Since the start of lockdown, I’ve learnt Mandarin as well as how to play the french horn while doing the formidable and enviable yoga posture of the tripod headstand with lotus legs. What have you achieved?
We are six weeks into the lockdown in Monaco. Many of us entered confinement telling ourselves that we would use the time to do that thing that we have always wanted to do but never had the time to do. (Fill in the gap for what “that thing” represents to you). Some of us are now despairing that we haven’t quite accomplished our goals.
As a psychotherapist, I am awarded a privileged and unique insight into other people’s lives. Please don’t be fooled that we are all conquering new heights while confined in our homes. It’s just not the case. In fact the popular mantra that the virus has been sent to us so that we can save ourselves and the planet has left many of us feeling inadequate.
What I heard and felt last week in my virtual therapy room was “stuckness.” We all have that version of ourselves that inconveniently pops up to remind us that we are not worthy, inadequate and full of shame. Well last week, they seem to have popped up in mass. Here’s what I heard throughout the week: –
- I should be more productive
- I should have achieved more since the confinement began
- I should be able to concentrate more and procrastinate less
(Note the use of “should.” Our inner critic loves to remind us of all the things we should have done. Please banish this word from your vocabulary or at least during confinement. It supplies oxygen to our inner critic).
I think we may have overestimated what we could achieve in lockdown and underestimated the emotional baggage that would stand in our way. Think about how creative we often feel on holiday. There are fewer distractions. We usually sleep well. We often have more sex. Our minds and bodies are rested. Crucially we are not overwhelmed with anxiety. Now contrast that with the last six weeks. Are you still confused about why you haven’t learned three new musical instruments while locked in your apartment with children and pets and the prospect of a global economic meltdown?
I think we need to redefine what productivity looks like during confinement. For example, many of my clients in Monaco are high achievers. For those emanating from the corporate world, success and productivity are measured using a limited number of metrics such as revenue and/or profits. This is not the time to measure productivity the old way. That’s like drinking soup with a fork. It’s frustrating.
I encourage all of us to redefine productivity and consider a day well spent if we feel grounded, have achieved some emotional connection with ourselves and others, managed to eat well and get some exercise and/or fresh air. We might even sneak in a naughty Netflix. In other words we need to lower the productivity bar.
We often feel productive because we cling to routines and rituals. We go to the gym, do the school run, go to work etc. These tasks help fill our day and enable us to feel like we are achieving stuff. In confinement, many of us have fewer of those familiar tasks, if any. That adds to the feeling that we have accomplished less. It’s more than likely that we have accomplished something but it won’t be the usual stuff that occupied our days before confinement.
We are far more likely to procrastinate when we cannot manage our emotions and feel out of control. Procrastination is partly linked to self-control. It’s hard to focus on saving the planet when I feel emotionally drained or alone. The reality is that staying in the present moment is hard with so much else distracting us. It’s not a surprise to me that so many people have shared that they are struggling to complete some of their daily tasks not to mention the elusive thing that they were going to do in confinement. There is a lot of noise in the background which makes focusing on the foreground difficult.
Let’s not underestimate that many of us are lonelier and more isolated and not by choice. There is a reason that we invented solitary confinement in prisons. It’s a punishment. It leads to depression and mood disorders. Loneliness/social isolation changes the brain. (It can be reversed).
There is more talk now about if/how the lockdown will end. I believe that in itself triggers emotions of loss. Part of the complicated grieving process sets off emotions of depression, anger and denial. There is also such a thing as anticipatory loss. What might we have lost if we didn’t use our lockdown to its fullest?
The fear of standing still is overwhelming. It’s why we create busy lives. Well now we are not so busy. We are truly standing still. We are left with more time to experience our emotions. If we have never really been great at dealing with our emotions or have spent a lifetime avoiding painful emotions, this will make confinement that much harder. It will make productivity challenging. Cut yourself some slack. I think we need to practice self-compassion if we not have achieved all our goals in these six weeks.
I often say to my clients that if I spoke to them in the same way that they are speaking to themselves, they would not come back to therapy. So let me pose these questions. How is your inner critic engaging with you most days? What would it be like to lower your lockdown aspirational bar? Can you redefine your definition of productivity and if so, what might it look like?
Social media is awash with all the potential opportunities that confinement offers and all the achievements that our friends, neighbours and people we have never heard of have accomplished. Good for them. But it’s not a race. Comparisons to others can be a way to reinforce negative beliefs that we are not good enough and keep me frozen. Let’s stop comparing ourselves with the Joneses.
Finally if you are one of the people who have achieved diddlysquat in confinement, maybe that’s just the way it is. If you haven’t got it all figured out or you haven’t yet mastered the tripod headstand with lotus legs, look on the bright side. There is a strong chance that this won’t be our last lockdown.
This article first appeared in Monaco Life