With light at the end of the lockdown tunnel here in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on how and why my inner critic, Brian, has been having a field day over the past couple of months.
Followers of my blog may remember Brian from my post, Stop the Negativity Train, I want to get off! A less than helpful evolutionary function of my brain, awareness of this fact couldn’t seem to save me from Brian’s harsh judgements of late. As the sun begins to shine and the cloud of negativity begins to lift from my mind, I’ve been reflecting on how I could have given Brian so much airtime when I know he does not have my best interests at heart.
The first lockdown, as scary a time as it was initially, was also novel. Stepping up to the challenge, my brain seemed to dive into creativity, relishing the opportunity the slower pace of life presented to me and diving headfirst into learning new skills, spending time with my family and ticking some things off the bucket list, like starting a blog.
By the third lockdown however, in the middle of the bleak, dark winter days, the novelty was wearing decidedly thin. A cold, dust covered, rubble strewn house, kids constantly fighting, struggling to find the time to write, and an increase in biscuit tin raiding tendencies (the antidote to boredom and discomfort can’t be found in a custard cream, but it doesn’t stop me from trying). Everything felt like an effort.
Brian crept in so stealthily that I failed to notice he’d taken control, until it was too late. My thoughts were in a downward spiral of self-deprecation (not the charming type you see in A-list celebrities, the type that owns a voodoo doll of your self-confidence and takes great pleasure in jabbing the needle in at every opportunity).
My growth in the most recent lockdown has felt non-existent. My labour efforts on our renovation project were required less and less as the real building work took over. Cleaning felt pointless, as the dust re-settled within seconds of being touched by a cloth. I pinned my hopes on successfully home educating the children, and whilst there were many successful moments, Brian latched on to the fails like a terrier to a rodent, as he began to voice his opinions on all the ways in which it was going wrong (and in which I was a failure).
I felt a despairing sense of urgency to prove him wrong and dove headfirst into learning all the ways in which I could be better. I listened to self-development podcasts every chance I got, spent hours awake at night reading, journaled, exercised, meditated…but Brian was relentless.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? Reading back over my journals, I can see the urgency take hold; the idea that if I can just learn to be more, to be better for myself and for my children, then Brian will shut up. It seems obvious looking back, but focusing on a new and improved imaginary me did not help matters. At this moment in time, I can never be anyone other than who I am. I will never meet my future self, because I will never live in my future. I’d lost sight of the present, and by framing myself as a problem that needed to be solved (and quickly), I was blind to all that I had to be grateful for, right in front of me.
It took opening up to my husband about how I was feeling to bring me back to the present. The very act of voicing the negativity which Brian has been belching for the past couple of months had a cathartic effect. But it was my new friend curiosity that managed to rob Brian of his voodoo needles and use them to pin him against the wall in submission.
I had a brief love affair with curiosity during the first lockdown, but for some reason I let her go. I think this time I better put a ring on it. If Brian is a swirling, noxious, cloud of negativity, obscuring the more desirable functions of my brain, then curiosity is a light Spring breeze, pregnant with the scent of freshly cut grass and hinting at the warmth of summer. When new opportunities present themselves, like applying for a job or pitching my writing for publication, curiosity deflects Brian’s jabs that I can’t do this for reasons X, Y and tells me to go for it, to explore, to have fun with it. You know the feeling: when your ask yourself, ‘What if?’ in a way that opens you up to all the magic and wonder the universe has to offer, instead of asking the question from a place of fear and doubt.
When I allow curiosity into my heart, it gives me a whole new energy to approach my days with. Instead of keeping me stuck on a hamster wheel, it allows me to see all the possibilities to learn and grow that greet me day to day, including the opportunities presented in the difficult things. It’s this open and curious mindset which will take me forward, not the one that’s grasping for anything that will help me change right now.
What I do today will impact my future self, of that there is no doubt. So it’s up to me to choose how to approach it. I can listen to Brian (who I have to accept will never completely shut up), as he points out the many ways in which I have failed, am sure to fail and am currently failing, or I can listen to Curiosity, whose heart is open to the wonders of the world around her, as she asks, ‘what can this teach me? What can I try next? And, I wonder what would happen if…?’