Kindness starts with you

I always get a warm glow when I do something kind for someone else – returning a lost purse, offering a parking ticket with an hour or two still on it, treating a friend to dinner or sending a text just to say, ‘I love you, have a great day’.  

But we often forget to extend small acts of kindness to ourselves. World Kindness Day is the perfect time to reflect on how you treat yourself. We’re always our own worst critic – beating ourselves up over missed deadlines, allowing negative thoughts to override any feelings of self-belief and comparing ourselves to friends and strangers on social media. 

But kindfulness is all about being kinder to yourself. To give yourself a break, speak to yourself like you would the person you love most in the world – with compassion, kindness and patience. 

Kindness falls into two categories: being kind to ourselves and being kind to others. It’s so easy to get to the end of the day and self-flagellate over what we didn’t cross off our To Do list rather than what we did. I don’t know one parent who doesn’t constantly feel guilty about their abilities rather than giving themselves a break and recognising the amazing job they are doing. So, the concept of Kindfulness for me is so important – taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others. Making yourself happy motivates you to make others happy. It’s win-win really. And showing kindness to others – friends, family, work friends and strangers – is contagious so if we all do something nice for someone every day we really are spreading happiness! 

There are two simple things you can start with: at the end of the day, no matter what went wrong or you didn’t manage to do, think about the things you did achieve. Sometimes I’m just grateful to get through a day without spilling food down my top. Writing gratitude lists is a great way to focus on the positive rather than dwelling on the negative. 

And every day, message a friend or family member and tell them you’re thinking about them. Just being told you are loved and in someone’s thoughts can make someone’s day and costs nothing. It really is the little things that count the most when it comes to kindness.

1.   Ditch self-pitying remarks

‘I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve it anyway, I should just give up…’ It’s all too easy to put yourself down when you’re feeling fed up. But it’s just unkind to yourself. Give yourself the credit you’d give your best friend if she did a good job. If you’re doing your best, that’s good enough. Notice if you start thinking negatively about yourself. Take a breath and think about whether the self-criticism is really fair. Make self-compassion key, not self-pity.

2.   Form new habits

No one I know likes change – including me – but forming new habits is much easier than you think. Instead of trying to cut things OUT of your life, introduce new habits INTO it. For instance, if you want to lose weight start by drinking more water, eating more vegetables and going for regular walks with your partner or friend. 

Want to change jobs or step your career development up? Start by doing as many courses as you can in your current position and seek out a mentor to get advice from. Don’t wait for others to give you opportunities. Find the change you want to make and chase it! 

3. Avoid stressing for longer than necessary

I read the 5 by 5 rule recently: If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes worrying or upset by it. I think that’s a good mantra and something I keep reminding myself when I start stressing. 

4. Accept your body – flaws and all!

So many of us take our bodies for granted until something goes wrong. And we’re also guilty of beating ourselves up for not having the ‘perfect’ body either. While Instagram can be a great place to find inspiration, it can also be the worse place to spend time scrolling – be aware of falling into a comparison trap. 

Don’t define yourself by so-called ‘flaws’. Our bodies are remarkable and we are all unique. We’re so much more than a few extra pounds, a smattering of cellulite and a few stretch marks. Which are all perfectly normal by the way, no matter how many creams and potions are out there to get rid of them. 

If you want to make a change to your body, do it with love. Exercise should be about fun and fitness to feel strong and sexy – not punishing yourself. Think positive! 

5. Ditch toxic people 

Sometimes we outgrow a friendship or realise that a pal isn’t as loyal or supportive as we’d like. If a friend belittles you, it’s okay to spend less time with them. Our time is precious and you deserve to be surrounded by women who lift you up, not put you down. 

But breaking up with a friend or drifting apart can be as emotionally upsetting and the end of a romantic relationship. 

Friends should treat you with the same respect you’d expect from a partner. If a friend doesn’t return your texts, doesn’t make time to see you, regularly cancels on you without valid reason or spends too much time on their phone in your company – it’s not ok! If someone doesn’t appreciate your friendship, they don’t deserve it. 

And if a friend belittles you and puts you down, tell them to stop because it upsets you. 

Set boundaries in your friendships. Spend your time with people who encourage you to chase your dreams, make you laugh and check in on you for no reason. Those are the people who are worthy of your time. 

And if a friendship has turned toxic, give yourself permission to end it and move on.  

6.  Take a trip sans kids

Family is everything. But from the moment you become a mum you barely have the chance to go to the loo in peace. Ditch the guilt, call in the babysitters or ensure there’s enough food in the fridge for older teenagers and enjoy a day – or even a weekend – away with your partner or friends. It’s important to make time for yourself and sets a great example to your children too.

7. Learn to say no

If you’re a people pleaser, it can be really tough saying no. But it’s one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness in order to please others – you’ll only end up resenting them and being annoyed with yourself. It’s not the word ‘no’ that offends people, it’s the way in which you deliver it. Need to turn down a favour? Try saying, ‘Sorry, that’s just not possible at the moment’ or ‘I can’t make that but shall we try another date?’ People won’t remember what you said, just the way you make them feel. Spreading yourself too thinly – at work or with friends and family – causes stress. Make it your mission to say yes only to the things you want to do and a firm but fair no to everything you don’t!

8.  Put yourself at the top of the pile

Give yourself permission to be positively selfish. Making yourself happy should be a priority because your positivity will only benefit your loved ones. Schedule regular ‘me time’ to see friends, enjoy a hobby or simply have some time alone with a book. Stop feeling guilty about what YOU want to do. If you don’t put yourself first, no one else will. 

 Caroline Millington

Author of Kindfulness

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