By Leo Babauta
I’ve found that there are two profound changes that almost any of of us can make:
- Become kinder to ourselves
- Build trust in ourselves
Unfortunately, because we don’t really trust ourselves, we’re very rarely kind to ourselves.
When I ask people to start being kind to themselves, they usually come back at some point with this dilemma:
“But if I’m too kind to myself, I won’t get anything done!”
This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.
It’s an understandable fear — if you have had times when you procrastinated, you probably worry about this.
Let’s talk about why kindness to self is so important, how to do it, and how to still get stuff done even when you’re kind to yourself.
Why Kindness to Self is So Damned Important
Most of us are not very kind to ourselves. We often do things like:
- Come down hard on ourselves when we don’t meet our expectations.
- Let ourselves off the hook for doing something and then feel terrible about ourselves.
- Let others down and then beat ourselves up for doing so.
- Look at our flaws and see them as ugly, huge shortcomings, reasons why we are falling short.
- Harshly push ourselves to be better, to do better, judging ourselves as inadequate so far.
These are just some of the common examples — the truth is, most of us are judging ourselves, beating ourselves up, looking harshly at our shortcomings and flaws, a lot of the time. It’s why we’re stressed, anxious, frustrated and disappointed so often.
A different path might be kindness to ourselves. When we see a flaw, we might see the beauty in it. Instead of always striving to be better, we can find gratitude for how great we already are. Instead of beating ourselves up, we can be kind to ourselves and see that we have tried our best, that we had good intentions, that we have a good heart.
Kindness to ourselves, always.
This would transform our relationship to ourselves. It would remove barriers that we face right now, including:
- If you aren’t harsh on yourself for missing a few days of a habit, you’ll just start again without making a big deal of it.
- If you aren’t harsh on yourself for failing at something, you won’t be afraid of it, and learning and growth will become easier. You can write, start a business, code, take online courses, start a new activity, without all the burden of self-harshness and fear of failure.
- If you aren’t constantly focusing on your flaws, you’ll start to feel more whole. This would change how you show up in the world, how you feel about life, and how you relate to others.
Those are just a few examples, but I’ve found that almost all of our barriers are self-imposed — we are harsh on ourselves, and it makes everything much more difficult.
Kindness to ourselves lessens barriers and anxiety and so much struggle.
How to Practice Kindness to Yourself
The practice is actually fairly simple. In all cases, you find a way to be kind to yourself. Kindness is something most of us already know how to do, because we have done it with others. We can be kind to a loved one, a stranger, a friend, a neighbor. We just need to try it with ourselves.
So here’s the rule: kindness to yourself, always. Even when you fail at the rule, be kind to yourself for failing to be kind.
Some ways to be kind to yourself:
- When you mess something up, give yourself compassion (the feeling of compassion in your heart, wishing yourself happiness), letting it sooth your pain.
- See the good heart in yourself, whenever you feel you fell short or let others down. See the good intentions, whenever you make a mess of things. See that you are basically a good person.
- When you look at your flaws (“ugh, I hate my belly”), see the beauty in them. Find gratitude for what you do have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have or don’t like. For example, isn’t it amazing to have a body? I love that I have a body that can move, breathe, see sunlight and trees, hear music and laughter, feel sun on my skin and grass under my feet. What a wonder, and we take it for granted.
See your goodness. Be grateful for yourself. Love your good heart. Be compassionate with yourself when you’re hurting.
How to Still Get Stuff Done, Even When You’re Kind to Yourself
OK, so we’re being kind to ourselves, all the time. What about the fear of not getting things done?
In truth, I’ve never found this to be a problem, if you’re being kind to yourself. I’ve never met someone who is kind to themselves and then doesn’t do anything worthwhile.
From this place of kindness, you do amazing things because it’s the kind and loving thing to do for yourself and others.
But if you’d like more details on getting stuff done with self-kindness, here are some things you can play with:
- Do good things because they are ways to love yourself. When we do positive habits like exercise, eating well, meditation, journaling, finding focus, etc. … these aren’t to become better people. They are ways to be loving towards ourselves. So these good habits are forms of self-kindness.
- Stop doing harmful things because that’s the kind way. When you’ve done things that are harmful to yourself (let’s say binging on junk food for a week), you don’t have to be harsh on yourself that you did it — you can be kind and loving. But you can also be clear that this wasn’t a helpful thing to do to yourself, without judging yourself. Just be clear that it’s not what you’d like to do going forward. Then do your best to not keep harming yourself. This will be a constant navigation — try to do loving, non-harmful things for yourself going forward, but being kind to yourself if you mess up. You can do both.
- Become bigger than yourself. In addition to doing loving things for yourself and trying not to harm yourself too much … you can also look beyond yourself. Self-kindness is such an important place to start, but there is more — what can you do that is kind and loving for others as well? Can you see their concerns, feel their pain and struggle, and become bigger than your self-concern and serve them as well? This doesn’t exclude taking care of yourself, but it means after you’ve taken care of yourself, you can look to something bigger. That’s where you’ll find the most meaning. And it’s where you’ll find the most drive to get things done, because doing something bigger than yourself is incredibly powerful.
So a big part of this is to be kind about how your past self has acted, be kind about how you see your present self, and then take kind actions going forward. And take actions that are loving towards others as well, not only focused on yourself.
Try these ideas and see how they change your life.