It seems as though we could all do with a generous dollop of kindness right now, and despite what some may think, there's evidence that kindness is alive and well in the UK. The UK Kindness Report, from postcode lottery website freepostcodelottery.com and researcher Dr Carol Haigh, has looked at how people across the UK carry out kind acts to loved ones or strangers.
The report shows that two thirds of Brits (66%) volunteer their time for free for a community event or charitable cause on a regular basis and that one in three (33%) aim to carry out an act of kindness each day.
Making an extra effort to be kind is especially important during stressful times because stress triggers us to act in unkind ways, so we can become more self-focused. In times of stress, the very idea of being kind can seem like a luxury at best. At worst, it just seems foolish, but this is to overlook the magical so called 'cascade effect' of kindness. Researchers have shown that kindness is contagious because it passes from person to person to person, so a small act of kindness can reverberate far more widely than the sphere of influence of the originating kind act.
So I want more kindness in my life, where do I start? Well, counter-intuitively authentic kindness starts with being kind to yourself. Sure you can just go out and do good or volunteer but if you're judging yourself harshly or not forgiving yourself for past mistakes then any act of kindness will be conditional, the real incentive will be to make you feel better about yourself. Authentic kindness is much more powerful because it's unconditional; it is kindness without any strings attached and without looking for any pay-back.
Once you start being kind, truly kind, to yourself then your capacity to give out kindness will greatly increase. So this means forgiving yourself for past mistakes. An example for me is that I still sometimes beat myself up for leaving Channel 4 TV to join a start-up LGBT TV channel that didn't ultimately get off the ground. It takes a conscious effort to remind myself that I made the decision at the time with the right intent to further my career and to serve the LGBT community. My decision was based on the best information I had at the time. So I have a choice, I can criticise myself because things didn't turn out the way I wanted or I can treat myself with compassion and kindness. Neither choice changes the past but being kind to myself allows me to draw a line, to learn from the mistakes and to move forward with confidence and self-respect.
Being kind to yourself means speaking less harshly to yourself. I encourage you to notice your self-talk after reading this blog; is it mainly positive self-talk or negative self-talk? Notice the negative self-talk and ask yourself "would I criticise a friend as harshly as I am speaking to myself?" If the answer to the question is 'No' then start making an effort to speak to yourself with more respect and kindness. It can be helpful to consider that at any point in time everyone is muddling through life with the best intention given the hand they have been dealt and the information they have available at the time.
As the ancient Greek story-teller Aesop observed, "No act of kindness now matter how small, is ever wasted". So I invite you to start practicing kindness right now and you'll find kindness gets easier with practice. Try opening up your world to kindness and notice what happens; notice how you see the world from a different perspective and notice how the world reacts differently to a kinder you.
To kick off here are four simple steps to bring more kindness into your life:
- Start by being kind to yourself
- Treat yourself to a Loving-Kindness guided mediation (you'll find plenty on Google or Youtube).
- Aim to carry out at least one Random Act of Kindness every day
- Get out into nature which boosts kindness (as well as happiness and creativity!)
Do comment with your thoughts and any stories of kindness you would like to share.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Hutchinson is a transformational coach, wellbeing consultant and founder of The Authentic Life Company. He helps clients get to know themselves in order to create meaningful change, success and wellbeing in life and work. He writes on the topics of coaching, wellbeing, mindfulness and LGBT issues, and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.