On New Year’s Day, I went to Hive Beach near Burton Bradstock. It’s a beautiful place with the most unusual sand-sculptured cliffs. The car park was surprisingly full. l suspect many people, like me, wanted to breathe in the sea-air and blow away the cobwebs. One brave man stripped off and dove into the icy sea. A small crowd clapped as he came out a few minutes later, his skin turned lobster red by the cold. The New Year had just begun and people’s usual stiff-upper-lip barriers were nowhere to be seen. Instead they smiled at one another and greeted fellow beach walkers with “Happy New Year”.
I believe our natural state of kindness and compassion bubbles to the surface when we relax. After a particularly long break over Christmas and New Year, most of us have had time to unwind and so random acts of kindness are plentiful to see. I also know by the time you read this, most of you will be back at work, facing a pile of mail, hundreds of emails and rapidly ‘pushing through the gears’ to once more work at the speed of light. It won’t be long before most of you are feeling harried and stressed from trying to cram in impossible amounts of work and meet tough deadlines in a world that seems to be spinning forever faster. From this place, being kind to others takes real effort, and as for being kind to yourself, well, often that’s the last thing on your mind.
Why being kind to yourself matters
Even though many people profess to no longer make New Year’s Resolutions, most people secretly hope that the New Year will be happier, healthier and richer. Gyms and weight-loss clubs rub their hands with glee as subscriptions dramatically increase whilst tobacco and confectionary companies see a dip in their sales. But neither lasts very long. Why do our good intentions so easily slip by? In part, it is our lack of kindness to ourselves.
I’m sure you’ve witnessed it—or maybe even done it yourself. After weeks, or maybe even months (or years?) of not exercising, people put themselves onto punishing regimes. And after over-indulging over Christmas, people begin near-starvation diets, or go cold turkey on cigarettes and alcohol. The essence of what people are trying to do is, of course, good. I am always hopeful that people will choose healthier lifestyles, but doing things this way usually leads to failure, whilst if you are kind to yourself, if you are more gentle with yourself, you are far more likely to succeed.
Being kind to yourself means being realistic with how long things take and being aware of the habits, patterns and addictions that you may be getting in your way. Being kind is allowing the changes to be implemented more gradually. Being kind to yourself is recognizing that January (in the Northern hemisphere) is a time of low energy due to the lack of sunshine – and not suited to endeavours that require masses of energy. It’s not that you can’t change nor correct unhealthy habits – you can! Some of them though will take time to let go of, release, change, correct and/or rebalance. Being kind to yourself is allowing yourself the time to put these things in place so the end results are sustainable.
Do you deserve kindness?
Although this may seem like a strange question, please ask it of yourself with sincerity: Are you deserving of kindness? Is it simply easier to give rather than receive it? If people are kind to you, do you tend to defer, deflect it away from you as soon as you can? If I ask you to be REALLY kind to yourself, does it make you feel uncomfortable? And if yes, why is that so?
Before you tell me that others are more deserving, I want to say I know. We can always find someone who is more in need than we are, BUT that doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving too. You ARE deserving. Not in a selfish, or even narcissist or hedonist way; just as a human being who has a need to be loved, cared for and treated with kindness. It’s a basic need that is often squished and held in little regard in our society.
In a way I see kindness is a form of energy. It’s meant to flow both in and out of you. When you don’t allow it in, or if you deflect it away from you, the energy is weakened. If you allow people to be kind to you, and if you nurture yourself kindness, then this energy flows at full strength. You become more kind to both yourself and others.
How can you be kinder to yourself?
As with all change, the first step is awareness. When do you beat yourself up and be mean to yourself? How do you self-sabotage your efforts to be kind or gentle with yourself? Do you have any inkling as to why you feel you’re not deserving of kindness – from others and yourself?
If I ask you, “How kind you are to yourself?” and ask you to rate yourself out of 10, where 10 equals utmost kindness and gentleness, and 0 is where kindness is totally missing from your life, where are you on the scale?
If you scored 3 or less, please consider finding a counselor, therapist or coach to help you. If you scored less than 6, then please do some soul searching as to why you think you are so unworthy of kindness to yourself. I am a great believer in the power of journaling in these cases. Write the question, “How can I be kinder to myself?” now write down all the ways that you could be kinder. It might be: “I’ll take more time to lose weight (get fit, stop smoking or whatever it is you are trying to do)”. Or I will take time to meditate, have a long bath, read a book, or give myself permission to spend time pursuing my hobbies. Or… what is it for you?
When you have done this, answer the question: “What gets in my way of being kind to myself?” Write about your fears, anxieties, lack of time and your negative beliefs about your self-worth. Please don’t edit your answers! Just be honest with what comes up for you. Finally, write down 5 things you are going to do in the future where you will be much kinder to yourself. Now ‘step into’ those situations and ‘feel’ what it is like for you where you are kind to yourself and how your kindness then flows outwards and onwards to others as you have an abundance of kindness within you to do this.