Yesterday morning was one of those mornings. My kiddos, aged 2 and 4, were still dead asleep at 8am. Then 9am. My husband had to be at work early that day, so this was my problem to deal with. I dutifully dragged them out of bed, put my daughter's pee-drenched pjs and sheets in the laundry for the 800 millionth time, got them dressed, fed them, did her hair, put them in 45 layers of winter gear and headed out for the walk to preschool. It had snowed the night before, so the sidewalk in front of my house was a mess, and I was so late for work at this point (it was practically 10am) that I had no time to shovel.
We walked to school slowly (there was ice everywhere) and did the dropoff routine. Change from boots to shoes. Strip the winter gear. Jam everything into their cubbies. Patiently defuse an international crisis. (We forgot to bring stuffed doggie to school.) One more kiss, one more hug. Wait, another kiss, another hug. Grab a coffee and some semblance of breakfast on the way to work, while frantically texting my team about the most important document in the world that I needed to be working on RIGHT NOW and shoving said breakfast into my face.
Here are some of the thoughts that were running through my head that morning:
"I can't believe I'm so bad at this." (Getting the kids out of the house.)
"I'm such a jerk for not shoveling the sidewalk."
"Seriously, I can't get myself to work by 10:30AM when my office is 5 minutes from preschool!? Seriously!?!"
"Wow, I'm failing at everything today."
Once I had a minute to calm down (and the breakfast started getting my blood sugar back up to non-hangry levels), I paused to reflect on what had happened. I had fallen into a stereotypical working mom guilt trap. I was being harder on myself than I would be on anyone else, under pretty much any circumstances. Why did I feel so bad about myself all the damn time?
I realized I was spending a lot of time beating myself up over things I thought I should be able to control, but couldn't. My next thought was, how can I stop doing this to myself? How can I, as the saying goes, "accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference?"
So I did some research, which I thought I'd share with you (in case the scenario I described above bears any resemblance to your daily grind). Here are five ideas to help us calm down our inner critics and just get on with running the world.
Idea #1: Learn to recognize perfectionism
Psychology researcher Dr. Brené Brown defines perfectionism as "a way of thinking that says if I look perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule." That one really hit home for me. When we're being perfectionist, we're getting so caught up in "what people will think" that we put all of our energy into avoiding "mistakes" instead of using that energy more productively; to be creative, take risks, and connect with others. The first step to squashing perfectionist tendencies is just becoming aware of when you're being a perfectionist.
(Here's a picture of me letting go of perfectionism at the mommy hair salon. Let's just say there's a reason I'm their only client right now...)
Idea #2: Practice self-compassion
It can be hard to let go of perfectionism because you may feel that being hard on yourself is the only way to get yourself to improve. (I know I've felt this way during bouts of self-flagellation for minor offenses.)
But according to the research, the opposite is true. According to author and happiness expert Nataly Kogan, practicing self-compassion is actually a more effective means of bringing about the changes you want to make in your life than being harsh with yourself. How awesome is that?
She shares a helpful way to practice self-compassion in this short video.
When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, first, just notice what you're doing. Take a pause. Then ask yourself, "If I were giving this feedback to someone I really love, how would I say it differently?" (Or would I say it at all?)
Reframing your self-criticism in a compassionate way helps motivate you to make positive changes instead of just giving up to avoid future humiliation.
Idea #3: Time-blocks versus TO-DO lists
The idea behind time blocking is simple: plan out blocks of time to dedicate to completing each activity on your list instead of just working off of an endless todo list. Giving yourself a "time box" to complete a task helps you to be more productive and gives you permission to devote your full focus to the task at hand.
Personally, I'm not ready to take this idea to the same extremes as my colleague Diane Meehan, who schedules everything but I have used this strategy in the past to relieve feelings of overwhelm when staring down a huge TO-DO list or to help me focus when I'm getting pulled in 75 different directions. I find that once I've mapped out when in my day (or week) I'm going to do all-the-things, I can relax a little bit and just focus on the task at hand.
If your day has the habit of being blown up by emergencies or delayed by children who run away when you try to get them to wear a coat in 20 degree weather (ahem), then don't fill it to the brim with time blocks. Give yourself some wiggle room in case of unforeseen (or entirely predictable) delays.
Idea #4: Get help from your dope squad
If you've never seen Tina Fey and Amy Pohler's Dope Squad video, I'm going to have to insist that you stop and watch it now.
Okay, now that you're back and have wiped away the laughter-tears, let's talk about who you need on your dope squad.
First, you've got to connect with like-minded people who know what you're going through. People who can empathize, problem-solve, and refill your coffee cup or wine glass while nodding to indicate that they are active-listening. (Uh huh... go on.)
At Pepperlane, we help moms who run independent businesses to build their dope squad at our Boost events. We get 10 amazing women together for 90-minute problem-solving sessions, and magic happens. It's a safe, supportive place to bring your business challenges, get support from other women who instantly get it, and make real lasting connections to help grow their businesses. And because you read this far, you get to attend your first Boost event for free. (Can't wait to meet you IRL!)
The second part of your dope squad is the fabulous group of people in your life who help you get it all done. I'm talking about the meal-preppers, the do-it-all home helpers, the home organizers, event planners, personal finance pros. All the people who help you ditch working mom guilt and embrace working mom triumph. Where can you find all of these amazing helpers? Also on Pepperlane, in our hire-a-mom marketplace. Boom.
Idea #5: Breathe. And actually experience your feelings.
Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath in times of stress? I thought it was enough to recognize this, force yourself to take a few deep breaths and keep on trucking, but according to Psychology Today author Alan Fogel, that's not the case.
According to Dr. Fogel, "Your breathing will ease and relaxation will spread into your body if, and only if, you can actually feel the sensations and emotions in your body at that very moment."
Long story short, when we turn into harried little stress balls rushing from one thing to the next, we wall ourselves off from experiencing physical sensations and emotions and start doing things like involuntarily holding our breath.
When you catch yourself doing this, take a quick pause to observe the sensations in your body and the emotions you're experiencing. Actually experiencing these feelings is what produces a relaxation response and allows you to breathe better without forcing it.
Or as Dr. Fogel puts it, "[T]he body sense experience that is true for you in the present moment of experience is always heralded by a relaxation response. And this is why real body sense explorations are so conducive to health and well-being. Relaxation improves breathing and thus blood flow, promotes the cleansing of toxic stress hormones, and enhances immune function."
Sounds like a helpful step on the path to not feeling bad about yourself!
I wish you all the best of luck on your quest to be kinder to yourself. And remember that if you need help running your business, running your life or taking care of yourself, there's an amazing community and resources at Pepperlane!
And if you liked this article, please share it with the members of your dope squad.
Jess Petersen is a mom of two, an avid runner, and a tech nerd. She's spent her career building products at Boston startups like Carbonite (NASDAQ: CARB) and Hopper from the very earliest stages into successful companies with millions of users. Sharon talked her into starting Pepperlane when she was 6 months pregnant with her second baby. What could possibly go wrong?