Every once in a while I make a decision to treat myself with kindness and watch what happens. Here’s what happens: things get better.
When I’m kind to myself there’s a softening, a releasing of actual contractions in my body that are there through the habit of continually pushing through my day.
That softening happens even before I do any actual act of self care, whether that might be taking some time to meditate, to rest, to go for a walk, to stop working and feed myself some nourishing food.
All those actions are helpful as well. But it’s important to know that even making the decision to be kind to yourself has an effect.
Something in you responds to self kindness. Something shifts. You will feel it inside, and it will change how you react to other people and to your circumstances.
When you’re kind to yourself, other people notice. Because you become softer, kinder in your contact with them. The kindness ripples out. You develop fresh habits that reinforce self kindness. That kindness will start coming back to you as people respond (in kind!) until it becomes a self reinforcing loop of kindness.
So, being kind to yourself becomes a way of calling in kindness from other sources as well.
What Is Self Kindness?
Self kindness is self care with a heart. It springs from a sense of self compassion.
The idea of self care can easily become a chore if the heart is not involved, a list of things you do out of obligation to yourself, like a daily maintenance program. Self kindness is self care imbued with a sense of tenderness towards yourself.
That used to sound hard to me
“Be kind to yourself” — if someone had said those words to me when I was 24 I would have let loose on them. At that time I was struggling, a lot. I had just entered a twelve step program and was in the process of getting sober and drug free. I did not feel kind towards myself at all.
Self criticism was running strong and, as my life was falling apart, there was also a sense of urgency to put my own needs aside and get things right. I was doing my best to get on track again but, looking back, it seemed like I was making things as hard for myself as I possibly could.
The idea of self kindness would have been hard to take on at that point, even if I had tried. So I know very well that the journey towards self kindness can be difficult in the beginning.
Some ways it can be hard:
- You might be working against a barrage of unhelpful internal / external messages: ”I don’t deserve that’ or “You don’t have time for self kindness, you have work to do!”
- Distractions, obligations, expectations: sometimes you can have so much on your plate already that it seems impossible to carve out more time to practice self kindness, even if you see it as important.
- indulgence = bad: We’re told that a lot, and I’ve definitely heard that little message coming up in my own mind, it can be a hard one to ignore. But really, I don’t think it’s true.
The great thing is that these obstacles to self kindness start to melt away when you apply a little self kindness. Another great thing is that most of us aren’t starting at the beginning, most of us have some experience with being kind to ourselves, some small area in life where we’re able to do that. Finding that place is a great start.
All It Takes Is One Drop
Here’s what I’d say to 24 year old me: “All it takes is one drop.”
One drop of kindness towards yourself, it doesn’t even have to be fully sincere.
5% would probably do. So let’s say, 5% of one drop of self kindness will do to start with.
If you can’t find that 5%, pretending helps. Imagine there is, inside of you, a small drop of something–let’s say mostly water, with 5% of that drop being open to self kindness.
Then get started by acting on behalf of that imaginary droplet.
“Indulge me.” I would say, “Because I’m the same as you, I just learned how to be kind to myself and it made things easier.”
Because all you need to get the ball rolling is the slightest impulse to start. Once you’re doing things in the name of self kindness it starts to feed itself.
How Can You Make It Easier?
Cultivate an attitude of gentle persistence.
Working in the spirit of gentle persistence means you don’t ask too much of yourself. You give permission to make slow progress, and you simply keep going, no matter what. No self criticism, no blame. Just moving gently forward, trusting we are going at the right pace.
Catch those moments when you are being kind to yourself. Sometimes it just occurs naturally, so it’s good to note when that happens. Note down how it felt, what difference it made to you as well. These are useful things to come back to and over time it can be encouraging to be able to look back and see how much progress you’re making.
Set a direction for where you want to go. If you sit down and think of a few ways you’d like to be more kind to yourself then you can plan for that. You can make a time, create a ritual, maybe find a nice setting to do that in, imagine what it will be like beforehand. Setting an intention can be a powerful way to start moving forward.
Know your tendencies
I’m more likely to remember self kindness a little later in the day. Mornings are a blur of activity and I focus on getting the boys fed and off to school, it’s only then that my mind clears a little and I can sense more clearly where I’m at.
That means late morning is when I’m most likely to remember to do a Yoga Nidra meditation, or to write in the garden for a while, so I usually wait till then to build self kindness into my day knowing that fits with my daily rhythm. Again, writing down your observations can be helpful here in finding out the best opportunities to do something for yourself.
Be Kind To Yourself: E-course coming in September
I’m currently in the process of rewriting my course on self care and bringing more emphasis on self kindness, with some new guided meditations and exercises. It will be happening in September (Sign up to my newsletter in the yellow box below if you’re interested to know more)
And how about you? How do you build self kindness into your life? What helps? What gets in the way?
Signed up I cannot wait for July. I have not been that great to myself, and I would love to get back to putting some focus on myself.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve had difficulty with this, I know that can be really hard. I’m glad you signed up to hear more and hope you’re able to build more self kindness into your life. Best wishes!
Time definitely gets in the way! I always tell myself I don’t have time to do this or that, but really, I need to make time for it. I love your tips! It’s so important to be kind to ourselves.
Time is a big one for me, too! It is good to shuffle things around to make time for self kindness. And there are also a few ways to build self kindness in that don’t need to take up a whole lot of time. I’m glad you found the post useful!
A single drop – absolutely! The tendencies are also a fair point I wouldn’t have considered, I’m an evening thinker and it’s the only time I give myself. If even. I can definitely learn from this.
I’m glad you found the tendencies thing useful, I find that really helps me, too!
Every single post of yours touches my soul. “A single drop.” Yes! I’m going to reflect on that this week. What a simple concept that I’m sure most of us have never considered. We not only need to take care of ourselves before we take care of others, but to be kind to ourselves. I love it! Thank you, Dave!
I love the ‘single drop’ thing, too. It reminds me that even the tiniest bit of progress is still a win. And we all deserve kindness, why not start with giving it to ourselves 🙂 Thank you for the kind words, they made my day!
Great post – I think as writers/bloggers we have a tendency to be super critical of ourselves. Is our writing up to scratch? Are we good enough? Is our work worth reading? It’s so important to remember that we need to allow ourselves time to reflect on all the wonderful things we are (and we do). There is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself!
Isn’t that a funny thing about writers, that highly developed ability for self criticism? As you say, it’s so important for us to push back against that, and be kinder with ourselves (and our work).
Yes, sometimes I find myself getting into the mindset of being mean to myself. It is so important to be kind yourself and realize your potential.
I can relate to that mindset, and love how you linked self kindness to reaching our potential. There’s definitely a relationship between those two concepts!
This is such an eye-opener. I’ve always tried to live by: choosing kindness when I deal with others but never did I think about being kind to myself! And thinking about it, I am a little hard on myself. I don’t give myself enough credit. Thanks for this! I shall try to be kinder to myself from now on.
We’re all taught to be kind to others and most of us do a great job at that, but the idea of self kindness can be a real blind spot can’t it? I’m so glad you found the post useful!
“Self kindness is self care imbued with a sense of tenderness towards yourself.” Yes yes! I had that talk with my niece often, she always says I have to love myself like I love others. I loved that, I love this post. Self forgiveness is so important too – niece says when she finally becomes able to be tender to herself and forgive herself fully, she can battle depression better. I will join your newsletter too. Very happy to have read this today!
Yes, self forgiveness is important, isn’t it? I’m so sorry your niece is battling depression, it’s great that she’s able to talk about it and it sounds like she has some good ideas. I’m glad she has someone like you to support her!
Why can’t I not like this more than once? This is awesome! Being kind to yourself is so important. I’m a mom of 5 kids, and I’m constantly taking care of them, and my husband, and not taking good enough care of myself. Often times I find that I’m putting myself down, for not getting things done. This is a great reminder for me. I’m sharing this article with all my friends. Thank you! 🙂
Wow, 5 kids! You sure have a lot going on there, we have two and I have trouble keeping up 🙂 As parents, self kindness becomes very important. Being kind to ourselves might involve not beating ourselves up when the work of parenting gets overwhelming, making sure we get some nourishing family time in with our kids to rejuvenate, and of course, scheduling in that alone time–as much as possible!!
Such an important skill to learn and stick with!! I think when you can really be kind to yourself, then you have the center to really be kind to all beings.
Yes, being kind to yourself can be very centering and, as you say, that then helps us to be more kind to others.
I love reading your words. There have been times in my life when I haven’t been too kind to myself or cared for myself the way I should. I too have been through a twelve step program… ’nuff said. Now, I feel it’s more about the intention with which I go about my daily activities. The intention is self love and kindness. I’m getting better at it as I get older.
I love your daily intention of self love and kindness, that’s such a strong foundation for the day. After long periods of not caring for ourselves, it’s a huge step to make self kindness a priority (I’m also getting a little better at it as I get older 🙂 )
Wonderful tips! Many times we forget about “self”, especially people who are primary caretakers for others.
My wife and I have been caretakers for a couple of family members and you’re so right about the importance of remembering to take care of ourselves. Glad you enjoyed the post!
So true and many great tips! Things I hope to pass on to my daughters too 🙂
Glad you enjoyed, and yes, self kindness is such an important thing to pass on to our children!
I struggle with self-kindness! I am extremely hard on myself 90% of the time. Bookmarking to read again!
I know that feeling of being hard on yourself! Self kindness gets a little easier the more you work on it, 1 drop at a time 🙂 Good luck!
“All it takes is one drop.” I love that statement so much. This article is fabulous. You have to get the ball rolling somewhere and most people neglect themselves the most. This is such a wonderful guide to get started loving yourself and finding peace. Thank you for sharing.
It’s so easy to take care of others and neglect ourselves, isn’t it? I’m glad you found the post helpful!
Such an interesting post. Really enjoyed while reading!
Thank you, Uma.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
Wow!!! Something I really need to do diligently. You are so right a few times that I was accidentally kind to myself things did get better. Looking to implement this more seriously. Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you could relate to that! Thanks for reading.
Such a lovely post about self-kindess and awareness. I have been on this journey as of late and this has made all the difference .
Glad to hear you’re on the self kindness journey, I agree that it makes a big difference!
Lovely post, with a great warmth and gentleness in it, Dave. Of all the things that popped for me from this piece, it is this: “Working in the spirit of gentle persistence means you don’t ask too much of yourself. You give permission to make slow progress, and you simply keep going, no matter what. No self criticism, no blame. Just moving gently forward, trusting we are going at the right pace.” Very tough one for me. Having “lost” a lot of years when I was very sick, I seem to still be in a hurry to get wherever I am going. Slow progress seems to unnerve me. Perhaps being an air sign with five other planets in air, has me wanting to fly wherever I’m going as quickly as possible. 🙂 Thanks for this encouragement, as often people ask me “what’s the hurry”. And I do know that my timing and Divine timing are certainly not always aligned.
I understand what you say there about slow progress, it’s something that can unnerve me, too. I came to the idea of gentle persistence after noticing how I’d struggled for years to create change, and done so in a harsh way that held me back more than anything. So, I think we both share that sense of wanting to get there faster sometimes 🙂
Another great post, Dave. Your gentle compassion makes you such a great teacher. We all learn with baby steps. I love your idea of pretending if you have to – it makes it more playful somehow, for folks like me who don’t always know where to start. I am very self-loving, self-forgiving, self-trusting, etc., which are so important, of course, but sometimes I need a push in the right direction in terms of the little everyday things. Thank you so much! Blessings, Reba
Sometimes playfulness can be so helpful, especially when we get bogged down. I seem to come to it as a last resort, and then wonder why! And I know I can use a little push here and there to help me along. I think of you as a great model for self love, and someone who encourages others (including me) to access that gift for themselves. Thanks!
Perfect timing for me to read this. Faced with a difficult decision to attend a funeral when I’m not feeling well. Been vacillating about pushing myself with all the justifications. You gave me permission to decide not to go as that will be the kindest act I can give myself to recover.
The funny thing about it is my friend who passed won’t know if I’m there. It is all the other people & who is going to say, why isn’t Roz here? We make life so complicated sometimes & life is what I have right now, so decision made, I can return for a few hours more sleep.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Yes, it’s definitely important to practice self kindness here. As you say, we can make life so complicated at times, and bringing things back to the simples and kindest response is often the best thing we can do.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with people like your 24-year-old self lately so I especially appreciate this post. The part that stood out most for me was your statement that simply making the decision to be kind to yourself begins to shift your energy. Thank you.
Well, I’m glad those people have someone positive in their lives right now! That’s a tough thing to go through. I’m glad that part about the energy shifting resonated for you. Thank you for your thoughts!
I’m such a huge fan of self care and being kind to one’s self. Thanks for wonderful tips Dave 🙂
That’s great, thanks for reading!
Beautiful post, Dave! As guidance around self care becomes very much “the thing” in certain circles, I love your reframing of self kindness as self care with a heart.
I also love your discussion around how a mere idea or intention around self kindness creates a shift and a softening–even before *doing* anything. One experienced by self…and by others.
And I love your counsel around one drop. Sometimes I get down on myself for not showing myself enough self kindness! Telling myself that it just has to be one drop–and can even be a pretend drop–brings ease and offers self kindness space to exist and grow.
I can also get down on myself about not showing myself kindness. It’s amazing how ingrained old habits can be. Breaking things down into small do-able pieces really works wonders for me, and it seems a kind way to work with ourselves too!
Oh my gosh, THIS! I’ve been making a conscious effort recently to practice gratitude every day and be kinder to myself and I’ve already noticed such a difference, no only in how much happier I am but in how much more patient and accepting I am towards others.
I love it! Cultivating gratitude is such a powerful practice, and definitely connected to self kindness. It sounds like you’re getting some wonderful results as well!
I’m definitely saving this post. So much I need to learn from this!