Written by Dr Natalie Bodart of The Bodart Practice
Creativity can thrive in solitude. When we take ourselves out of the busy world of demands, socialising, and commitments we can allow our imagination to flow into alternative realities, alternative identities, and possibilities. Personally speaking, some of my most creative ideas have evolved in daydreams, walking alone during lockdown and in the space between wakefulness and sleep. However, when we choose to be alone we are never truly alone as we are always with ourselves and what we find within ourselves is not always wholly welcome or comfortable. What we can find within ourselves at times of solitude can be the voice of doubt or self-criticism.
What happens then is a cascade of reactions in our brain and nervous system as we detect a threat is present. We know that the human brain does not need a real bully to be present in order to react in the same way physiologically. Simply imagining the bully can be quite enough. At this point our internal threat detector sounds the alarm and our body starts preparing for action; doing what it was designed to do. Suddenly that hoped for creative solitude turns into something else entirely. Frustrated and disappointed we may abandon our plans entirely.
So how can we work with the voice of doubt and self-criticism when he or she shows up? Let’s talk about taking a self-compassion break.
What is self-compassion?
First off let’s be clear that we’re not just talking about hugs and kindness here, although that is an important part of compassion. Here’s a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn that I think describes it nicely: ‘Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly how it is, and allow yourself to be exactly how you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution’.
What we’re talking about here is empathy, warmth, courage to tolerate the struggle in the moment as well as moving forwards.
Awareness and acceptance
When those doubting critical voices appear it’s completely understandable that we don’t want to hear them. We pretend they aren’t there, we distract ourselves, we drown them out, and we may even get into an argument with them. What about if we pull up a chair for them? Challenging though it is, we can empower ourselves by turning towards that voice to say ‘I see you, I hear you, and while I’d like you to go away I understand you’re here right now so take a seat if you must while I get on with my work’. Recently I’ve been using the example of having to room share with Donald Trump. He’s not going anywhere, so can you find ways to live together for the time being? Truth is that when we get out of the struggle and more into a co-habiting arrangement we often find those voices already quieten down.
Know that you’re not alone
Compassion is deeply rooted in understanding our humanity within evolution. We all find ourselves here with tricky brains that we did not choose. Suffering is a part of life. This isn’t to minimise our experience but to connect with a sense of our common humanity and that we aren’t alone.
Offering ourselves patience and kindness
If you’ve done the steps above, you may already be noticing a more kindly attitude towards yourself and the inner critic. What would you like to say to yourself in this moment that can allow kindness, acceptance and patience?
Typically when we feel strong emotions our attention turns inwards to our thoughts and feelings. We often get into struggle mode or worry mode or problem solving mode. Before you know it, an hour has gone by. By following the steps above we can then allow and gently encourage ourselves to bring our attention back to the task at hand. Don’t worry if you have to do this several times, minds can be tricky like that. You may find that you need more breaks than usual and that’s okay too, sometimes we have to flex our expectations but just so long as we don’t abandon them altogether.
My self-compassion break reminder card - print and display