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In this episode of The Optimized Mom Podcast, I share a story about both a mistake I made and my over-the-top reaction to it. We’ll also chat about self-compassion and how we can all practice a little more of it.
Note: This transcript was produced using speech-recognition software and has received minimal edits. If possible, I encourage you to listen to the audio version.
Welcome to the Optimized Mom podcast where we explore strategies for trading burnout, overwhelm and exhaustion for simplicity, efficiency and joy. Why? Because I want you to have the time and energy to care for yourself, have fun with your family and share your sparkle with the world.
Well, hey there, Anissa here. And you know what? I hate making mistakes. I assume that nobody likes making mistakes. But I also imagine that I am quite a bit more opposed to it than the average bear. In the interest of authenticity, my desire to do things that make me uncomfortable, and in the interest of treating myself like a beloved child. I’m sharing a story today. A few mornings ago, I woke up to find our reverse osmosis water pitcher filling up in the sink. This gallon-sized container had obviously been filling up for a while because the water was spilling up over the top.
And my first thought was, oh, how sweet. Cameron, who is my 11-year-old, was helping out and got distracted. He must have had to go to the bathroom or something and forgotten about it.
And I shut off the water and I listened for Cameron but the house was quiet. And then I remembered. The night before I had scurried around the kitchen, turning on the dishwasher, getting a load of towels ready to wash in the morning, making the coffee so that I could just start it with a push of a button the next morning, checking that all the doors were locked, running things that needed to go on the recycle bin out to the garage, collecting a bunch of stuff that needed to go upstairs for tomorrow and filling up the water pitcher so it was ready to go when everyone woke up.
And in the midst of all this, I was the one who had gotten distracted about eight hours before and the pitcher had been full for about seven hours and 59 minutes. And the rest of the time the water had just been going down the drain. My inner critic just leapt into action. How could you be so stupid? You know, we live in the desert, right? And water is precious. You’ve got to be more careful with our money than that.
And I was heading down the spiral supremely pissed at myself when I heard a tiny little voice in my head that said, wait a minute. When you assumed Cameron did it, you thought it was sweet. And I had, it was ok for Cameron to get distracted when he was just trying to help. It was ok for him to make a mistake and not do things perfectly.
And I pictured my mad dash around the house the night before. I was solo parenting. My husband was out of town and my routine was off. Usually my husband, Michael, helps with some of the before-bed chores, like locking up the doors and taking out the recycling. I’d heard the water running, but I was tired and I thought it was the dishwasher or the washing machine. And I felt a rush of compassion for myself.
Yes, I’m 47 years old and I should know better, but I just messed up even when I was trying so hard and a little part of me deep inside just wanted the same understanding that I had so willingly given to my kid. I said it out loud to myself since nobody else was awake to hear it: It was an accident. It’s ok to make mistakes sometimes. I love you. And as cheesy as all of this sounds, relating it to you, I felt my nervous system relax as I did this and I remembered a phrase that I had heard at some point: “Treat yourself like a beloved child.”
Now, that’s a really nice concept, right? But in that moment, I realized that I treat myself more like a mule that I’ve chained up out back most of the time. My kids can stop their schoolwork to take a brain break when they need it. But I scold myself for not being able to hold my focus for hours at a time. The kids can stop their chores to run and play with a friend if somebody rings the bell, hey, the task will still be there tomorrow. But I need to do absolutely every task I placed on my to-do list for today or I’m in big trouble. The boys can have ice cream after dinner. Sure, it’s one of our sometimes foods, but who doesn’t love ice cream when it’s 100 degrees outside? I won’t be eating any, of course, because I have to watch my sugar.
And the more I thought of all of these examples, the sadder I felt for little Anissa and the more I was reminded that I needed a little refresher on self-compassion. Incidentally, I looked briefly for the ‘treat yourself as you would a beloved child’ quote. And I think it is from Pema Chodron. But when I thought about self-compassion, I knew I needed to look back at the work of Kristin Neff.
Neff is a leading researcher in the science of self-compassion. And she says that there are three steps to practicing it. The first one is self-kindness. What does this mean? It means, ideally, we avoid beating ourselves up, which for most of us is really hard because we’ve been practicing it for decades now. In addition to avoiding beating ourselves up in the first place, we also practice that self-comforting that I employed. When I said ‘it’s ok, you made a mistake. I love you.’
It’s really important that we realize that these are just mistakes. And if we can avoid shaming ourselves, they’re a really powerful way to learn. And if we can keep that in mind, it’s a lot easier to practice the self kindness.
Number two, we need to recognize our common humanity. We are not alone when we are screwing up. Our foibles are suffering. They are all part of the shared human experience. We all make the wrong choice. Sometimes, we all feel regret for things that we did wrong or that we feel we did wrong, we feel inadequate, we feel disappointed. Nobody’s perfect, not even me, not even you. So we can take that pressure off. We can all take a deep breath.
And number three, in addition to practicing self-kindness and recognizing our common humanity, we want to be mindful. Gosh, it seems like mindfulness comes up all the time, doesn’t it? We pay attention to the things that we think and we feel without trying to push them away and without trying to make them a bigger deal than they are. We can notice our thoughts and also at the same time, acknowledge that we don’t have to believe our thoughts.
The water filter incident was not only an opportunity to practice this self-compassion. It was a great learning experience as mistakes so often are. It was a reminder to me that multitasking rarely turns out. It showed me again the value of focusing on the task at hand. So as I said, mindfulness pops up all the time. I’ve turned this into a new mindfulness ritual during the couple of minutes that it takes to fill the pitcher.
Instead of trying to run around and complete 16 tasks. I stand at the sink, I look out the window, I take a few deep breaths and I check in with myself just as I do with my actual own beloved children. How are you doing kiddo? You feeling ok today? You seem a little distracted or a little anxious or a little sad.
How about you, Dear Listener? Do you need a little more self-compassion in your life? I’m willing to bet that you do. And if you do, you are absolutely not alone. I and zillions of others are right there with you. Let’s remember that, and pinky swear that we will try to mindfully notice when we’re acting like abusive parents rather than loving ones and practice treating ourselves instead like beloved children so that we can find the lessons in our mistakes and go through life with a lot more ease and joy. Remember, self-kindness, recognizing your common humanity and practicing mindfulness. These are the three steps to practicing self-compassion. Let’s all make us vow to practice together. Talk to you soon.