Imagine your friend has just failed an exam. How would you treat them? Most likely, you would offer them warmth, understanding and compassion, right? You might reassure them that it is okay, tell them not to worry and say that it is completely understandable given how busy they have been and all the stuff they have been dealing with.
Now, imagine it was you who failed the exam. What would you say to yourself? Would it be just as warm, understanding, kind and compassionate? Or might it involve calling yourself a “hopeless ****ing idiot” or some other equally nasty name?
It’s a terrible double-standard.
While we all try to be kind to others, many of us are horribly unkind to ourselves. That voice in our head is rarely a compassionate, supportive one. More often it is a tormentor, quick to remind us of all the many ways in which we are supposedly falling short.
It is less than ideal to be living with a hypercritical drill sergeant in your head. It’s no fun to be constantly told that you are not smart enough, successful enough, fit enough or good enough in countless other ways.
It’s also not very good for your long-term happiness and mental wellbeing.
Thankfully, there is a way you can shift things and it involves being far, far nicer to yourself.
Rather than buy into what that cranky drill sergeant is saying, you can question it and change the narrative completely. You can offeryourself words of support such as “actually, I am doing the best I can right now and that’s okay” or “actually, I am enough, just the way I am” or “how fabulous that my face earned all these laughter lines!”
Learning to shift this negative self-talk is a wonderful gift that can last a lifetime. If you find you are saying things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend, change it up. Just think how much more pleasant the rest of your days are likely to be with a kind, supportive inner voice residing in your head, rather than a mean, bullying one.
Unfortunately, many of us have a belief that this bullying, drill sergeant voice is some master motivator that will spur us to a life of greatness. The science tells a different story. Research from UC Berkeley (USA) highlights that self-compassion is more effective than self-criticism, not only in helping us cope with a setback, but also in encouraging us to move forward.”
If we hold on to this harsh drill sergeant voice, it can drive us to burnout as we push for perfection. Even if we are highly accomplished in many ways, this voice can make us feel like a failure. It can start to embed a belief that we are not good enough or not worthy enough. It can also hold us back, not wanting to take on things for the worry that we won’t be brilliant at them.
Of course, going from being brutal on yourself to being feircely self-compassionate can take some getting used to. There are however plenty of practical ways to let the kindness flow.
1. Get your doing down to a doable level
If you are someone who is always ultra-busy, one of the kindest things you can do is to stop doing so much. Many of us are attempting to pack an absolutely insane amount of doing into our waking hours. We put our chores first and ourselves last. We push ourselves to exhaustion and often sacrifice sleep and the other things we love, in order to satisfy our inner drill sergeant.
Consider, what are the responsibilities you can shed? What are the things which aren’t important? How can you claw back some precious time for you?
Letting your kids catch the bus to school instead of driving them can be an act of self-kindness. Deciding to wait a little longer before washing the car can be act of self-kindness. Choosing not to answer an email after hours can also be brilliantly self-kind.
Self-kindness is not just some nice, fluffy concept. At it’s most powerful, it involves consistent actions that support our ongoing wellbeing.
2. Become a black belt in self-care
Unfortunately for our achievement-oriented society, we don’t get handed awards for looking after ourselves. We don’t get a pat on the back for closing our laptops at the close of business. We don’t get awarded a degree for going to bed on time. We don’t get a cheer squad shaking their pom-poms when we opt for salad rather than chips.
Self-care is never selfish and it is something we can all work on. It is important to prioritise those things which fill our cup and make them non-negotiable. Instead of feeling guilty at saying ‘no’ to yet more responsibilities, we can reward ourselves for saying ‘yes’ to our own wellbeing.
Above all those other achievements, most of us could do with achieving a much more balanced lifestyle. Before trying for the next goal, try becoming a black belt in self-care.
3. Ditch unhelpful comparisons and be gloriously amateur
Another act of extreme self-kindness can be to stop measuring ourselves against completely unrealistic ideals. Of course, I can’t play golf like Tiger Woods. Of course, I don’t have the abs of Chris Hemsworth. I may be able to cook a little better than Paris Hilton but I love her enthusiatically amateur approach.
Not everyone can be exceptional at everything. Sometimes, it’s okay to be average. Sometimes it’s okay to be not very good at all. Aim for ‘perfectly adequate’ and if you accomplish ‘not bad’ then give yourself a pat on the back.
In the rush to be amazingly professional at everything, we’ve forgotten the joy of being amateur. When we do things for fun and don’t get too hung up on the outcomes, we can often derive far more satisfaction from them.
4. Break free of others’ expectations and be authentically you
It’s extremely kind to let go of status anxiety, crushing conformity and the expectations of others. By choosing your authentic self over all this other rather useless rubbish, you can feel incredibly liberated.
Embrace all those things that you truly love but became too cool, sophisticated or grown up for. Yes, you can be posh but still go nuts for the opening of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Yes, you can be a grown man and still take delight in a Hundreds & Thousands biscuit. Yes, you can be a meditation guru and still get ultra-competitive in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
It is, however, not just about indulging in the odd guilty pleasure. True kindness involves fully embracing the weird, wonderful oddities that we are and taking the actions that really matter to us. When we free ourselves from other’s expectations and instead follow our own values, we can start to live with much greater passion and purpose.