Compassion vs Improvement: Adventures in Growth

[Dutch Lock Down Day One Hundred Eighty Four]

Photo by Daria Rudyk on Unsplash

That title is what I wanted to write today, but then First Minion started throwing up around three this morning and, well, it’s another rough night.

But first the news:

I’ve already done yoga, studied languages, meditated, and now I’m writing. If only I could manage the protein smoothie, but that involves the blender and First Minion is currently back asleep on the couch next to me.

You can’t always get what you want.

But back to $TITLE, yeah?

Photo by Mojtaba Ravanbakhsh on Unsplash

I’ve been struggling with this kindness thing for weeks now.

Struggling because I have NOT been kind to myself for, like, always, but also because it SEEMS to be entirely counter to the self improvement thing.

If you’re kind to yourself, you accept yourself, flaws and all. But if you accept yourself, flaws and all, why do you need to ‘work’ on them? Doesn’t kindness lead to laziness?

This is what my inner critic said and based on years of dance, I agree. My inner critic pointed out the flaws in my technique for YEARS. Sure, by the end, it wasn’t so much indicating room for improvement as SCREAMING at the INJUSTICE of unsupported funding for DANCE in the United States that lead to a desperate retirement to escape the constant ANGER.


A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my personal trainer and she said I need to be kinder to myself. More patient.

And then my life coach said the same thing. Be kinder to myself. More accepting.


I dove into Headspace’s Kindness course.

But something still held me back.

How can I accept myself for who I am yet still want to improve myself? Aren’t those two states of being mutually exclusive?

Don’t I just want my inner critic to be, well, not screaming? But still there?

Last week’s session was intense.

So intense that at the end of it, for the first time, I felt exhausted. Like I had just done a round of exposure therapy. I needed chocolate. I needed walking. I needed fresh air.

So I did.

After each session, I have a list of Things To Do besides work on the projects and this week was no exception. And one of those items was to track down Dr. Kristin Neff’s Ted Talk on self compassion.

Fair warning, the recording is Not Ideal. There’s somebody whispering quite a bit at the beginning. And the edits are sometimes distracting. But watch for the content.

At a certain point she says exactly what I said to my life coach – aren’t compassion and self improvement at odds with one another? Isn’t that impossible?

She says no. They’re hand in hand.

I didn’t believe her.

But then she goes on to ask us to picture a scenario. Imagine you have a kid who brings home a bad grade. You could respond in a couple of ways. You could yell at them, tell them they suck, ground them until their grades are back up.

This will lead to feelings of resentment, anger, and depression.

They may study for a bit, but ultimately the toxic environment will lead to worse grades than before.

Or you could hug them, empathize, “oof, a bad grade, I’ll bet that hurts….” and ask how we can make a plan to do better.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Everything fell into place.

The most efficient growth happens in a space where there’s plenty of sunlight, water, and love.

Not darkness and hate.

I was so impressed with that single line that I looked up another of her talks. And another.

I’ll stop you right there – they’re all pretty much the same.

But better recordings.

And I bought her book, “Self Compassion” – the essence is still the same, but includes exercises in every chapter to build awareness and develop compassion, kindness, and acceptance.

The work deadlines still loom, First Minion is still sick, and I am still working on the Farmer Project, but my inner critic is SILENT.

I’m sure they’ll be back.

At some point.

But I’m ready for them and I look forward to giving them a big hug, empathizing with their pain, and making a plan to do better.