though, I didn’t start cussing and grinding my teeth out of frustration, like usual. I just went to work.

I opened up some client files and did what a week earlier I would have made an excuse for not doing later in the day. And after an hour of work, and feeling good about my good decisions, I was relaxed and ready for another four hours of sleep. Bam—out like a light.

I woke up feeling confident and energized for the first time in half a year. Victory! So I dove into my morning routine with alacrity, pumped myself up, planned out some challenges I’d avoided for months, blazed through my first article, and completed more of my goals in a day than I had done in a month. And I was afraid of insomnia this whole time?

Not anymore.

Now when I think of insomnia, I think of me kicking more ass, feeling better about myself, and making incredible decisions. If it comes, then I turn that excuse on its head and find my greatest strength through it. And no matter how great your challenges are, that’s a choice we all get to make.


So if you find yourself struggling against insomnia, or any number of excuses, I encourage you to take an hour or two today for a strategy session. Brainstorm the thoughts, behaviors and situations that lead to you making weak decisions and excuses; then compile each of those things in a list. Commit to not doing any of those excuse-factors for at least a month. And write out a mantra to repeat every morning and night that helps you stay committed.

The second step is coming up with a list of self-improvement activities you will commit to instead, and to the daily routines that keep you fully engaged in self improvement mode. For me, this was as simple as doing work I’d put off, writing an article, listening to a podcast or practicing French; and then recommitting to my daily meditation, journaling, and exercise. But for you, it can be anything–just as long as it betters you!

The last step is checking in with yourself once a week and reminding yourself of why you’re making this dramatic change, and how you’re going to stick with it. I wrote out a list of the horrible things that came from making excuses for insomnia: going broke, going back on my most important promises, feeling totally disempowered and uninspired. And when I read that page of reasons, I renewed my commitment to an infinitely improved lifestyle.

If you find someone to keep you accountable to your newly empowered lifestyle, you’ll increase your results tenfold! Talk to a friend or family member, a coach, or anyone who will invest in your personal growth.

Originally published at


  • Daniel Dowling

    Performance Coach, Writer for Greatist,, Mindbodygreen, and FastCompany.

    Dan Dowling, here. I was the poster child for lost millennials - couldn’t keep a job…addicted to relationships…constantly checking social media and email. But when I got hungry enough for success as a writer, I gave up my distracted lifestyle and adopted one daily goal that changed my life forever: Do. Your. Best. Today, five years later, I’m a productivity coach who’s published on the world’s biggest sites (including Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Mindbodygreen), and I’m transforming lives through the best-effort, zero-distraction lifestyle that worked so well for me. Come and and learn how to always give your best at Millennial Success!