Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Sleep on It

Written by: on November 14, 2023

“Now, go to bed and let your brain work on it while you’re asleep.” My mom frequently said this to me when I was a child practicing a new song on the piano. I would roll my eyes, believing she was just trying to get me to go to bed for the night, but she would insist that my brain would continue to work on the music while I was asleep making the song much easier to play in the morning. I never wanted to admit it, but she was usually right. The song was easier to play after a good night of sleep.

As an adult I continue to employ this method to my sermon writing. Once I’ve read the scripture and done a fair amount of research and exegesis, I leave the task alone. I listen to novels or music while I run, I do the dishes, take a shower, go to bed. In other words, I quit consciously thinking about how to craft the sermon and let my unconscious take a turn. A few days later I sit down to write. At this point I usually write a terrible first draft. I then leave that first draft and a day or two later return to the sermon to write what is (hopefully) a final draft.

In his book, Spell Bound, Daniel Lieberman reveals how to partner your ego or conscious mind with your unconscious to better make decisions, learn tasks, or, in my case, write sermons.  He writes, “The ego and the unconscious are good at different types of mental processing, and humans function most effectively when there is an optimal division of labor.”[1] One of the ways we can partner the ego with the unconscious is to go to sleep, or to do anything other than actively thinking or focusing on the problem at hand. When we do this, the unconscious is able to “venture into the dark corners of the mind where the ego doesn’t go, scanning through an extensive collection of options for the most viable ones and in the process, often arriving at a solution the conscious mind never would have considered.”[2] This, Lieberman claims, “is the source of creativity.”[3]During a sermon writing week, or in the case of this doctoral work, every single week, I find myself waking up in the night with a new idea of how to better make a claim or tell a story, my unconscious working overtime to get through the semester.

Internal Family Systems and Lieberman

What kept coming to mind while reading Lieberman’s book was how similar it seems to the psychological model, Internal Family Systems (IFS). Having worked with a therapist using this model, I know just enough about IFS to be dangerous. The idea of IFS is that no person is a single, integrated, unified human being. Instead, we all have many different ‘parts,’ and they don’t all see eye-to-eye.”[4] All ‘parts’ of a person genuinely believe they are working toward the good of the individual, even those that are actually sabotaging our best intentions. The work of IFS is to get to know these parts, listen to them, acknowledge their work, understand where they are coming from, and in doing so, calm them so that the Self can lead. The goal of IFS, if I understand it correctly, is to get to a place where the Self leads without getting derailed by the other parts. (To any IFS therapists out there: I told you, I know just enough to be dangerous!)

Lieberman writes, “The purpose of life is to become your true self.”[5] To become your true self, one must integrate the conscious with the unconscious. It’s only the combination of consciousness with the unconscious that leads to individuality.[6]

I believe IFS would say the purpose of life is to let the Self lead. Simon Walker would say the purpose of life is to become undefended while Friedman would argue it is to become self-differentiated. All of these are ways of saying, knowing who you are and leading from that place best done when you are able to integrate your conscious and unconscious, all of your parts, your identity in Christ, your own belovedness.

In this book, Lieberman talks about SO MUCH MORE, so much, in fact, I couldn’t begin to process all of it. Perhaps as I continue working to integrate my conscious ego with my unconscious, I will be able to also integrate some of what he taught into my leadership, but to do so, I am going to need to go to bed. Goodnight.

[1] Lieberman, Daniel Z, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, BenBella Books. Kindle Edition, 62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://matthewharwood.uk/ifs/ (accessed November 14, 2023)

[5] Lieberman, Daniel Z, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind,  BenBella Books. Kindle Edition, 99.

[6] Ibid, 97.


About the Author

Kally Elliott

Mom of four. Wanna-be Broadway star. PC(USA) pastor. Wife. Friend. Sometimes a hot mess. Sometimes somewhat together. Is this supposed to be a professional bio?

15 responses to “Sleep on It”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    HI Kally,

    I have to say I started from the back of the book and am working forward. Doesn’t this remind you of the Default Network from our first semester?

    I looked back and found…When do Aha/threshold/portal moments happen? Catrinesu says…Let our minds rest. She describes the Default Mode Network (DMN), which activates when we close our eyes. Brains at rest, let our brains do nothing, she says. During that state of DMN is when new connections are made for neurons (closed eyes and rest has become the dating service of the brain). Genius, she says, is not a chance occurrence.

    Have we returned to Fall 2022 fountain?

    YIna Catrinescu (Moldovan)– speaks to the Aha Moments: See Aha! Moments: The art & science of breakthroughs | Ina Catrinescu | TEDxTirguMures https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDNy9HFEcaM
    Skip to: Doing nothing at the 9:10 minute mark.

    But back to 2023,

    You wrote…”I find myself waking up in the night with a new idea of how to better make a claim or tell a story, my unconscious working overtime to get through the semester.” I woke at 2:19 am this morning to finish up my draft design workshop paper. Sent it in around 0900 after having microsoft word read it to me out loud for about the 5th time.

    SIgh…my study sweet spot appears to be 3 am to 6 pm. Then the rest of the family wakes up and I launch into a new day.

    Have a great Thanksgiving.


    • Kally Elliott says:

      3 AM??? Yikes! But then, I don’t usually go to bed until at least 11pm. My sweet spot is 7am-11am, the problem is, I am usually also needed by my family or by work during those hours! I need to get to bed earlier so I can get up earlier.

      I haven’t yet watched the link you sent me but am excited to do so. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • mm Russell Chun says:


        3- 6 am is my sweet spot. I am activated in the morning and try to do all my creative writing. Then I have to get my family ready for the day. I leave household chores for the afternoon…waiting for the DMN to kick in. (the beauty of the mundane!).

        I do start snoring at about 8 pm. So I have become my father!


  2. Esther Edwards says:

    “All of these are ways of saying, knowing who you are and leading from that place best done when you are able to integrate your conscious and unconscious, all of your parts, your identity in Christ, your own belovedness.” This is such a great summation. As so many things are converging for us through this doctoral journey, there is a deeper sense of a truer self emerging. I wonder if much of this is due to giving greater time to reading, reflecting, synthesizing, and bringing personal application into the equation, which greatly uses both the conscious and unconscious. Even though at times it seems like overkill, this process is having a profound affect on me. How about you?

    • Kally Elliott says:

      I hear you when you say that sometimes the process seems like overkill but that it is also having a profound effect on you. I too, am feeling the profound effect. I am feeling more confident, better able to make decisions, in essence, my truer self is emerging. Even though, on the day to day I am stressing and don’t *want* to do the assignments or readings, once I get started I usually really enjoy the work.

  3. Cathy Glei says:

    Great post, Kally! I think allowing for breaks in our thinking, writing, and sermon prep, is crucial for giving space to the Spirit to guide us in our production. I also take breaks to workout, walk, cycle or simply bake cookies and then come back to the task. The time to step back is so helpful for me. Coffee helps too. 🙂. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Cathy, I am working on revising my NPO right now. In all honesty, I actually need to completely rewrite it. I am finding that my brain literally can NOT do it! Thus, I transitioned to responding to comments on the blog and will probably move from here to folding laundry! Hoping these breaks will allow my unconscious to do the work of rewriting my NPO!

  4. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I like how you drew clear parallels between Lieberman, IFS, Walker and Friedman. I frequently get the impression that many of the authors we read are talking about the same concepts, or at least variations of the same, but calling them different things. Maybe a better way to say it is they are highlighting different aspects of the same (albeit very large) concept which in this case I would name something like Authentic Leadership.
    Great post, Kally!

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Yes! What I am finding interesting is how my idea of authentic leadership is transforming throughout this doctoral coursework. I am still me – usually unfiltered – but I am learning to stand more solidly in my decisions. I find myself more readily voicing my ideas, speaking up when something needs to be addressed. In the past, I was quick to laugh at myself or share my flaws with others but not as quick to speak up when I had a need or even an idea. Just musing on this idea of authentic leadership.

  5. mm Tim Clark says:

    I’m with you on SO MUCH here. We’re really only scratching the surface week to week but I’m grateful to be doing so.

    I love what you wrote: “All of these are ways of saying, knowing who you are and leading from that place best done when you are able to integrate your conscious and unconscious, all of your parts, your identity in Christ, your own belovedness.”

    That’s key… I do get concerned when people talk about finding their true self as the goal of life but not necessarily connecting that to our identity in Christ. I get it on a purely humanistic level, but I think, at least for a Christian embracing our own belovedness is a very important part of our true self, and in my opinion anything that strays from that while possibly seeming “true” is the dark side posing as light.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Yes! Me too. I had to preach recently on the “one thing.” I figured if there is “one thing” that is foundational to me about Christianity, it must be the “one thing” I want my kids to know. That “one thing” for me was wanting my kids – and everybody – to know they are deeply and unconditionally loved by God. Period. Belovedness. Knowing and trusting in your belovedness makes it four million times easier to live out that love in the world!

  6. mm John Fehlen says:

    I believe it was Vince Lombardi, the former coach of the. Green Bay Packers that once said, “Fatigue makes cowards out of men.” Sleep is so important. I type this having had only 5-6 hours of sleep accumulated over the last 3 days. I am hurting emotionally and physically. I wrote a reply to Cathy’s post about two panic attacks in the last 24 hours. I say this not for an outpouring of anything, but rather to affirm the value of sleep, and I will add, walking. Both are head-clearers.

    Couple more replies and I’m shutting the computer off, and taking a walk, then going to bed. Good night. 🙂

    • Kally Elliott says:

      I was awake from about 4am-6am this morning. I finally must have fallen back to sleep because the next thing I knew my daughter was stomping around upstairs and was ready for school. Anyway, I say this because this has been my pattern for the last week. Go to bed around 11 or 12, wake up at 4am, toss and turn until 6am and then fall back to sleep – if I have the time – so that I am not a zombie all day. I *should* get up at 6am to get started on the day but it just wrecks me in the long run to do so. I too, get depressed and anxious and…

      Anyway, all that to say, I really hope you get some sleep, and that the sleep helps to ground and center you.

  7. Travis Vaughn says:

    Great post, Kally. This was yet another reminder to let some of the processing — processing/wheel-spinning that has gone on in my brain during this season of research and writing — rest. Like, really rest. Even after decades into a career, I still fight it…wanting to wrestle with stuff in my mind, where getting much needed rest would help a ton. I’m guessing that deep down there’s still a battle for control within me, wanting things to be said/written perfectly, which is probably NOT an integration of the different parts that you outlined, the need to “integrate your conscious and unconscious, all of your parts, your identity in Christ, your own belovedness.” Learning to work, or research, or write, or make sense of complex topics….after/from rest….is where I want to be.

    • Kally Elliott says:

      I am having to let go of my need to say things perfectly – especially in this program. Part of the reason for this is because I have to use much of the writing we are doing – blog posts, even our papers, as a way to process the information. I haven’t yet grasped the info so the writing helps me to sort through it…which means, it’s not always done well.

      I am *really* hoping to be done with writing the papers on their due date so that I can let my mind REST over Christmas break but at this point I’m not sure that is going to happen. Sigh! I am feeling really tired at this point in the semester.

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