Something about stasis makes it impossible to sit still. The world slows down, out of necessity, but many of us feel that we must outrun it. Otherwise, we are wasting precious time.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first took hold last year, maybe you committed to reading more, creating more, and eating healthier. You figured that since you’d be working from home, it’d be pretty straightforward. At first, you maintained your momentum. You began every day with a blenderful of fresh produce and ended it with another chapter read or a new art project started. But as time wore on, the fatigue washed over you, and it became harder and harder to stay focused on your goals.
Understandably, you are disappointed that you fell short. Maybe you feel as though you’ve broken some weighty promise to yourself. While it is perfectly healthy to consider what went wrong and how you can fix it, you should avoid casting any judgment on yourself and instead practice self-compassion.
As psychologist Kristen Neff explains, self-compassion is treating yourself with unconditional kindness, even when you make mistakes or fail to meet your own high expectations. Self-compassion is not blind self-love. The goal is not to convince yourself that you are without flaws or that you should not improve yourself. Rather, self-compassion encourages you to better understand yourself and what you need to grow. This means seeing your shortcomings in the context of your current environment.
To expand upon the COVID-19 example above, you may feel as though you should have accomplished more because you don’t have to commute to work every day. Quarantine should equal freetime, right?
What you aren’t taking into account, however, is that you have lived through a very confusing ordeal. According to a CDC report from the summer of 2020, a staggering 40% of Americans admitted to experiencing poorer mental health due to COVID-19.
This is not to say that you can’t strive to accomplish great things; it just means that you should forgive yourself when you stumble along the way.
Not sure how to practice self-compassion? Here are some tips to get you started:
“Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague.”
This bit of trivia quickly surfaced across all the major social media platforms early in the pandemic. Indeed, it is an inspiring thought, one that may make you want to sit down at your desk and let creativity take wing. Not to mention, the sentence itself conjures an idyllic image: the great bard, armed with quill by moonlight or candle, penning verses restlessly, not knowing they would transcend generations.
There is nothing wrong with finding this fact interesting or inspiring, of course. The problem arises when you take it as a non-negotiable challenge rather than as a well-meaning illustration of the creativity that can be born from a time of great grief and uncertainty.
To avoid feeling the pressure of producing the ultimate pandemic magnum opus, focus on the execution of your vision rather than its idealized completion. In other words: instead of telling yourself that you must have a spellbinding novel penned before it’s safe to return to the office, allow yourself to draft up the characters, write a first draft or two, and try out many different ideas. Outline your process, but don’t feel as though you have to adhere to a strategy that doesn’t work for you.
By affording some wiggle room, you are allowing yourself to account for the dreaded inevitable: mistakes, setbacks, and bad days. These things will happen, and that’s okay because you have designed a detour around them.
That inner voice can be downright vicious sometimes, jabbing you with the sharp ends of the harshest words: loser, slacker, failure, burnout, disappointment. Take a look at what all those words have in common: they’re non-specific value judgments of you as a person, empty. Calling yourself these names isn’t just mean; it’s unproductive. Self-compassion spurs action.
Show that inner voice who’s in control by identifying the specific problem you are having. For example, instead of declaring to yourself that you are just so lazy, acknowledge that you are having trouble managing your workload. Once you’ve named the problem, you can more easily arrive at a solution.
Still need help finding the tools to treat yourself with the kindness you deserve? Reach out to us at the Center for Modern Therapy. We look forward to speaking with you!