If you look up the word ‘kindness’ in the dictionary, you will see a photo of my friend – let’s call her ‘Pauline’. You won’t really. You’ll see a definition along the lines of ‘a quality of being friendly, generous and considerate’. But it should be a photo of ‘Pauline’.
We all know a ‘Pauline’. Mine has all the dictionary qualities and then some, because my ‘Pauline’ delivers them in bucket loads, every day. And I mean every day. When she lost her parents, her in-laws, her baby. When her son was going through a tough time mentally. When her husband was diagnosed with a disease which will take him from her far too soon. When her roof leaked and she didn’t have the money for repairs. When her car was totalled by a hit and run.
When ‘Pauline’s’ world is falling apart, her heart is so huge that she still finds the time and the energy to be kind to others. She’s not super human, she shows cracks in her armour, but somehow she always finds this inner strength to be kind to everyone.
I’d love to be more like her. I’d love to know her secret. I have asked her, believe me, I have. But ‘Pauline’ is also modest and just blushes furiously when you compliment her and tell her how wonderful she is. She refuses to think she is special and says she just is who she is.
So I’ve had to do my own research to try and discover what the key to kindness is, and apparently it all comes down to self-compassion. All we have to do is turn our compassion inwards, be less self-critical and essentially be much nicer to ourselves when we feel inadequate or stuff something up. If we can learn to be kinder to ourselves, we then have the strength to be kind to others.
But is it that easy? What if self-compassion is something that we don’t really know how to do? If we overthink and worry about it, self-compassion could even feel out of reach. How can we learn to treat ourselves the way we would a friend having a tough time?
Deep down we do know that if we let a little bit of self-compassion into our lives, it starts to make life just a little bit easier. We’ve all done it at some point, after all, even if was as simple as eating a bar of Galaxy chocolate in the bath, or being tolerant with ourselves when we haven’t got something right first time.
If you feel self-compassion is important or maybe even essential for your own wellbeing and happiness, then maybe it’s time to gradually put it into practice. Start by taking just 5 minutes a day to understand how you feel by trying one of the following:
Be mindful of your own body and thoughts
Listen to your mind and your body. Just because your mind is racing, it doesn’t mean you need to action all those thoughts immediately, or even acknowledge them all. By listening to your mind and giving yourself some space and time, you can sort your thoughts into mental filing trays to deal with later, with some going straight into the shredder if they are unworthy of your attention or energy.
Reframe your negative thoughts and emotions
Once you are aware of your thoughts and have them organised in that mental filing tray, you are ready to deal with them. Take a look at how you can reframe your negative thoughts into more positive ones. You’ll have all kinds of negative thoughts and you’ll need to deal with them differently, but by retraining your brain to think more positively you’ll soon be able to reframe negative thinking. We’ve got some great tips for this in The Power of Positivity (Thank you Dolly Parton).
Accept and forgive yourself
We often feel that making peace with ourselves and moving forward is hard. But nobody is perfect – not even ‘Pauline’. It might feel uncomfortable or even painful, but learning acceptance and forgiveness really is the key to moving forwards. Try and think of mistakes as learning experiences. Sometimes we can only do our best and that is fine. Sometimes the thing holding us back is ourselves, especially if we pay too much attention to the thoughts in our head. If your inner critic is a little bit too chatty for your liking, then try reading How to Change Negative Behaviours and Make Positive Changes to Your Life for some tips on how to put it on mute.
Seek out support from friends and professionals
A lack of self-compassion is normal if you are going through a tough time. Any event in your life with a negative element of self-judgement, be that at work with a failing project or at home with a failing relationship, is going to lead to feelings of insecurity or anxiety. This is when you might need extra support and should reach out to friends, or even your GP who will be able to recommend a therapist to help you.
Self-compassion is not self-indulgent, it does not make you weak, but it does make you a better person and perhaps a little more like ‘Pauline’. The world could never have too many of those.