I used to think that the word ‘Kind’ was a bit of a wishy washy word and when I was young and thought of this word, I visualised an old grandma in a knitted cardigan who smiled and made cups of tea for people. I have no idea where this came from, maybe from my own Gran who was extremely kind. Since I’ve become a coach, I’ve done a lot of thinking about kindness and how not only can we be kind to others, but also to ourselves.
As I write this, we’re still in lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic and being kind to others is becoming a more natural reaction for a lot of people. I’ve seen people post on social media that they are willing to share their food with those who can’t get out to get any, people are dropping off boxes of provisions to people and neighbours are looking out for each other. Our road has started a Facebook group which has brought us all together and we wave and smile whenever we walk by, this never happened before the pandemic. There are also those who said they would be there for those who felt isolated and lonely during the lockdown, people have volunteered to make phone calls to older people who are on their own and don’t have anybody to talk to. This kindness is as infectious as the virus itself, and has brought a lot of people together virtually. When this is all over, I’m hoping this sort of behaviour carries on, it brings a warmth to the world that wasn’t there before.
Being kind without expecting anything in return is a ‘Random Act of Kindness’. It can be something as small as holding a door open for someone (this used to be the norm, but sadly is less so now) or something bigger such as batch cooking and taking half round to your elderly neighbour. However, a true random act of kindness is when you do something, don’t expect anything in return and the key is that nobody knows it’s you. For instance, buying an ice cream at a kiosk and giving the server more than it costs, asking them to put the rest towards the next person’s ice cream. By the time you have walked away, the next person would have ordered, found out that their ice cream is either cheaper than expected or free and will be experiencing the joy of a nice surprise. It will also make you feel good that you have given this person that experience, the warmth will be shared, but separately.
For those who have experienced Burning Man in the USA, kindness is part of their ethos, this is a community where everything is gifted and nothing expected in return. People work on huge pieces of interactive art months before the festival begins, make fabulous outfits which are appreciated by others, put on events such as an afternoon tea, or a cocktail hour. There is no bartering and no expectation for anything in return. When I first experienced this, it made my world spin. Working and living near London for many years, the norm was that you didn’t get anything for free, there was always a catch if you did and I barely had any trust in people, thinking they were out to get what they wanted for themselves. People weren’t kind for the sake of it, they expected something as a result of their actions. So arriving in the desert for my first Burn changed my life. Strangers hugged you, rode past you on their bike and shouted compliments, in the heat people had spray bottles and cooled you down on your travels. This was just the tip of the iceberg, I cannot tell you the amount of acts of kindness that people did, it was everywhere, every day. I realised that the people at Burning Man thought in a different way, they had let go of the world where expectations bogged them down, they built a community of inclusivity and kindness wasn’t a conscious decision, it was natural, an unconscious act that they had got used to. Experiencing this was amazing and liberating, my best friend had described it to me before, but encountering this for myself was out of this world and I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to do this.
So my challenge to you is to try a random act of kindness, even if you don’t or can’t do it anonymously, try it, see how it makes you feel. We are better people when we’re kind and by this I mean genuinely kind, not doing this for any gain whatsoever, even friendship or gratitude. If you make this part of your life, it will become a habit and soon enough, you’ll be unconsciously kind.
Of course being kind doesn’t just mean to others, it means being kind to ourselves as well. It means giving yourself a break and not beating yourself up and it means listening to both your mind and body to see when you need to be kind to yourself. When you feel unwell, what do you do? Do you push through, go to work, take painkillers and clock watch until you can go home and crawl into bed? I used to do this frequently when I worked in London, having ridiculous thoughts that things would fall apart if I didn’t do my job, that people would think less of me if I took a sick day. I now know that this thinking was senseless, I would make myself even more unwell by pushing myself and didn’t do my job to the best of my ability as a result. Taking the time to get myself better would have been the better option for both myself and my job.
When it comes to mental health, it’s incredibly important to be kind to yourself. Everyone has ups and downs and when you have a bad day, being kind to yourself is important. If you need to cry or scream, do so and let the emotions flood out. If you need to have silence and be left alone, turn your phone to silent, put it away, get a cup of tea and go where you need to get your own space and feel calm.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself, if you’re beating yourself up about something, ask yourself why? Perhaps it might help to write things down – write down the emotions that you feel and under each emotion try to write why you feel this way. Then under this, write down options to help you mitigate this, but being kind to yourself by doing this in small stages, don’t overwhelm yourself. For instance, I have been putting off doing something for a year now, and when I picked my feelings apart, I realised I was scared. I’ve now broken down my task into very small stages and I’m slowly making my way through them, I’ve taken away the time pressure that I put on myself and this has made me feel better and able to cope with the task in hand. Being kind to yourself is essential, it’s not selfish, it’s a basic need.
Next month: L is for Lacklustre. Do you sometimes feel that you’re fresh out of vitality or have no purpose in life? I’m going to be looking at how we can banish this feeling and get our mojo back……out on 1st July!