It Seems Your Own Circadian Rhythm Is Helping You Sabotage Yourself

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You already know whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, and perhaps you’ve planned your time accordingly. When possible, morning people should reserve their most complex and cognitively taxing problems for the a.m. hours; evening people should do the same later on in the day.

This is not rocket science. It is behavioral science, which in many ways can be trickier, as people tend to be complicated and unpredictable. What if, for instance, you already have set up your day in the way I described above, and yet you still find you’re wasting too much time? If you’ll indulge an example from my own ridiculous life: What if you successfully wake up early to write, and then spend a disquieting percentage of that time tweeting and taking BuzzFeed personality quizzes instead?

It seems this is a problem others have, too, according to an intriguing new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In it, researchers at Indiana University report that they found an unexpected association between self-sabotaging behaviors and circadian rhythms: You are more likely to engage in self-sabotage during the exact hours in which your mind is at its best.

Self-sabotaging behaviors are those wonderful ways you have of preemptively ruining your own shot at success; a classic example is indulging in a late night out, even though you have a job interview in the morning. It’s a convoluted way of protecting your own ego. You didn’t fail because you weren’t good enough; you failed for this other reason that has nothing to do with your talent or self-worth, like being too sleepy or hung-over to make a good first impression. According to the self-reports collected by the researchers for this new study, people tend to engage in these sorts of behaviors most often during their “peak times” — if they were early birds, it happened more often in the morning, for example.

If this sounds like you (and it certainly sounds like me), one way around this could be to just accept it and avoid it, working on important tasks during your “off-peak” times instead. But the better thing to do here, advises Julie Eyink, lead author of the study, is to be aware of this tendency, and fight back. “Ultimately I would advise that working to avoid self-handicapping — through actions such as healthful practices, seeking help, or counseling — is the best strategy,” she said in a statement. Put another way: Just try to knock it off, okay?

Your Circadian Rhythm Is Helping You Sabotage Yourself