Being kind to others is invaluable, the lifeblood of a caring community and a world we want to live in. But those of us who practice kindness are often too busy being kind to others to think of our own needs.
I have posted previously about how a simple act of kindness can make a huge difference in The best cuppa ever. Today I want to explore being kind to yourself.
What brought this on? I recently completed The Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course for those who haven’t come across the term yet) run by The International Writers’ Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa.
To allow myself to take the time out for this course during a period that was already heavily committed with family and work commitments required me to be kind to myself — acknowledging that I needed help to get back into novel-writing after a hiatus due to major life events and that it was okay to take the time out to participate. And it was fantastic — a perfect focus for my current work-in-progress and just what I needed to inspire and reinvigorate my writing (even if starting every assignment felt like drawing teeth).
As I browsed through the course instructors’ farewell discussion posts, one written by Monica Bergers stood out. This is the extract which triggered me to write today’s post, which Monica has kindly given me permission to share:
“Keeping your writing process sacred–be kind to your shitty drafts, be kind when you feel lazy. Honor your creative impulses just for the fact that they exist. Doing this will help build that thick skin we’ve been talking about when it comes to rejection. But let’s agree to this: we shall not reject ourselves or our writing. Ever. Make a pact that you will never abandon yourself, and you will be on your way to achieving that satisfying feeling of perseverance. It’s what all successful people have: steady persistence in a course of action, especially in the face of obstacle, setbacks, or disappointments. Writing is perseverance.”
There is a lot more in Monica’s wise words than just kindness to oneself, but for me it was the aha moment — the key to me to even reading that post on the day I submitted my final assignment and completed the course requirements.
(If you are interested, past IWP MOOCs can be accessed via the IWP MOOC-Pack Library )
What are the signs that you may need to be kinder to yourself?
- How many of us set ridiculously high standards for ourselves, and waste an extraordinary amount of energy beating ourselves up for any and every perceived transgression, be it minor or major?
- Or are so perfectionistic that we struggle to do anything at all for fear of failure? (Which is, of course, inevitable when we can’t tolerate the slightest hint of imperfection within ourselves.)
- Or are reluctant to speak up for ourselves in a confronting situation?
- Or can’t let go of something we wish we’d done better?
- Or blame ourselves for circumstances beyond our control? Even if we are doing an admirable job of accepting and making the best of whatever has happened?
Do any of these sound familiar?
Okay, so lots of us have experienced one or more of these feelings. Mindfulness is a powerful technique which may help address some of these by allowing yourself to be aware of and non-judgmentally experience the moment. (I have written before about the synergies between mindfulness and creativity.)
But can we be truly mindful, non-judgementally accept how we feel without showing some kindness towards ourselves?
We do stuff up sometimes. We all make mistakes. Even if we are trying our best at the time. Or other times, we took our eye off the ball for a split second. Or we may have not seen the bigger picture. Or stick our heads in the sand because on some level we didn’t want to see or couldn’t cope. Yes, there’s a lot of clichés here because sometimes clichés describe the human experience well — and we’re all human.
Some mistakes have awful consequences. Some of them impact on others as well as ourselves. Some things we can make amends for. Sometimes we even end up being thankful for a mistake that took life in a different direction. But we can’t always rectify them.
Sometimes we feel paralysed. You can’t change that you didn’t act yesterday, but you can make it a priority to do things differently today.
So my challenge to you is to be consciously kind to yourself …
Not every now and again. Be kind to yourself every day. This is not about making excuses. This is about being honest and understanding yourself, and treating yourself with the same respect that you do when being kind to others.
Being kind to ourselves doesn’t come naturally to many of us. At best, it is a learnt skill.
- Admit that you made a mistake, and examine why without berating yourself, and explore how you might act differently. Be kind to yourself to learn and grow.
- Acknowledge what you are about to embark on might not turn out the way you hope. But pick up that pen or paintbrush or instrument or book that appointment and do it anyway. Take it one step at a time if need be. Revise your approach if needed. But be kind to yourself and allow yourself to risk producing crap, because who knows what you might achieve.
- Put your needs first at times. You can still be kind to yourself and to others as well. Sometimes you have to look after yourself to be there for others. Be kind to yourself to nurture yourself and others.
So onwards in kindness and not just to others …
Do you find it difficult to be kind to yourself?
Have you been able to change that, and if so, what have you found works?
What have been the benefits of being kinder to yourself?
I would love you to share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.
I hope you find this post useful. Some of my other posts include:
- When push comes to shove — juggling priorities in a time-poor world
- The power of naming procrastination
- Creativity and death — not so strange bedfellows and
- Committing to creativity.
With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.
P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.
© 2017 Jacquie Garton-Smith
What a truly inspirational post, Jacquie — and a timely reminder of why we all need to be kind to ourselves. I have definitely been guilty of doubting my abilities and judging myself more harshly than I would judge others. Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to make mistakes, and reinforcing how important it is to be our own greatest supporter. xx
So lovely of you to comment and thank you for your thoughtful and kind words, Maureen. I am thrilled that this post had meaning for you. I also think you now hold the record for the quickest response ever! I am honoured when I know you are so busy. Huge thanks!
I’m so glad to hear you took some time for yourself Jacquie – so important for someone like you who is constantly caring for others (as well living a busy life in general, and I’m sorry to hear you’re had some major life events to deal with too). I hope you continue to enjoy your writing, saving time and space for it when you can.
My tips for self-kindness – 1) don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and 2) your self-talk should be as loving as if you were speaking to your dearest friend. However I struggle to follow my own advice! I’m trying!!
Those are fantastic tips, Fiona! Thanks for sharing them here. You are so right about it being a struggle to follow own advice, but hopefully putting them into writing helps to embed them for us too. Hope your writing is going well!
Are you aware of or involved in Cath Crock’s Gathering of Kindness? http://www.gatheringofkindness.com
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Thanks, Vicky – yes I was aware. Looked amazing. Were you lucky enough to be able to be a part of it?
Love your newsletter!
Thanks again, Jacquie
This was the perfect post to read today. I’m catching up on my social media (instead of my reading pile – the mission I had actually set for today) and I’m feeling a tad guilty because it’s taking longer than is ‘socially acceptable’. My kids have been on their screens all morning too, so add in a touch of parental guilt, but you’re absolutely right. There’s no point in giving myself a hard time about it – which only takes away some of the enjoyment of catching up with my social media community.
Thanks for the positive reminder to accept I’m doing the best I can. 😊
Thanks Marie. I’m so glad the post was well-timed for you! You remind me how easy it is to get distracted from what we had planned (it happens to me a lot too!) and how sometimes we can be simultaneously knowing that we need to go with the flow but feeling guilty at the same time. It sounds like a lovely relaxing morning to me! And I bet your kids think you’re the coolest mum ever for letting them have more screen time. So hope you all enjoyed it and onwards recharged. And happy reading when you get to that reading pile!
Thank you Jacquie. We did manage to get out today for a few hours, but this post stuck in the back of my mind. I finished my social media catch ups when I returned home, but enjoyed the process more. And now that I’m up to date for the first time in ages, I can truly luxuriate in that reading pile! Thanks. 😊
What lovely feedback! Thanks Marie.
This has been very helpful thank you. As an advocate & blogger, I’m currently in that paralysed state and feeling stressed from the pressures I put on myself to stay ‘on the ball’ in the chronically sick community I advocate in. I prefer to keep active advocacy & blogging as separate roles, because one can write about an issue, experience or something about the health system but that means nothing unless you are actively trying to help patients one to one or doing something in the community or to change the system.
I suppose I’m too tough on myself because followers claim my blogging does help them but I want to do more. When you’re giving your free time to actively advocate, you’re not opening opportunities for paid blogging and also not taking time for yourself. Social media is where the crux of my work happens but it’s also a vortex that drags you in. In the area I advocate you become committed and involved in patients lives and subsequently get pulled down often.
I’ve recently struggled with major burnout and have pushed myself to rest and reflect. However I can’t shut off from what other bloggers are doing (there are just too many now, that quality is being watered down imo). The same topics are being churned out and I don’t wish to be one to do this. I want unique, quality content that really makes a difference to my followers and not just to blog for blogging sake. Some bloggers however are fantastic and even though I steadily attract at least 20-50 new followers a week, I still can’t stop pressuring myself to get back to writing my own pieces and not just sharing other key articles or info in the community.
Do I continue to seek reflection and practice some self love, until I feel inspired to write again? I have a website launching and have an important piece I want to write for this. Would planning a date to start again work or only put me up to fail?
Being chronically sick myself and unable to work a 9-5, this is how I keep myself going and I feel I have a purpose when I write. Since I stopped, I just feel like that useless, sick person again. I love to help others…it’s part of my recovery too.
What a thoughtful comment – I am so sorry for the delayed response as I somehow managed to completely overlook that it had been posted and have only just read it now.
It sounds like you have an extraordinary amount to deal with and though it may not always feel that way, that you are making the most of things. It can be a huge challenge to decide what to pursue and what to let wait or even go.
I agree entirely with your comments about the same topics being churned out by bloggers, and I prefer to strive for quality and something a bit different, rather than forcing a plethora of me-too posts on a difficult-to-maintain schedule. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and just be you!
Personally, I find it is good to have a goal and some idea of a timeline, but I tend to break it down into manageable tasks so that I am not overwhelmed. I try to be realistic and also tend to allow some fluidity because, well you know, life happens.
Could it be that writing is a form of self-love for you? It sounds like it from what you have written. In which case I’d say, stop questioning it and embrace it as both a part of you and a mechanism by which you can help yourself and others too. And in my experience, looking after yourself is ESSENTIAL if you want to be available to help others,
I hope this is a helpful reply, even though it has been so long coming. I’d love to hear if you’ve managed to get yourself writing again.