Where to begin...
Do you seriously want more kindness in your life?
This question isn't as silly as it sounds. I doubt you've been going around thinking "I need more kindness in my life." It's much more likely that you've thought "I want to feel better" - less overwhelmed, less stressed, fitter and healthier, more upbeat and positive, managing time and money more effectively, less fearful about the future...
But - maybe you're curious about this kindness thing - after all you do want to feel better and you've tried so hard to make changes,
or you know that you beat up on yourself a lot and it really hurts,
or you feel quite crushed about your health problems and the way that you are treated because of them,
or you're just so riled up by the awful things happening in the world that you feel stressed out and unable to be positive, let alone kind.
And I'm suggesting that not enough kindness hurts. Maybe that fits with your experience and is obvious to you, maybe not.
So - how to approach this idea that increasing kindness in our lives will increase our well being - in a do-able way?
We may not feel as if we're on a rocky shore, but getting started on making any change can seem very daunting.
Before we begin to embark on anything it helps to check out the territory - how are things for me now? really? is something lacking in my life? does it matter? Can I get my head around yet another thing?
If we're experiencing a grumbling discomfort about life or ourselves - feeling tired and fed up, or miserable and lacking in pleasure, or put upon and resentful, or lost as if we don't really know who we are any more - we can be so demoralised it can be hard to say yes, it matters, and I want to find out more.
If we're in pain (and pain doesn't just mean physical hurting - it also includes emotional distress, and hurtful thoughts and behaviours that don't serve us well or kindly) then trying to do something to feel better appeals more. Our bodies don't like pain and become agitated, giving us a sense of urgency to change things. But that very desperation undermines us by ramping up our stress levels and decreasing our capacity to learn new things.
A kind approach
Whether we're feeling overloaded and unprepared to try yet another thing, or desperate and wanting things to change yesterday, we might be able to slow down and do just a little bit.
Research shows big benefits from starting with very small changes ("tiny habits.") These can be very small bits of time and action - Dr BJ Fogg of Stanford University who has done this work suggests trying something that takes no more than half a minute a day! You may be able to elbow out a little bit more time than that, but even starting with half a minute can bring about change.
The approach that I've found most useful is a kind of gentle discovery. It's like being an open-minded curious scientist/researcher - observing ourselves and our situations, developing understanding and trying out new things - with interest, respect, no judgement or criticism, and a thoughtful caring attitude. So we are giving attention and noticing, becoming more aware of the patterns of suffering that trouble us and gathering that information about those experiences and our responses. We then give ourselves time to reflect so that we have more understanding of what happens, so we can try out new ways of thinking and doing things to see how they feel.
It's a circular process:
Discovery - paying attention and increasing our awareness,
Developing understanding - making sense of what we experience,
Doing - practising kindness, testing out the ideas, learning more...
And repeating them all with an attitude of curiosity, interest, non-judgement, checking things out for ourselves and finding the ways that work best for each of us. Kindly!
In order to do this, we strengthen a number of skills - ones that we all have but that may not have been mobilised much in the service of our well being. And although some bits may be difficult (nonjudgemental attitudes towards ourselves are often in this category) the process of strengthening these skills benefits us in all areas of our lives. We are worth it!