On being … singularly powerful

By Ingrid Sapona

The “inspiration” for today’s column was a recent news story about a school in Miami Lakes, Florida, that has restricted access to Amanda Gorman’s poem: The Hill We Climb. For those who don’t remember, Gorman wrote it for – and recited it at – Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2020. You can read the poem here.  

The story caught my attention because I hadn’t really thought about the poem since the inauguration. I remembered being so impressed by the (then) 22-year-old Ms. Gorman when she read it. Another reason the news caught my attention was because it seemed another example of the book banning frenzy sweeping through the U.S. When I dug a bit deeper, however, I was relieved to learn that the Miami-Dade Public school district, the fourth-largest district in the U.S. by enrollment, hasn’t banned the poem. 

Instead, the Bob Graham Education Center – a K–8 school with about 1450 students – decided to re-shelved the poem to the middle school section of the school library. The school’s reason for doing so was it believes the poem is “better suited for middle school students”. Ok, so that’s not so bad, right? 

But there was one other element of the story that was particularly surprising. The school decided to make this change after one parent complained about the poem. The parent, who has two children at the school, complained in March about the poem and four other titles. According to the New York Times,  in the complaint the parent claimed the function of Gorman’s poem is to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students”.

Though the notion of “confusion and indoctrination” is pretty vague on its own, the rest of the books she objected to offer some insight into where she’s coming from: “The ABCs of Black History, “Cuba Kids”, “Love to Langston,” and “Countries in the News: Cuba”. The reasons she gave for opposing these works included “indoctrination” and “critical race theory”. (For information on how the school dealt with these other titles, have a look at the New York Times article.)  

In thinking about this, I couldn’t help wonder if that parent thought her complaint would be enough to cause the school to make changes. Maybe she did – maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was just angry and decided to vent. Either way, the end result is a vivid example of the old adage about the squeaky wheel. Of course, the fact that the school made changes after getting just one complaint has as much to do with the current move to censorship that’s being fueled by extremist political rhetoric as it does with appeasing just one parent. But still…   

I get so angry when I hear stories about things like book banning, don’t say gay laws, restrictions on women’s right to choose, candidates promising to pardon criminal sentences they don’t agree with, and so on. I don’t understand how such causes – which I truly believe are not held by the majority of Americans – are reshaping the U.S. But maybe the explanation lies in this story about one Florida mom’s letter of complaint. 

Maybe what we should take from this story is that when we disagree with the way things are going, we need to speak up – to have our voices heard, however uncomfortable we are with doing so. From now on, I say write that letter, tell others what you think. The worst that can happen isn’t that you’re ignored, it’s that you let the minority view win the day because you were silent. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … expo-sed

By Ingrid Sapona 

This past week I spent two days at a trade show. For someone who pretty much flies solo in terms of making a living, the whole idea of a trade show is a bit foreign. It was a food innovation show with nearly 800 exhibitors. 

In case you’re wondering how I got in, I occasionally blog about wine and food on another platform (ontariowineriesguide.com) and so I got an invitation to the expo as media. The show gave me lots of things to blog about related to food, wine, and the food business, which was great. But it also made me think about the tremendous diversity of people and jobs that can be found in a particular industry. 

Given that it was a food show, I wasn’t particularly surprised to meet a French chef there. What was a bit unusual was that he was there to introduce a lobster-infused oil he developed for his restaurant that he’s now selling to gourmet food stores. Similarly, I wasn’t too surprised by a company that was introducing a line of all natural cold pressed frozen cocktail mixes for home use. Both those clearly fit my idea of something that belongs at a food innovation show. 

And, since my father used to have a small restaurant, I didn’t find it unusual that there were booths featuring things like uniforms and paper products. Indeed, the emphasis on recyclability of products for “to go” packaging wasn’t even very surprising. But, that an innovation award went to a company that created aluminum bottles specifically for smaller brands was a surprise to me, as I didn’t think about smaller brands having very different packaging needs. 

At one point, while I was waiting for a tea and cheese pairing seminar to start (yes, there were a number of seminars, including one about tea and cheese!) I asked a woman next to me whether she works in the food industry. Turns out she’s a scientist who works for a company in Saskatchewan that does food safety testing. Obviously an important activity but not one that typically pops into my head when I think of jobs in the food industry. 

The exhibitor groupings were also quite revealing. There were two huge sections featuring international pavilions. Booths in these sections were grouped together by country and a number of countries hosted booths featuring people from their trade missions and consulates. I had never thought about the role of diplomats in greasing the wheels of food imports and exports, but clearly they play an important part.  

The show also had a section devoted to start-ups. These businesses were there for the national exposure, no doubt. But most of them also participated in a pitch competition sponsored by the show. During the competition they had three minutes to describe their product to judges, including someone from a major grocery chain, professors of culinary arts and business, and finance consultants. Besides the experience of honing their product story, I’m sure they gained insights about marketing from the judges’ questions. The winners got professional consultation services to help take their business to the next level. 

Another aspect of the show that impressed me was that participants could sign up for one-on-one meetings with distributors from around the world to try to get their products into other countries. On the first day of the show I chatted with the co-founders of a Canadian distillery. They were the only hard alcohol maker there and I asked them why they chose that show instead of one more focused on selling to bars and restaurants. The answer was simple: they launched in April and so the timing of this show was perfect. The next day I went back to their booth to see how they were finding the show. I caught them just after a one-on-one meeting they had booked with a trade rep and they were pumped. They said she was knowledgeable and she offered advice about how to break into the US market and other foreign markets – information it might have taken them years to glean on their own. 

I’ve enjoyed my professional work but the trade show made me think about whether my career path might have been different if I’d have been exposed to a greater variety of things earlier on. I know, for example, that it was a chance lunch I had with a young lawyer who quit his law job to work as a plain language writer that made me realize it was possible to make a living doing what I do. I can’t help wonder if some other chance encounter might have nudged me toward a different path… 

What if you had had the opportunity earlier in your life to spend a few days at a trade show with big, inviting booths manned by people enthusiastic to tell you about their business and their background? Might such exposure have changed your career path?


© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … filtered

By Ingrid Sapona 

In my condo there are two fan coils. These are the units that provide heat in winter and air conditioning in summer. The condo corporation is responsible for the fan coils and for deciding when to turn the heat on and when to switch over to air conditioning. Each fan coil has its own thermostat, which is the owner’s responsibility. For some reason, my two thermostats were not identical. 

The one in the living room allows me to run the fan alone, which is really handy when the weather warms up (as it did earlier this month) but the building heat is still on. The thermostat on the unit in the bedroom didn’t allow for that. I decided to look into switching out the thermostat in the bedroom to one that would work like the one in the living room. Given that the fan coil units are old, however, I wasn’t sure it was possible. 

I asked the property manager and he said he’d ask his HVAC guy. An hour later he called me back and said his HVAC guy could come and install a new one that day, if I wanted it. It was a bit pricy and I’m not good at fast decisions – but I had been thinking about it for a bit, so I said sure. 

Later that afternoon a young technician showed up. Before he started, I showed him how the living room one works and I explained the fan functionality I’m looking for. He assured me the new thermostat, which is the same brand as the original one, would work as I wanted. Indeed, he said, it even has the same footprint so no touch-up painting was required. Great, I said. 

Once he took the new one out of the box and began installing it, I noticed that the digital display window on it is big. The display on the old one was only about ¾-inch but on the new one it’s nearly three inches wide. Oh no, I thought… What if the light on the display is always on? Certain kinds of light at night drive me crazy. For example, if there’s a digital bedside clock in a in hotel room, I usually end up putting a sock over it because the light bothers me. Or sometimes I find the LED light on hotel smoke detectors annoyingly bright. 

I didn’t want let on to the installer about my new concern, though I was beginning to worry that I’d regret having changed the thermostat. I had even starting thinking about ways to cover it at night. But, I didn’t mention it to him because I thought he probably has no idea what they look like at night, since he installs these things during the day. Or just as likely, if I asked him if the display lights up, he’d probably enthusiastically say, “Yeah – it’s great” because younger folks have an affinity for lit up devices. 

In the 10 minutes it took him to do the installation, I came up with an idea that allowed me to tell the truth without admitting my light-at-night quirks. I asked him to leave me the old one, “in case I hate the new one”. It was true because if I hated the new one, I’d sure as heck find someone to re-install the old one. He seemed surprised, but said “Ahh… sure – I usually take them away, but I can leave it. But you’ll love this one… it’s much easier to read and you’ll be able to use the fan any time.” Ah yes, I thought – that’s what prompted the change, but little did he know there were competing concerns I wasn’t admitting to. 

That night I discovered that the huge display does light up. In fact, the light is QUITE bright. But, thankfully, it only stays on for about 10 seconds after you’ve adjusted the temperature or fan setting. 

While Shakespeare would probably end this with an “all’s well that ends well”, I’ve been thinking about why I made the split-second decision not to admit my concerns about the light. I’ve already explained some of the reasons, but there are other things at play, for sure. I think I’m a bit sensitive because one sister always “teases” me about it and so maybe I’m a bit embarrassed. Or maybe I thought he’d judge me because of it. I know, sounds odd, but there must have been a reason I decided not to come clean. 

Though I think of myself as pretty straightforward, I’ve been noticing that I engage in self-censorship (like my episode with the thermostat guy) a fair bit. As a result, I’m trying to pay more attention to when and why I do it. Of course, I’m also I’m wondering if others do it too. I think most everyone does it in social settings to some degree – but the thing is, it’s not usually something we admit to others. 

So, I figure there’s no point in me asking you if you do it… but maybe this has got you thinking a bit about your filters… 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … the right question

By Ingrid Sapona 

Who, what, where, when, and why – the five Ws, as we referred to them in journalism school. These are the basic questions one strives to answer for every news story. The exact ordering of the questions depends on the news item, but “why” is almost always the last – and most enduring – question. It definitely is the trickiest to get a grip on because it’s often open to interpretation. It’s especially difficult if it involves trying to understand motive. But, as I’ll explain, I think there are many situations where society should focus more on “how”. This non-W question is especially worth reflecting on because it often involves opportunity, which is usually easier to influence. 

More-and-more lately, mental illness is an explanation offered up for why someone commits an unspeakable crime or act. On one hand, it’s encouraging that mental illness is no longer the taboo it once was. But I worry that it’s being used as a generic catch-all that’s becoming meaningless. I’m not saying that I don’t believe that mental illness is real. But, it’s becoming a term like “algorithm” that people have heard about but that is often a smokescreen to hide many harms. Mental illness is surely the underlying cause of some anti-social and criminal behaviour, but I don’t think it’s the only – or necessarily the main – explanation. 

One rationale for “why” that I don’t think gets enough attention is the idea that sometimes people do things because they can. Take Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old National Guard member who was just arrested for posting classified documents in a chat group called Thug Shaker Central. From the initial accounts it sounds like Teixeira posted the stuff to gain street cred among the others (many of whom were teenagers, apparently) on Thug Shaker. In other words, able to get his hands on classified documents, Teixeira thought it would be cool to show them off to his friends. (Sounds like when Trump shared classified documents and information with Lavrov back in 2017, doesn’t it?)  

Sure, it might come to pass that Teixeira had some political or ideological reason to leak the documents (along the lines of Edward Snowden), but we downplay the opportunity angle to this story at our peril. Indeed, the day after the story about the documents was reported by the Washington Post, in a news crawl BBC noted that something like 4.2 million Americans have security clearance. Mind you, the BBC didn’t distinguish between the different levels of security clearance, so that number likely includes military contractors, think tank analysts, and so on, but still… 

Regardless of why Teixeira did what he did, the good news is that folks have already started focusing on the how. As a result, the government is looking at steps and controls it can take to circumscribe the opportunity people like Teixeira have to access – and illegally share – certain kinds of information. 

Another recent news story that may be impolitic to describe as happening “because he could” is the horrific shooting of a Virginia elementary school teacher by a first grade student. The child, who was under an intensive care plan at the school, was described by his parents as having an “acute disability” (which has not, as far as I’ve seen, been further explained). The child’s mother had bought the gun the child used. She says she stored it on a top shelf of her bedroom closet and that it had a trigger lock. None-the-less, her six-year-old was able to retrieve the gun and bring it to school. Apparently during recess, he showed the gun to another boy and threatened to shoot the kid if he told anyone. Later that day the child pulled out the gun and shot his teacher, wounding her in the hand and chest. 

It’s not surprising – indeed, it seems quite appropriate in this case – that the question of mental illness has been raised. But, getting a handle on whether the child has some sort of mental illness, how to treat it, and what changes might be instituted to intervene early in such cases will be difficult and time consuming. Addressing the issue of how a gun got into the child’s hands seems straightforward by comparison: his Mom kept a gun in their house. But, of course, in the U.S. nothing having to do with guns is straightforward. That said, I was pleased to hear that a Grand Jury indicted the child’s mother on one felony charge of child neglect and a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment involving a loaded weapon. This news makes it clear that the local prosecutor is at least trying to address the how. Hopefully these charges will drive home to parents the legal risks they may face if their children get hold of their parents’ guns. I know, it’s a long shot – but it’s a concrete action that may help while others try to figure out the why. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … more than symbolic

By Ingrid Sapona 

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Vladimir Putin and one of his ministers for war crimes and issued an arrest warrant, some were quick to label the act was “merely symbolic”. Others said the actions are meaningless because Russia doesn’t recognize the ICC and because the ICC has no power to enforce the warrants and (per its own rules) it can’t try defendants in absentia. 

I realize some may see such comments as simply pointing out the limitations at hand, or even as a way of keeping expectations – especially in the near term – in check. But, I worry they reflect a dangerous, growing nihilism that feeds disillusion and inaction. 

Instead of focusing on the challenges the ICC faces, I wish more folks would be discussing why the indictments matter. First and foremost, the indictments reinforce the idea that there are international rules and standards of behaviour that countries and leaders will be held accountable to. Though, sadly, there have been many examples of breaches of international law that have gone unpunished, that doesn’t mean international laws like the Geneva Conventions are meaningless. So, rather than writing off the work of the ICC, we should be heralding its efforts at investigating what is going on and for seeking justice for those it believes are victims of war crimes. 

On a more practical level, the indictment also matters because it circumscribes Putin’s ability to travel. This may not matter in the near term (while he is fully enjoying his power at home), if he does end up wanting to flee at some point, however, he’ll have to avoid the 123 countries that are signatories to the ICC’s Treaty of Rome.  

The deterrent effect of such indictments is also important. The work of the ICC puts countries and leaders – and their ministers and others who carry out their dirty work – on notice that their actions are of global concern and carry personal consequences. Though Putin (and Bashar al-Assad, for example) may continue to violate international law, others who are less well placed or powerful may think twice. Indeed, perhaps if Russia had paid a price on the international stage when it annexed Crimea in 2014, maybe Putin wouldn’t have felt as emboldened as he did when he invaded Ukraine in 2022. 

Concerted international climate change initiatives have similarly been criticized as being a waste of time because adherence to them is merely voluntary. But can’t the same criticism be lobbed at steps taken to limit the manufacture of nuclear weapons? Public cynicism and eyerolling is just unhelpful when the future of the planet is at stake. 

Over the past couple decades, under the auspices of the United Nations, climate change has been rigorously studied and the evidence has been widely accepted. The UN’s actions have resulted in the development of goals and standards aimed at reducing climate change. These types of initiatives give rise to the accepted social norms on which international law is based. And, as a result, many countries and companies around the world have voluntarily agreed to implement climate change programs. Just because there’s no international institutional means of holding countries and companies to their commitments, doesn’t mean these goals are merely symbolic. In fact, in different countries citizens are bringing actions in domestic courts seeking to force their governments to live up to climate commitments they’ve made. And of course, the flow of critical capital toward companies and countries that take their climate commitments seriously also functions as an enforcement mechanism. 

I know, war crimes and climate commitments are big topics. So big that it’s easy to feel they’re beyond our pay grade, so to speak. But if we quietly accept cynical responses that ascribe positive action as merely symbolic – or, worse yet – as meaningless, I fear the future will be pretty grim. 

If you agree with me, I invite you to keep the discussion alive – doing so will at least remind leaders that we’re paying attention and that their actions matter. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … like free association

By Ingrid Sapona 

The other day my friend Paula (not her real name) invited me to her house for dinner. She also invited Mia (also not her real name), whom I hadn’t met before. All three of us are about the same age and all have legal training.  

After dinner we got to talking about this and that. At one point the conversation turned to stories of brushes with famous people. Paula told about meeting a children’s author whom she loved. I think she met him at a dinner party or something, I can’t remember. She said she found him quite engaging but was surprised that his sense of humour tended toward the dark. Given this, she said that at one point she made a joking reference to something she thought would appeal to this dark sense of humour. 

She explained, “I made a reference to….” Then, in telling the story to us, Paula drew a blank. She thought for a minute and said, “Oh, you know, that famous American cannibal.” “Hannible Lecter?” Mia asked. “No, no,” Paula said. “A real-life cannibal.” I had NO clue who she could be talking about. 

Fortunately, Mia had her phone next to her and she Googled something like “American cannibal”. Scrolling through the info she eventually said, “Jeffrey Dahmer”? “Yes! Thank you,” shrieked Paula. My response was more along the lines of, “Dahmer was a cannibal? I didn’t know that. I thought he just dismembered his victims.”  

Then Mia started telling us about one of her brushes with someone famous. She explained that when she was working in Hong Kong, sometimes she and her colleagues would let off steam at a local disco. (This was the 80s, I think.) “One night I was out on the dance floor and I looked up and saw someone who looked really familiar.” She paused for a minute and said, “It was Oliver… um … Oliver North.”. Wow, I thought, trying to picture the Iran Contra guy in a disco. 

Mia went on to explain that eventually she got up the nerve to talk to him and that he told her he and his crew were in Hong Kong after finishing some film. That was even more confusing to me, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to feel like an idiot, nor did I want to seem openly skeptical about Oliver North being in a film.  

The conversation then moved on to something else, which I don’t remember because I was still processing Oliver North. Maybe Mia saw the puzzled look on my face because I noticed she had picked up her phone and was clearly looking for something. Then she said, “Oh… Oliver Stone – not Oliver North!” Ahhhh… that made sense! We all had a good laugh about the wrong Oliver.  

On the way home I was thinking about how fun – and funny – the evening was and how every now and then it seemed like a game of free association. If we were 10-20 years older, I might be worried that our reliance on oblique references in lieu of names might be a sign of word retrieval or memory issues. But in this case, I’d say it was simply a function of odd games of connect-the-dots that our brains play as we store away information and ideas. 

I think one of the reasons I enjoy such quirky conversations is because round-about references have been a hallmark of conversations I’ve had all my life with my eldest sister. It’s totally normal for us to refer to something else all together by way of reference when we can’t remember an exact term or name. When we chat, there’s a lot of, “Oh you know – it’s like…” or “You know who I mean – she was in that movie with what’s-his-name”. And of course, there are lots of references to family-related events or incidents like, “It’s like that time Dad…”. 

I think such free association is also a pretty good way of bonding. It certainly requires a level of comfort that those you’re with won’t tease you or make you feel inordinately foolish – whether you’re the one making the analogy or the one trying to understand what the other person means. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if such round-about referencing gets worse as we get older. Indeed, I think I’m going to do a self-check every now and then to make sure that it’s an innocent habit and not a sign of cognitive decline. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... vulnerable

by Ingrid Sapona

The past couple weeks I’ve come across two examples of people dealing with emotional vulnerability. The scenarios were very different, but both caught me by surprise and had me thinking about ways of behaving when feeling vulnerable. 

The first was a discussion I had with my friend Tina (not her real name). Tina’s been going out with Sean (not his real name) for a few years. Sean seems nice and they seem like a good couple. Anyway, I was asking her how it’s going and she basically said, “it’s fine”. Tina’s eloquent and has a good vocabulary, so an anodyne “fine” clearly required exploration. So, I asked a few, more direct questions about the relationship. 

When I asked her if he says he loves her, she immediately said, “Oh no.” I was surprised, so I asked her if she ever told him she loves him. Without skipping a beat she said, “Yes, once.” When I asked how that landed, she said it got no reaction really. My ineloquent “Oh” in response prompted her to quickly add, “I’ll never go there again!” 

In discussing why she feels that way, it became clear that though she was brave enough to say it once, she thinks that by refusing to say it again she’ll spare herself humiliation on top of the pain she felt from the non-response response. I understand that, but her refusal to be vulnerable again increases the likelihood Sean will never risk bearing his heart to her. And that, of course, will only compound Tina’s heartbreak. I felt sad that she seems emotionally stuck, but for the time being, it seemed best to change topics, so we did. 

The other instance of emotional vulnerability revolves around the resignation of Toronto’s mayor, John Tory. For those who may not have heard the story, here are the basic facts surrounding the resignation: On Feb. 10th the mayor called an unexpected evening press conference to “update Torontonians on a difficult personal matter”. 

He then explained, “I developed a relationship with an employee of my office in a way that did not meet the standards to which I hold himself to as mayor and as a family man.” He said he recognized that permitting the relationship to develop was a serious error in judgment on his part and, as a result, he was stepping down. 

He said he deeply regrets having to step away from a job he loves in a city he loves, but he believes in his heart it is best to fully commit himself to the work required to repair his family relationships. He also apologized “unreservedly to the people of Toronto and to all those hurt by his actions”, including his staff, colleagues on city council, and the public service for whom he has such respect. 

And, to round out the story, here are a few other facts some have found relevant: Tory is 68 and has been married to his wife for over 44 years. The affair with the younger woman (she’s now 31) began when they worked together on Covid-related matters and ended earlier this year. 

Apparently, sometime in December The Star got a tip that Tory’s marriage was in trouble. Then, in February they learned Tory was seeing someone who was much younger. About that time word then got back to Tory that reporters were asking questions about it. The hasty Friday evening press conference was called after The Star notified Tory that it planned on running the story that evening. So, though the resignation came out of left field for Torontonians, subsequent Star articles revealed that since early February Tory had been discussing with many – including his wife – whether resignation was the right course of action. 

Naturally, there’s been a great deal of public and private discussions swirling around Tory’s actions and decisions. Some are keen to focus on the politics, others on the ethics, and still other on the moral issues. I have my own views in each of these realms, but what I’ve been most struck by has been Tory’s demeanor. He’s an excellent speaker and has always come across to me as measured and thoughtful. Indeed, his apology to Torontonians and to all those hurt by his actions seemed genuine and painstaking – not at all of the “sorry that I got caught” variety. But, however heartfelt the apology came across when he announced his resignation, it was his comments on his last day that made me appreciate the dignity of owning one’s own vulnerability. 

During the prepared remarks he talked about all the interesting jobs he’s had (lawyer, corporate executive, broadcaster, and commissioner of a professional sports league, among other things) but he thinks being the mayor of Toronto was the best job anyone could have. And he said, in quite plain terms, that it breaks his heart to leave the post, though he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He also noted that while he realizes that the circumstances that led to his resignation will “be among the things he will be remembered for”, he hoped that his other accomplishments will also be spoken of. 

I don’t think there’s one right way to behave when feeling emotionally vulnerable. I think to be human is to sometimes feel vulnerable. The question is, how do you react? I think Tina’s reaction was common: put up a wall of indifference in hopes that no one notices the hurt. Tory, however, showed it’s possible to manage vulnerability – and maintain dignity – by owning your feelings and shortcomings. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... mere routine?

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t sleep a lot. I don’t say that as a humble brag or as a complaint. If anything, I simply see it as a fact of my life. I’ve been ok with this fact, especially since deciding (years ago) not to worry about sleep. Indeed, I can’t really even think of any instances when I though my sleep has impacted my functioning. That said, I’ve not been oblivious to news reports about the importance of sleep to one’s overall health.  

Last fall, when I heard my GP’s office has a five-week program on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) I asked my doctor about it. We discussed the fact that I don’t sleep that much and she thought I might benefit from program.  

In mid-December her office contacted me to see if I was interested in joining a group starting in February. I said yes and was surprised to learn that I needed to be interviewed by the social worker who runs the sessions to see if I’d qualify. (I thought my doc’s approval would have been enough.) The interview was set up for late January.  

As luck would have it, in the weeks leading up to the interview, I found myself getting nearly eight hours of solid sleep almost every night while in Mexico. Yes, it occurred to me that that’s what vacation is all about – but I’ve been vacationing in sunny Mexico for many Januarys and I’ve never slept as long or as well as this year. I didn’t want to over-think it, but I did wonder what was going on. (I also wondered whether I might no longer qualify for the CBT-I session as a result.)  

The interview went fine and I qualified for the program. It seems the main criteria is that you are open/curious about your behaviour, and that your expectations about attending are reasonable. In other words, I shouldn’t expect that on completion of the program I would magically sleep a certain number of hours/night. That wasn’t a problem, as I’ve never been concerned with how much sleep is normal or optimal. The curiosity part was also not a problem, as I had already started thinking about why I was sleeping so well in Mexico as compared to here.    

I soon realized there was a big difference in my “going to bed” routine in Mexico versus at home. In Mexico, because I’m in a condo with friends, at the end of the evening we all simply retire to bed. At home I usually fall asleep on the couch watching tv, eventually toddling off to bed. But, I’ve always known that if I take much time getting to bed from the couch, I wake up and can’t fall back asleep.  

The first week in Mexico I had a hard time falling asleep without having the tv on to distract my mind. But, I couldn’t just wake others by turning on the tv, so I had no choice. About a week into the holiday, I had pretty much adjusted to just going to bed and falling asleep. I have long recognized that my falling asleep on the couch is a habit, but I had never really tried to break it. Was the key to more sleep simply breaking myself of that habit? I certainly was curious…  

The CBT-I program started just last week so it’s too early to say much about it. But, it has caused me to question the nature of my sleep routines: to explore whether they’re based on habit or biology. I’m a morning person, but I never stopped to ask myself if that necessarily means I must start my day well before the sun rises, as I normally do. 

I started thinking about what I do when I’m up at the crack of dawn. I typically start the day enjoying a coffee over the morning newspaper. Then I catch the first edition of BBC news, which happens to run at 5:00 a.m. locally. That’s followed by a 6 a.m. stretch program on tv that I usually do. After that I turn to my emails and other on-line news before heading to the gym or out for a walk. 

I reflected on the fact that in Mexico I didn’t sleep the morning away – but I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn, as normal. Ironically, my morning routine in Mexico wasn’t that different: I didn’t catch the BBC and I had to do the stretching on my own, but otherwise I did everything I normally do – but a few hours later, when other folks were up. Hmm… Maybe I was on to something. On my return home, I decided to try adopting my Mexico morning routine. So, instead of hopping out of bed at 4 a.m. – something I normally do, I gave myself permission to turn over and try to fall asleep for a few more hours and then do all my usual things. 

I’m pleased to say: so far, so good – I’ve managed to sleep longer since being home. Of course, only time will tell whether this new leaf – this new morning routine – will last. I’m guessing there’s a reason the CBT-I program runs for 5 weeks – I imagine it takes at least that long to truly adopt new habits. I guess I’ll find out … 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona