Life is no easy thang folks. I think we’ve all figured that out by now. However, I hold in my hands the most useful life hack for anyone of any age, gender, race or political stance. It’s kindness. You can roll your eyes, it’s fine, I get it. But the thing is, I know firsthand just how far a little kindness can go. Truth be told, kindness is hard especially when you’re not using it every day. Chances are a lot of you might think you are using kindness every day but I would be willing to bet you have overlooked a few places.
“When I hear somebody say, ‘Life is hard.’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?'” -Sydney Harris
In 2012 I started a new experiment. I vowed to speak no words of un-kindness. Like I said, “IT. WAS. HARD.” But despite the difficulties of watching my words, I began to notice huge changes take place in my life and the lives around me. I had to take steps, I even went through a grief period where I actually missed the negativity in my life. At times I felt like I would never be able to speak again. Then slowly, all those fears and struggles just melted away and my life has been on an upward stride ever since.
The toughest part of being kind was being kind to myself. Growing up, my mother lived in a world of insecurity. She cut herself down all the time and for just about every reason she could find. Naturally, I mirrored that behavior. I called myself fat. When people complimented me I would tell them they were wrong. Taking a compliment was hard work for me. It wasn’t until high school when a popular guy in school told me I was, “hot.” I immediately responded by saying things like, “Yeah. Definitely NOT. (snort)” His response struck a cord and stuck with me from that moment forward. He said, “Just learn to take a compliment.” Hmm. Never thought about it that way. So from that moment on, when I was given a compliment, especially in regards to my appearance, I just responded with, “thank you.”
Why is it that we are so quick to get down on ourselves? Like we’re afraid of the idea of ever liking ourselves too much? Some people turn this self-diapproval in the opposite direction: where they are unable to speak kindness toward others and try to boast about themselves in hopes that others might believe it. Either way, everyone loses.
Kindness towards myself started first thing in the morning when I looked in the mirror. There would be no belly pinching, no cellulite judging or wrinkle smoothing. If any of those things crossed my mind, I did my best to distract myself by quickly finding something nice to say. “At least you’re alive.” was sometimes the best I could do. “Your hair is always strait.” “At least you have fingers and toes.” –That one has been my go-to ever since my step mom went into a coma and came out having her legs and fingers amputated. Imagine that for a second. If you wake up in the same shape you went to sleep in, with all your limbs in tact then there shall be no complaints.
Naturally, looking in the mirror got easier and easier. It started getting easier to see things about myself that I liked. I didn’t even give my stretch marks a second glance. I became more and more content with the person I was and the body I was living in.
Just as I had to keep my self-kindness in check, I also had to become more aware of the stories I told about my life.
“The telling of stories creates the real world.” -Alberto Manguel
I have been a stay at home mom for the last (almost) 9 years. Well, believe it or not, I got to a point where I just needed to get out of the house. Crazy, right? So I started working for 2 hours every morning at the local elementary school. When I arrived at work the stories I usually shared with my co-workers went a little something like this: “Ugh, I got no sleep last night. My son kept crying and my daughter would run into my room. Of course they both cried when I left. I am just so exhausted.”
Was that story 100% true? Ahhh yeah, you betcha. I basically stayed awake for 3 years strait. But, sleep deprivation had become my new normal, so why did I complain about it every day?
For a while this meant I sat silently at the table in the morning. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” It was extremely uncomfortable. Had I really been that grumpy of a human being that I didn’t even know how to tell a story that made my life sound good? Because, it was good. I was so blessed and lucky, yet no one would know it when they heard me talk about it.
Slowly I started changing my stories, just a little bit. They sounded more like this: “I’ll probably try and take a nap today. I got some extra snuggles in the middle of the night.”
Funny thing happened when I started telling my stories this way; I started seeing my life this way. Kids storming my room at 2am meant an extra chance to hug them before they turn 18 and only want me for gas money and to co-sign for cars. (Is that something 18 year olds do? My first car was a hand-me-down Oldsmobile. Some kids have all the luck.) Changing my way of thinking meant when they came into the room, I wasn’t as quick to be crabby. I spent less time tossing and turning, feeling irritated that I was missing sleep and found myself actually getting sleep.
Kindness towards others. . .
I suggest starting this behind the wheel of your car. Heaven knows how many swear words are used on a daily basis toward people we don’t even know just because of evening rush hour.
On my way to work, when someone would swerve in front of me I would take a deep breath and tell myself, “I hope they get where they are going safely.” When people refused to let me merge I would tell myself they must really need to be ahead of the traffic today. Let’s be honest, we all have those days. Truth is, I don’t know the stories of these drivers. I don’t know who is cutting me off because they just heard of a family member’s passing and their minds are somewhere else. Who knows who doesn’t let me merge because if they are late for daycare pick up one more time they need to find a new provider. Also, some people are just ass holes. Let them be that way. You don’t have to join in on the self pity party.
Carry this kindness to social gatherings. If people are chatting about someone behind their back, you don’t have to join in. Even if you agree with what they are saying. Just hold your tongue and say nice things about people that you have nice things to say about.
*DISCLAIMER* Finding the even ground here can be tricky. It can be difficult finding how to voice your frustrations, anger or disappointment toward a person while still maintaining kindness. The best advice I can give here is that if you find yourself name calling, you’ve gone too far. If you begin making factual statements about things that are really your opinion, reel it back in a bit. It takes practice; but you can do it.
You’ll find that by spending less time talking about the people you don’t like, the people you do like will start to show up more. More and more you will find yourself surrounded by the right kind of people who help enhance your life and make you a better person.
The funny thing is, some of those people might be ones that you were too busy being angry or annoyed at. Maybe because they were always a kinder person than you?
When it comes to kindness, start with yourself first. It will make kindness toward others that much easier.