Some people believe that if we push through the pain or are critical or even cruel with ourselves, we’ll be more successful and get things done.
When we’re kind to ourselves, we’re able to see ourselves more clearly and act in healthier ways, she said.
We also can’t be truly kind to others if we aren’t kind to ourselves, said Carrie Klassen, who teaches courses on building kind businesses while being kind to yourself and your clients. “[K]indness isn’t selective.”
“If I treat another person well at my own expense, that isn’t kindness.” It’s a form of martyrdom, she explained. And it makes the other person an unwilling participant in your own harm, which is dishonest and disrespectful of the relationship.
Plus, the way we interact with ourselves influences how we interact with others, said Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colo. “If you hear yourself say that you’re worthless or undeserving all day long, it would be a natural response to have resentment, exhaustion, self-hatred, and shame as the backdrop to every single experience of your day.”
We also teach people how to treat us. “People tend to take cues from us about how we deserve to be treated,” Eder said. When you treat yourself with compassion, respect and care, others will be more likely to do the same.
In other words, kindness is powerful both for ourselves and others. Maybe you know about the benefits but aren’t sure where to start, what it might look like or even if you deserve it. These suggestions can help.
1. Set an intention every morning.
Intentions ground us in our values and give our lives a sense of meaning, Kogan said. For instance, the intention, “‘Today I will really listen when people talk to me’ helps you be more mindful of who you are and what you stand for [and] care about, which makes you feel better and translates into being kind to yourself and others.”
Kogan shared these additional examples of kind intentions:
- I will try not to judge others.
- I will focus on today and not the days ahead.
- I will pay attention to what I am doing right instead of wrong.
- I will smile to at least one person I don’t know today.
- If I get angry I will notice that and breathe before reacting.
2. Pay attention to your thoughts.
Notice your automatic negative thoughts, and try to replace them with neutral or positive thoughts, Kogan said. She shared this example: You notice that after you make a mistake, these phrases naturally roll off your tongue: “Oh, I’m so stupid,” or “I screwed up again.”
You replace them with: “I made a mistake, but I can learn from this” or “I’ll do better next time.”
3. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
“Yesterday is different from today and it is OK to want something different than you wanted before,” Klassen said. This might include big changes.
For instance, you’re a counselor who’s always worked with trauma victims, and now give yourself permission to explore working with other clients. You’re a stay-at-home mom who realizes you miss your job and give yourself permission to research child care options, she said
Or it might include smaller changes, such as revising your daily routine or playing with different ways to move your body (because you’re bored with the gym or your workouts have started to feel punitive).
4. Say yes.
“Being kind to yourself may be as simple yet radical as saying yes to an invitation from a friend, the impulse to go get your nails done, or discarding your to-do list on a Saturday afternoon,” Eder said.
5. Say no.
A good time to say no is when you find yourself feeling resentment, Eder said. Of course, for many of us saying no isn’t easy. It’s especially tough for women “who have been taught that pleasing others is one of their most important jobs.”
You might worry that saying no is unkind. However, kindness isn’t just about giving. As Klassen said, “Kindness requires honesty about what we are able to give to others and what we want to give to others, as well as the actual giving.”
She also noted that saying no is liberating for everyone: Others can trust your yeses, and can get to know you more intimately. It also gives them “permission to say no to you, too, when that’s the honest feeling.”
6. Check in with your emotions.
Take a few moments in your day to explore how you’re feeling. Kogan called it “taking your emotional temperature.”
For instance, she said, “Are you feeling tension in your stomach or jaw or a sad weight in your chest?” Then breathe into any parts that feel tension.
7. Find and create moments of calm.
Kindness also can mean seeking out serene situations. Notice the trees swaying with the wind, pet your cat, or walk your dog after a busy day, Kogan said.
Again, treating yourself with kindness might be tough at first. It may feel unnatural and unfamiliar. Be kind to yourself anyway. “[B]y treating yourself with kindness over the long haul, it will start to sink in that you deserve to be treated with kindness,” Eder said.