When you read about getting better at saying “no,” it’s usually some article about how to avoid letting outside forces influence how you spend your time. Do you check your email constantly at work, or do you do it periodically at times you choose? Do you accept all invitations to do stuff with other people, or do you turn down the invitations that’ll undermine other key aspects of your life? And so on.
Pre-Fishtailing Joyride, I was already good at gate-keeping many of these external pressures. A long time ago I ditched “fear of missing out,” which seems to be an epidemic these days—it simply never factors into my decisions about how I spend my time. I don’t get over-scheduled; I guard my time so I can take it slow with the kids. The family sticks to a routine: wake, breakfast, play, daycare/work, play more, have an easy dinner, play more, read, snuggle, go to bed. On the weekends, the daycare/work part is replaced by more play, walks to the park or a nearby train yard, visits with family, and naps. All of this is pretty great!
The one voice I still struggle to say “no” to is my inner self-critic. At first, this voice tries to disguise itself as a useful thought or emotion of my own. When I try to ignore it or push it away, though, it starts sounding a bit like the bear in the photo above. And letting this voice influence how I spend my time is just as much a threat as saying “yes” to too many invitations would be. This is because this voice would have me moving from one to-do list item to the next for the rest of my life, alienating all my loved ones in the process. For example:
Self-critic: You only have a half hour left before you have to leave to pick up the kids from their grandparents’ house. You meant to put up the screens now that it’s getting warmer outside. But you have to wash the windows before you do that, or else those windows will be filthy all summer!
Me: Hmm. I’m going to let those thoughts go for a bit. I haven’t had breakfast yet. The screens can wait. Oatmeal it is…
Self-critic: Jeez, this kitchen is a mess! The least you could do is empty the dishwasher and clean the counters while the water reaches a boil.
Me: I’m going to let those thoughts go too. Wait. Dammit, the sink is full of stupid dishes! [Cleans counter and does the dishes.]
Self-critic: Do you realize Mr. Fishtailing Joyrider was going to mow the lawn before the two of you picked up the kids, and he’s not even out of bed yet?!
Me: Ugh. But he should be free to do his thing. We’re having a precious, rare morning where the kids are away at their grandparents’. He should get to enjoy it his way.
Self-critic: This day is getting out of control! There’s a diminishing return on taking time for relaxation. At some point it just becomes laziness. You have a lot of shit to get done!
Me: The oatmeal is almost done. I’m just going to eat breakfast and leave to pick up the kids. [By this time I feel anxious. Warding off this self-critic is hard work.]
Self-critic: But the lawn! [Mr. Fishtailing Joyrider walks in, unaware of both the battle I’m fighting with my self-critic and my resulting anxiousness.]
Me: [In a sharper tone than I’d like; suddenly I’m starting to sound like the bear in the photo above] We have to leave in a few minutes to pick up the kids, and the lawn still needs to be mowed! I think you better stay to mow the lawn while I go pick them up.
Mr. Fishtailing Joyrider: [Baffled as to why this prospect would cause me stress when I’m now making myself late by eating oatmeal.] I see you’re eating oatmeal…
I want to learn to notice when this self-critic is talking and move ahead in a way that doesn’t let the critic take over. This will be a big key to greater self-acceptance and all the good stuff that can come with it, especially better relationships with the people I care most about.
Try as I might, however, this is not something I’ve been able to change overnight. Sometimes I recognize when the self-critic is trying to grab the steering wheel. In these cases, I can usually kick its ass to the curb (unless it’s extremely persistent, as in the example above). Other times, I respond to it as if it spoke the unfettered truth.
Spending changes have been easy so far; this habit will be tougher to break. So I’ll be tackling this topic in a series of posts as I work on it…