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, in late 2018 the IWP is now running a MOOC for Stories of Place: Writing and the Natural World.)
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.
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© 2017 Jacquie Garton-Smith