Recently, one of my mutuals on twitter asked, "What change would you like to see in this world, starting today?"
My reply? Compassion. More compassion for others, for the planet, and—maybe most importantly—for ourselves.
That last bit—compassion for ourselves—is my topic for today. In my experience, kindness toward ourselves is often left out of the self-care and self-improvement discourse.
Many of us are hard on ourselves. We feel guilty when we spend time on the “wrong” things, we berate ourselves when we don’t reach our goals, and we forget to be gentle with ourselves when we’re struggling.
But what we often fail to realize is that being kind to ourselves will lead to more long-term success and happiness than trying to be our own drill sergeant. Every day, you are learning and growing, just like a child. And, like a child, patience and encouragement will lead to a more successful and enjoyable experience than screaming.
So how do you break that mental habit of directing negativity toward yourself and replace it with one of kindness and positivity?
Know that we all make mistakes
You are normal. Failure is normal. It will not ruin your life and other people aren’t going to make fun of you or look down on you for it. If they do, those people are not good people and shouldn’t be in your life anyway.
So often, we live in our own little bubbles. We see parts of our own lives that we don’t see in others’ lives. Every time something goes wrong in our lives, we see it.
But what we don’t see is that other people make the same mistakes. Other people struggle with the same things.
You were supposed to go to the gym today and didn’t? That happens to me all the time. I talk about it sometimes, but many people would never admit to their own shortcomings, so we don’t realize that we aren’t alone.
You ate something that didn’t fit in with your current healthy lifestyle? Me too. You checked your phone before you got out of bed today? Me too. You stayed up way later than you were supposed to because you were watching YouTube videos? Me too.
It’s so easy to wish for perfection. No one wants to have off days. No one wants to struggle to do what needs to be done. We want our lives to go according to plan and it can be difficult to deal with it when they don’t.
Create a culture of openness. You’ll find that you’re not the only one struggling. Rather than closing off from the world and trying to hide the things that we think are flaws and mistakes, share them.
You’re not alone. Other people have the same insecurities and struggles and can help you through them. Sharing our experiences helps to normalize living an imperfect life.
Follow real people
Remember how I just said that we see parts of our lives that we never see in others’ lives? When we follow people on social media, not only do we not see the bad bits, we only see a carefully curated highlight reel. And most of the time, that highlight reel does not reflect reality.
We don’t see the hard work, we don’t see the hours in the gym, we don’t see the makeup, the photoshop, the filters, the posing, the staging, and the grueling work that goes into the lives others portray on the internet.
A large part of why we’re unkind to ourselves is often because we’re struggling to reach something that we’ve seen portrayed by others. We want a waist as small as hers, an apartment as cute as theirs, or the work ethic that he has.
What Instagram isn’t telling you is that none of those things are real in the first place. That waist is posed and photoshopped. That one corner of the apartment may be cute, but there’s a pile of dirty laundry
behind the camera and a week’s worth of dishes in the sink. You don’t see the three days he spent in bed last week because he didn’t have the energy to get up.
When we berate ourselves for not achieving those things, we fail to acknowledge that those people haven’t achieved them either. The vast majority of people aren’t living the lives that they portray online.
The bodies, living spaces, meals, workouts, vacations, and lives that you’re seeing on the internet are manipulated to tell a story. They don't reflect reality.
Knowing this, pay attention next time you’re on social media. Who makes you think negative thoughts? Who makes you feel worse about yourself? Who are you comparing yourself to? Unfollow them.
Instead, follow people who make you feel better and bring positivity and encouragement to your life. Find people who make you feel good where you are now while also reminding you that self-improvement comes from a place of self-love, not hatred.
One of my favorite types of meditation is Metta meditation. Metta means something akin to loving-kindness, and Metta meditations focus on extending that feeling toward yourself and the world around you.
Unlike the types of meditation that I’ve previously described, Metta meditation focuses on repeating positive phrases and directing them toward a person, group of people, or all beings. This likely sounds weird at first, and I’ll admit that it can be kind of strange to get used to, but I’ve found it seeping into other areas of my life.
In the same way that meditation helps you build a habit of mindfulness, Metta meditation helps you build a habit of loving-kindness. The more that you deliberately practice thinking kind thoughts toward yourself and others, the easier it becomes to do it regularly. I now sometimes find myself thinking, “May I be happy,” as I go about my life.
If you’re new to Metta meditation or meditation in general, I recommend starting with guided meditations. The Calm app, which I use, has several loving-kindness meditations of varying lengths, and I’m sure there are plenty of others out there to explore.
Obtaining regular exercise changes your life in so many ways. It’s good for your physical health, obviously, but it also boosts your energy and improves your mental health as well.
When you care about something, you take care of it, right? You wouldn’t leave that sweater you love in a mud puddle. Taking care of your body so that it is happy and healthy is an act of kindness.
Working out consistently is one of the best mood boosters that I’ve ever found. The workout itself makes me feel good. Knowing that I’ve worked out boosts my confidence and motivation. Feeling my body get stronger and seeing it build muscle makes me feel good as well.
Just a few minutes of movement each day can change the outlook of the other 23 hours.
Set an intention
When I’m having a particularly difficult time being kind to myself, I like to set a daily intention: Today, I’m being kind to myself. It may not sound like much, but it really helps.
This gives me a direction, keeps kindness at the front of my mind, and gives me permission to do whatever it is that I need to do to be kind to myself.
Though my intention is “be kind to myself,” that kindness takes different forms depending on what else is going on in my life at the moment. Sometimes, being kind to myself means eating fries for dinner. Other times, it means eating a colorful Buddha bowl.
Often, being kind to yourself isn’t a commitment to one specific thing; rather, it’s a commitment to listening to yourself. What you need now won’t be the same as what you needed yesterday or last week.
What do you need today? What do you need right now? Pay attention and really listen to how you're feeling so that you know what you need.
And I do mean need, not want. You may want fries for dinner, but sometimes, being kind to yourself means denying that want so that you’ll feel better in the long run.
On the other hand, there are certainly days where easing up and having a little fun is the best way to be kind to yourself. When you’re feeling exhausted, run-down, or close to burning out, sometimes the best thing you can do is ride the wave and treat yourself. On the days where that’s what you need, give yourself permission to have fun without feeling guilty. Rest and play are necessary to both be productive and live a full and happy life.
The best friend test
This one is simple: if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, you can’t say it to yourself. Would you tell your best friend that her stretch marks are ugly? No. That she’s bound for failure because she didn’t do well on that exam? Also no.
Many of us don’t realize how mean our self-talk can be until we apply the best friend test. The first step toward being kinder to yourself is realizing when you’re being unkind, and this test can help you determine that.
Be kind to others
Kindness doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I will admit to having been an unkind person in the past, but one of the things that I committed to as part of my journey of self-improvement is being kind to others.
Often, self-improvement looks inward. We ask what we can do to improve ourselves. It’s in the name, after all. But improving the way that you treat other people is still a form of self-improvement. You are becoming a better person because of it, even if it’s not an obvious improvement in the way that working out or managing your time may be.
When you practice being kind to others, that kindness becomes a part of who you are. You rewire your thoughts and change your actions. When kindness is a part of who you are, it’s easier to be kind to yourself as well.
Make an effort to catch yourself when you want to say negative things to or about other people and consciously decide to keep quiet or say something nice instead. The more you avoid making rude comments about others and practice being patient and understanding, the easier it becomes to do these things for everyone, including yourself.