I used to believe that self-kindness was weak and berating myself was the key to improvement. I was wrong. Self-kindness is not selfish. It’s also a key to productivity. Who knew?
Today is World Kindness Day. And I think perhaps everyone can agree that we could use more kindness in the world. It might be the only thing we can agree on.
The Reach of Kindness
Studies show that just witnessing an act of kindness makes us feel like we were the beneficiary of that kindness. And beyond the tangible benefits, acts of kindness make the recipients kind themselves.
This is how kindness spreads. When we witness kindness, we feel as if we have received kindness. When we receive kindness, we give kindness.
Perhaps this is why I felt so touched when I saw how people responded to Loren Jade Smith, the 9-year-old from California who lost his baseball memorabilia when the wildfires burned his house down.
The Key to Kindness Practice
My morning meditation today, guided by the Daily Calm meditation in the Calm iOS app, was a loving-kindness practice, in which we recite a series of phrases to extend kindness to ourselves and others.
The key to loving-kindness practice is that we start with ourselves first.
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
Only after we direct kindness to ourselves do we extend it outward.
The practice always starts with yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have.
The Biggest Challenge
For me and many people I know, this concept presents the biggest challenge. Being kind to myself at all is difficult enough, let alone being kind to myself first.
I am typically my own worst critic. Nobody is harder on me than I am on myself. I expect more from myself than anyone else could ever demand, and if I don’t meet those expectations, I berate myself for it.
Perhaps you can relate.
For most of my life, I believed that being my own worst critic served me. It drove me to be better, to meet higher standards, to serve my clients and others at a higher level.
I’ve learned that this belief is false.
How We Treat Others & How They Treat Us
Treat Others As You Wish to Be Treated
A core teaching of human interaction is “treat others as you wish to be treated.”
I treated others as I wished to be treated. But I didn’t treat myself that way.
I was kind to others, even as I berated myself.
I had compassion for others, even as I was a taskmaster to myself.
You Train People How to Treat You
Another fundamental principle is that “you train people how to treat you.”
By treating myself harshly, and by not respecting my own boundaries and limits, I sent a message to others that it’s ok for them to disrespect me in the same way.
Just as kindness spreads, unkindness spreads. When we are unkind to ourselves, others will be unkind to us. And we, in turn, will be unkind to others — even if we are naturally empathetic and compassionate.
Eventually, I started to learn that I could not fully give to others what I couldn’t give to myself. I started to practice treating myself as I would treat others.
When I extend kindness to others now, it feels more authentic, because I am giving something I actually have, instead of something I want to receive.
This has been a difficult journey. Our culture conditions us that serving ourselves first is selfish and that self-kindness is weak.
In truth, it’s the opposite. We cannot give what we don’t have. And, in addition to filling us with more to give to others, self-kindness is essential to productivity: studies show that self-compassion is one of the best cures for procrastination.
Creating a Virtuous Cycle
When we allow ourselves to receive our own kindness, we have more to give to others. We show up more fully, with more presence. What we give is real, because we have it within us.
And when we treat ourselves with kindness — with our words and actions — we teach others not only that this is how we deserve to be treated, but also that this is how they deserve to be treated. We give them permission to treat themselves with kindness.
Those who receive our kindness become kinder, and those who witness our kindness become kinder. This is how we spread kindness.
Our world needs more kindness, today and every day. So go out and be kind to others. But first, be kind to yourself.
I’d love to hear how this resonates with you. Do you struggle with self-kindness and putting yourself first? Share in the comments, or connect with me privately.
If you want to learn more about how to create space to nourish yourself so you can serve at a higher level, I can help with that. Register at The Ritual Revolution to learn more about the next session. Enrollment will be opening soon.