I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” —Maya Angelou
The concept of kindness is an interesting one. We’ve reached a place where the digital world has become saturated with articles, images and videos about random acts of kindness, ‘kindness is cool’ campaigns and even be kind merchandise. We consume this content happily - our eyes tear up, we smile and we go about our day feeling better about ourselves.
What we don’t indulge in as much is the act of self-kindness. Kindness directed toward ourselves. Also known as self-love, positive self-talk, ‘me time’. We may talk about it and our intentions can be good and honest – but when it comes to actually doing it, we tend to fall short.
So, what is it about kindness that makes it so much easier to direct toward others – but not toward ourselves? And why is self-kindness so critically important for a positive societal evolution?
The bias factor
Have you ever found yourself focusing more on the negative than positive throughout your day to day life? Perhaps you tend to cling to your shortcomings, bad decisions and past mistakes. You may even go as far as diminishing your achievements and positive qualities when confronted with them.
According to scientists, our brain has something called negativity bias – when we make use of negative information more than positive. This goes back thousands of years, to when our ancestors lived in a state of fight or flight, scanning their environment for danger and behaving in ways that protected them from death and harm. What good then, came from relaxing and embracing the beauty around them when their entire focus was on staying alive?
Beyond its revolutionary roots, we see negativity bias present as early as childhood development. It is no surprise that for any if not most of us, negativity bias shows itself daily. It's the concern that we have made a bad impression; it’s the focus on what people think of us, it’s the belief that we are not valued or worthy of goodness; it’s the voice in our head that berates us for not being better/ smarter/ funnier, it’s the lack of trust in strangers. Negativity bias tells us that life is a struggle and happiness and all the good things – like self-love (kindness) and joy – are a luxury. If we spend all our energy focusing on the bad, this leaves little time, energy and space for us to practise the good.
Another reason we find it difficult to show ourselves kindness is because many of us fear connection. When we act from a space of kindness, we make space for intimacy and vulnerability – emotions that we fear might lead to rejection and therefore, hurt. For many of us, it is easier to stay protected from this projected hurt through defence mechanisms like negativity bias than it is to let connection in and create opportunity for rejection and discomfort as well as of course the positive potentials that arise from connection and intimacy.
On a global scale, we see a divided world where hate, fear, suffering and exclusion are prominent; while kindness, connection and intimacy may be considered scarce. The ability to unite the world and let go of faulty beliefs, values and traditions that no longer serve us is in and of itself, an act of kindness – but it is also no small feat. It requires us to be present, and move from a busy life where we hardly take a moment for ourselves (especially as parents/mothers), toward greater self-prioritisation.
It is safe to say that as a fearful society, we have a lot of reprogramming and letting go to do when it comes to allowing compassion and connection in (things that serve us).
Judgement acts as an unconscious voice in the background, directing our behaviour and actions and language. These judgements are an important protective mechanism to ensure we make careful choices. However, when we act from a place of judgement (reactiveness) instead of responsiveness, we enter into ‘doing’ mode. Judgement with doing and without thought and kindness can be painful and unjust to ourselves and to others. This can stop us from discovering the richness and diversity of humanity.
Self-kindness is asking ourselves, “What is the place of this judgement, does it serve my greater good and can I lead with compassion toward myself and others?”
Negativity bias, fear and judgement are all examples of barriers to self-kindness. These surface for various reasons, preventing us from reaching inner – and therefore outer – connection and progress, as individuals and as a society. To overcome these barriers, here are 3 ways we can all be better at being kind to ourselves.
- Challenge negative self-talk: How we talk to ourselves deeply influences how we behave. Try checking in on yourself throughout the day to reflect on both the positive (helpful) and negative (unhelpful) commentary running through your mind. When a negative thought pops up, accept it and let it go. It will not serve you.
- Practise stillness and gratitude: Being still is a form of kindness to ourselves and to others. When we explore the ‘being’ – the slowing down, the taking up of space – we give ourselves permission to exist without attachment, without associating our worth onto external validation. This ability to quieten our minds is a great way to experience gratitude; and when we are grateful, we are more likely to spread kindness.
- Relish positive moments: The next time you experience or create a positive moment, take a moment to enjoy it. Engage fully in the happy thoughts, and pleasant emotions that result from this and make a mental note as a reminder.
During this time of remote working, furloughs and lay-off, when uncertainty and fear are rife, boosting morale and helping employees cope is a number one leadership priority. Now, more than ever, combating destructive behaviour, like bullying, with kindness and compassion is imperative. If you are struggling in your workplace with a toxic culture and require support, get in touch so we can assist you with your needs.