Over the next few days, I’m going to provide some real-life examples of the concept ‘via negativa‘, which I originally read about in Nasim Taleb’s book, Antifragile.
The idea is that we can gain things by the removal of other things. Far too often we seek to gain things by adding more things, and the continuous addition of more things, particularly in today’s era, when we already have an overabundance of things, is often harmful.
Let’s take alarm clocks, for example.
I’ve often felt and known (actually feeling is a kind of knowledge) that the human body is meant to wake and sleep in sync with the rising and setting of the sun each day. In addition to intrinsically knowing this, it has also been observed, experimented on, and written about in countless places, including in scientific and academic circles (if you require those for validation of this billion-year old concept).
So, alarm clocks did not arrive on the human scene until about 250 years ago. For reference, homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years.
What did we truly gain from the inculcation of the alarm clock into our culture?
One can certainly postulate, but perhaps even better is to turn yours off completely for a few days, and find out.
This is exactly what happened to me during our recent neighborhood power outage.
Now, to be fair, several other confounding factors were also at play during this time, such as: the removal of all artificial light and temperature controls in my home, the activities which I engaged in during the day & evening, etc.
It should also be noted that I have always been a person who tends to go to sleep early, not too long after sunset, and rise early, not too long after sunrise, and sometimes rising shortly before. My average bedtime is about 10 PM; wake time is 6 AM, with an alarm set, but not always needed.
With all of that said, not only did I sleep fantastically, wake up early, well-rested and highly recovered (with the results to prove it on my WHOOP), during my four days without an alarm clock, I gained something perhaps even more important via negativa, something that was difficult to notice previously.
I gained peace of mind that can only be removed by taking away the condition of stress and worry that the alarm clock creates by being set, even before it goes off.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well.
You wake up an hour or two before your alarm is set to ring, perhaps to use the bathroom, or fix your blanket.
But now you know that the alarm clock has not rung yet, and that it is going to ring soon. Now you have created the feeling that you must go back to bed quickly, and/or that you might not be able to go back to bed.
This sometimes leads to a constant cycle of thoughts that prevents you from ever going back to sleep at all.
All from the condition of having the alarm set in the first place.
It’s ironic how the very device which is designed to raise you from your deep sleep because you (supposedly) need help waking up, produces a less predictable harmful side-effect: it lowers your ability to sleep deeply when you need to.
Remove the alarm clock, and you remove anxiety which did not exist before you put it there in the first place.
You don’t need an alarm clock to wake up on time.
You simply need to be in tune with how much sleep your body requires, and honor that.