I pride myself on being a pretty good cook, having taken care of most of the meals for our little family of two over the last thirty-something years. I love to try new recipes, visualizing them in my imagination and relying on my experience in the kitchen to improvise when I feel confident to do so. Occasionally, things go sideways, and the dish doesn’t turn out as I envisioned. I used to feel bad about it, sometimes I’d scold myself, or point out the perceived mistake before anyone else could say anything.  I wanted to protect my feelings from being hurt. It’s exhausting to feel we must cover up when things don’t go as planned. My little story is a small example of the many situations we find ourselves in where things don’t go as we imagined, or we feel we’ve messed up somehow. The most natural response is to frame it in a negative way and be critical of ourselves. This just sounds like human nature, doesn’t it? But does it have to be?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

It’s that old school conditioning around perfection; it was part of my education growing up but not part of my experience because nothing I was or did could ever have been perfect. That’s how I thought about myself and my life when I was young. The concept of perfection was always out of reach back then, but I have since learned that perfection is nothing more than an illusion. Take nature as an example: we understand that nature is perfect in every way with her rhythms and her beautiful creations but there isn’t one straight line in nature. Think about that. When we observe nature, we can see that there are no mistakes; life in nature is gloriously flawed and we’re comfortable celebrating that.

In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.  – Alice Walker                         

While we are part of nature, she feels more like a great teacher because our human experience is different. Unlike animals in the forest, we don’t trust our intuition or our natural rhythm, we rely on our thoughts mostly and sometimes that’s where we get ourselves into trouble. When we make a perceived mistake, our critical thoughts step in to tell us that we’re wrong, that we don’t know how to do whatever it was we were trying to do.

But without our perceived mistakes, how would we learn to do better? How would we know what’s for us if we don’t try different experiences? Nobody nails it on the first go. Life is complex and finding our joy in it takes some practice.

 “Self-compassion is nurturing yourself with all the kindness and love you would shower on someone you cherish.” -Debra L. Reble PhD

 In her book titled Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff PhD says that having compassion for ourselves, meaning treating ourselves as we would a cherished friend when they’re struggling, helps us to feel stronger and more resilient. Initially this idea rubbed me the wrong way because of the deeply ingrained conditioning I had around independence and perfection. As a young person, I learned to be independent and to strive for elusive perfection. But as I reflected on the idea of compassion and did a little research, I shifted my perception. The word compassion comes from a Latin word meaning to suffer with and research shows that human beings are naturally compassionate because to greater or lesser degrees, we all suffer. We know how to be there for other people when they’re going through it but recently, I’ve been learning through Dr. Neff’s book about the great benefit of having compassion for ourselves. The idea takes the focus off independence and perfection and places it on interdependence and acceptance. We need each other and we need to accept others and ourselves as we are and what we are is gloriously flawed.

 “Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” ― Kristin Neff PhD, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

There are close to 3,000 studies now on the concept of self-compassion and its benefits for our well-being. Dr. Neff says that there’s a difference between acts of self-care like taking a bath or having a massage and self-compassion. The latter is a state of mind; it’s not something that requires resources or taking any action. It’s a way of thinking that is invested in our own best interest. The tricky bit though is we must learn self-compassion because we’re so wired for self-criticism, the evolutionary system that weirdly makes us feel safe. Since learning about the idea of self-compassion, I know which voice I don’t want in my head when things go sideways – a voice that belittles me; what I want is a friend who supports me. Self-compassion then becomes a practice, where we shift our inner dialogue when we mess up from negativity and self-criticism to support and kindness. Let’s face it, nobody gets through life without some challenges and when you can learn to rely on yourself for some compassion you’re far more inclined to be comfortable sharing that support with others.



This Wellings blog by Kathie Donovan was exclusively written for Wellings Communities and appeared first on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.