My mind is a great liar. "Oh, I'm not that tired," it will say. "Good to go! I can work another couple hours, fresh as a daisy, crankin' out the good stuff!" And then it proceeds to go "bluggggggghhhh" and spew nonsense all over itself after a few minutes.
It's sort of like when one of my little cousins was 4 and insisted that she didn't need her stroller for the 3-mile walk to the train station because she was a Big Girl and could do it All By Herself. Less than halfway there, I needed to start carrying her. A mile away, she suddenly realized she Had To Pee Now, so I ended up making up a 1200 meter sprint with a preschooler on my back, shouting things like "JUST HOLD IT! HOOOOLD IT!" and singing Disney songs in an attempt to distract Small Child from Full Bladder. (We made it to Finagle a Bagel in time. Phew.)
Fortunately, my physical self hasn't learned that sort of self-deception. If I haven't eaten correctly that morning or the day before, if I haven't stretched, or gotten adequate sleep, or if I'm stressed or just plain tense, my body immediately shows it; I don't spin as readily, sprint as fast, concentrate on dance moves quite so well. I step out of time, run out of breath, momentarily wonder what's wrong with me before I remember. And then I go "aha, what did I do or not-do that is making this happen?" and have the chance to correct it -- eat better food, drink water, rub out tight muscles, sleep earlier -- the next round, and then I get the chance to check my answers 24 hours later.
Another good thing about this schedule is that it forces me to think about occasional moments of poor performance as experimental results that directly follow from controllable variables ("I'm missing moves because I'm mentally sluggish because I got less than 5 hours of sleep") and not as a result of permanent ingrained brokenness on my part ("I'm missing moves because I'm kinesthetically stupid and can NEVER DO THIS EVER"). When I have good days, I know it's probably because I've worked hard at the right things, kept all the right habits. When I have bad days, I know it's probably because I haven't.
This morning I was coming from my parents' house after a Labor Day BBQ feast, so I had tons of food last night, went to bed past midnight, then woke up at 5am for a 2.5-hour drive that ended when I parked my car outside the dance studio and went in with just 5 minutes before class to warm up, having only had a hasty gobble of leftovers for breakfast 3 hours earlier. Needless to say, I didn't dance particularly well today.
But that's okay. I'm fueling up with sweet potatoes and roasted chicken right now -- good, healthy food, followed by repeated long draughts at the water fountain during (frequent) typing breaks. And I've got a dance rehearsal late tonight, so we'll see if this gets me into better shape -- if I do any better then. More chances to check my answers! And a good dose of awareness that this evening, even if my brain thinks that it isn't tired, it probably is, and that my whole self needs to rest.
Thank you, body, for being my canary in the coalmine of grad school.