Corralling Your Critic in a Crisis

Living through a pandemic seems to have given my inner critic a “get out of jail free” card. She chimes in multiple times a day about how I’m simply not getting enough done. She reminds me incessantly about all the balls I’ve dropped. And she shrieks super-supportive things like: “What’s wrong with you?”

The thing she is most focused on is my to-do list and the lack of checkmarks or red lines crossing out tasks. Check marks and thick red lines mean success. They mean I am a good and worthy person. They mean everything is under control.

But everything is not under control, and it hasn’t been for quite some time now. There is less available time, there are new and unfamiliar tasks, there is uncertainty and fear, and there are children who move quickly between hilarious and silly to bored and sad.

It’s a lot. But my inner critic doesn’t care. She has no sense of context and absolutely zero compassion. It doesn’t matter that the world has been turned upside down and everything is closed and we’ve lost all of our routines. It doesn’t matter that I’m trying my best in a challenging situation and there are a lot of competing needs.

Nope. She’s still laser-focused on my failings and is insistent that everyone else is doing this pandemic better than me.

For a time, I believed her. I thought that everyone else was learning to make sourdough, had taken up running, and was finishing a novel, all while participating in numerous enriching Zoom classes (zumba anyone? yoga? meditation?), while simultaneously taking virtual tours of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries.

Thank goodness for the people who post their truth on social media. And thank goodness for friends who send inspiring and supportive notes. One of them generously shared part of an email he received from his supervisor – reminders for this strange time we’re living in. When I first read them, I nearly burst into tears.

1.     You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”

2.     Your physical, mental, and emotional health is far more important than anything else is right now.

3.     You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.

4.     You should be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.

5.     You should be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.

Oh, to have such a supportive boss. Sigh. Pause. Cue internal dialogue: “Wait a minute. I ammy own boss!”

It’s true. I’m an entrepreneur. And I could be wearing the hat of “supportive boss,” but I’m not. Over these last few busy weeks, I have allowed my critic to sneak out of the mailroom (where I try to keep her busy with mundane tasks) and all the way up to the executive suite, where she now sits in the big boss chair, lobbing massive criticism bombs.

Since this realization, I’ve actively begun broadcasting a kinder message on my internal PA system. In contrast to the critic’s divisive tactics (“Everyone is doing better than you – pull your socks up!”), I aim for soothing inclusivity (“All of humanity is going through this and there is no template or guide – we’re all just trying to find our way.”).

I’m also taking a new approach to my to-do lists and am sharing this in the hope that it may help you too.

—I’ve decreased the number of work tasks I expect myself to complete in a day and I’ve split it into “absolutely have to get done today” and “would be nice if I had time.”

—I’ve added the unpaid work I’m doing on behalf of others during this crisis.

—I’m including fun tasks and also small meaningful moments. Read a poem. Play ping pong with the kids. Listen to the birds.

—I’ve also been making sure to add self-care intentions. Morning writing with tea. Yoga. Walk.

It’s interesting to note that I haven’t had much pushback from my critic about the content of the lists. Adding soulful or playful tasks has meant more things for her to cross out and she loves that. It’s almost like she equates productivity and doing with safety. Does she actually believe that if she can just check enough things off our list, she’ll be able to keep us safe?

When I think of her in this way, almost like a frightened child, it’s easier to have compassion. She’s afraid of all the unknowns in a very uncertain time. And like a child, she needs soothing and firm boundaries. I can give her more things to check off the list, but they are things that are important to me or that “the supportive boss” in me knows I need.

Has Covid-19 released your critic as well? If so, what are your strategies? I’d love to hear from you.


(Photo credit: Phillippe Bourhis on Unsplashed)