By Rachel Codrington-Hopkins
We’ve all heard too much about the contagion of viruses, but there’s a much more positive contagion you might not have heard about: kindness. Studies show if a person is kind to a stranger during their day that stranger will be kind to at least one other person, who will in turn be kind to at least one more and on it goes. Just before Christmas this inspired me to ask friends, family and members of my community to tell me about their acts of kindness so I could share them in my blog, raecodswriting.com.
An unexpected finding was just how uncomfortable people are sharing their own acts of kindness. People will happily sing the praises of friends or family but draw a blank when asked to think of a time when they themselves were kind. It seems we attribute more significance to the kindness of others.
In a similar vein, we’re great at being kind to other people but fail spectacularly at being kind to ourselves. We take the time to make a friend feel better when they’re having a bad day but berate ourselves endlessly for small things. We would never speak to friends or family the way we speak to ourselves in our heads (not if we wanted to remain on good terms with them anyway!)
With Valentine’s Day approaching it’s a good time to think about the importance of showing kindness and compassion to ourselves as well as to those we love. I’m talking about (dare I say it?) self-love (you can stop cringing now).
It’s not actually our fault we’re so bad at showing love to ourselves, we can blame our brains. In a cruel throwback from our caveman days (when getting eaten by a tiger was always a possibility) our brains are wired to look for danger. If there’s no apparent danger our brain kindly obliges and just makes something up; like catastrophising we’ve said or done the wrong thing and mortally offended someone who’ll never speak to us again, then cursing ourselves for a fool. Sound familiar?
A good way to challenge negative thoughts and show ourselves a little more love and compassion is to try and actively talk to ourselves as if we are our own best friend. This takes a bit of getting used to, but next time you find your inner critic being less than kind, ask yourself what you’d say to your friend, then say that to yourself.
Another component of self-love is looking after our wellbeing, something we’re notoriously bad at, particularly here in the UK, land of ‘keep calm and carry on’ Brits, where the stock answer to the question, ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine, thanks.’
In last month’s post I wrote about journaling and meditation. These practices are the foundation of my wellbeing practice. Shutting myself away for twenty minutes a day to sit with my eyes closed felt self-indulgent at first, particularly when I’ve got kids to home school, writing to do and a house renovation in full swing. However, over time I’ve learned not to be apologetic about it because I’m a calmer, more present person when I do these things regularly and this positively benefits those around me. If you’re wondering how I manage to meditate with noisy kids and constant drilling noises I’ve actually learned to tune them out (I consider this my new superpower).
Connecting with ourselves is where we find wellbeing, so find the thing that gets you out of your head and into your heart; the thing that makes you feel like you. It could be as simple as sitting down for five minutes of quiet with a cuppa, a walk, a run. Whatever it is, make sure it’s what you want to do and not what you think you should be doing. I tried the Wim Hof method of cold showers, supposed to bestow all kinds of benefits, but in all honesty I like my showers warm and that’s that.
Don’t turn your wellbeing habit into another chore; schedule the time in consistently but not rigidly (life happens) and look forward to it. Be unapologetic about it, you’re not only doing yourself a favour, but you’re also benefitting everyone around you too.
I’ve found when I’m able to treat myself with compassion and take care of my needs, I’m much calmer and consequently kinder throughout the day, which benefits all of my family; I’m much less likely to erupt like Mount Vesuvius when the kids are practicing their ninja skills on each other instead of paying attention to their online lessons, not to mention all those socially distanced strangers I smile at who pay my kindness forward.
So how about it? Let’s love ourselves a little more this Valentine’s Day in the knowledge that looking after ourselves is actually an act of altruism, when you think about it.
I’d love to hear about your wellbeing practices, leave a comment below to tell me how you show yourself a little love.