What’s all the fuss about kindness these days? Whether we hear the words loving kindness, self-love, compassion, mindfulness or just kindness used in a spiritual or a business context, it’s all saying the same thing. That it pays to be kind. Many studies show how our health benefits, both physically and mentally. Our happiness and success levels also increase. Another huge pay-off is that our relationships also improve. Yes, its official – being kind is good for us!
Being kind for some may well mean big gestures of giving, but kindness is something we can all bring more of into our everyday lives.
Starting with ourselves is a good place to begin practising kindness. We all know how it feels to give ourselves a hard time – “I could have done better”, “why did I say that?”, “I’m fat/not good enough/etc.” Our self-critical voice is often ready to speak up rather than our self-compassionate voice. These self-critical thoughts can create anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and perhaps lead to depression if left unchecked.
Like anything that we need to learn, self-compassion or loving kindness, is a practice. The good news is that we can train our minds to change the message to a more positive one.
So how would you speak to a good friend or someone you love? What advice would you give a friend if they were saying some of the things that are flying around in your head? Would you speak to someone else the way you speak to yourself? Of course you wouldn’t. It’s easy to be kind, offering supportive, non-judgmental advice or love to other people, but it’s not so easy to do this for ourselves.
How can you begin treating yourself with kindness and compassion?
Pay attention to your thoughts. Often our negative thoughts are like an auto-pilot reaction, and we don’t even realise we are having them (or so many of them!). Each time a negative thought comes, try just saying “here’s a negative / critical / anxious / difficult thought” – giving it a label, recognising it for what it is, can help it dissolve. This is practicing mindfulness.
Stop torturing yourself. We all know how it feels to give ourselves a hard time – “I could have done better”, “why did I say that? etc”. There is no such thing as perfection! Instead of saying you’re not good enough, commit to improve a particular area of your life or to create healthier habits. The power is in you!
Managing a difficult thought. There’s a saying I’ve come across a lot in the context of mindfulness, “What we resist persists”. Mindfulness says, “what we accept, transforms”. When you notice a self-critical or other difficult thought arise, take a few deep breaths into your belly, notice where you feel any tension or sensation in your body. You can place your hand(s) on any part of your body you feel any tension or sensation. You may say “I feel tightness in my chest/belly/throat etc” or whatever it is you feel, wherever you feel it. Then say to yourself a few times “it’s just a worry/stressful/difficult thought”, take another 5 deep breaths. This allows the thought to arise, and to be recognised, with kindness and compassion. It’s easier for it to move on then rather than lead to other stressful thoughts.
Be your own best friend. Be your own cheerleader. Give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself
So what happens when we start being kinder to ourselves?
On a physical level, our biochemistry changes, creating hormones which protect our heart, boost our immune system and regulate our digestive system. The stress levels in the body which were raised during negative thinking drop back to normal. This in itself makes way for so many body and mind benefits, including better sleep, greater focus and concentration, more energy, and a healthier weight. Emotionally, negative thinking over time can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Relationships with others are also improved.
Once we treat ourselves with kindness, it’s so much easier to treat others the same way! Being kind to ourselves is the most important place to begin the art of practicing kindness. Seemingly small acts of kindness towards others can have a huge positive impact on them, but also on you!
Being kind releases hormones associated with emotional warmth. These hormones create a “feel-good” factor, releasing stress, improving mood as well as immune system.
Offer a word of support to somebody who’s having a hard time, offer to help a colleague who’s struggling with a deadline, phone somebody you haven’t spoken to in a while, send a kind text. The list is endless!
On many levels, being kind to ourselves, as well as to others, means a happier, healthier and more successful life.