To avoid feeling like a failure when working at home, have a short break of self-compassion

“I don’t manage to do anything.”, one friend, father of 3, mentioned during one of our survival chats this week. “I don’t manage to work. I don’t even manage to go out for a walk.”

Like my friend, after the outbreak of coronavirus, some of us who moved their office work at home may find ourselves caught between the work responsibilities and the responsibility as a parent. How can we expect to have high work productivity in one room, when our kids are crying in the next room? 

To manage the chaos that happens around us, we may need to learn to manage the storm of thoughts going on inside ourselves. A working parent may have the best intentions to finish her report before the next video conference. At the same time, she may want to attend her kids who are getting into a fight because they’re lacking attention. 

At this point, the voice of the inner critic is getting louder and louder. If we chose to spend some time with the kids, the inner critic would scold, “You should be working on your report now.” If we locked ourselves in a room to focus on work, the inner critic would be whispering, “What kind of a parent would do that?”

And to make things worse, the “comparing yourself to others” voice joins the inner conversation, “Other colleagues, some superheroes, like Wonder Woman or IronMan, must be better at managing this kind of situation.”  

The duo of the two voices can bring us down to the status that my friend was talking about. When we cannot work. When we cannot attend the needs of our kids. When we get lost in guilt and shame. 

What can help? We human beings have a paradoxical nature. We have a deep need to be seen and be understood. And we are looking for understanding from those around us. We need family members and friends to say kind and encouraging words to us. Yet, it doesn’t cross our minds to give ourselves first-help.

While waiting for external help, how about being the first ones who understand our own pain? How about telling ourselves what we would tell a friend who needs compassion? “I can see your pain. You’re not alone in this. Let me know what kind of help you need.”   

Self-compassion can be our first-help tool kit. Self-compassion, a term coined by professor Kristin Neff at the University of Texas, refers to the ability to genuinely care for our wellbeing, to accept our negative emotions and have the desire to recover after a setback, such as coronavirus disruption. 

I could relate to my friend’s overwhelm. I have days when I feel exactly the same, torn between work and children. And I feel disappointed both about my work performance and the interaction I’m having with the kids. Is there something we can do in those moments? 

How about giving ourselves a short break of self-compassion? Listen to the inner voice and let it go. Listen to the “comparing yourself to others” voice. Tell it “I’ll get back to you later.” The voice may be trying to tell you something but when you’re in a low moment it’s not the best time. 

What you need in moments when you feel you’re failing at performing a task is to be kind with yourself. It doesn’t mean you start blaming your kids or your boss or any one else for the situation. It doesn’t mean you start feeling like a victim, “Poor me, what a lousy situation I find myself in”. Being kind with yourself means that you empower yourself to take constructive action in the present moment. 

“I realize that now I feel I’m failing more than in other days. What matters most for me at this moment?”

In the long run, what matters most is that these difficult times produce the best versions of ourselves. In the present, what’s more important is to grow aware about choosing one thought over another. 

According to old wisdom, “Thoughts become words, words become deeds, deeds become habits, habit becomes character, and character becomes destiny.” 

And your destiny has great influence over others’ thoughts.