In kindergarten, we are taught to treat others with kindness. If you thought this prompt would be about holding hands and singing Kumbaya, you’d be mistaken. “The Golden Rule only works if it’s reversible. We must learn to treat ourselves as well as we wish to treat others.” — Gloria Steinem. Kindness feels trite because we associate it with childhood, but it’s a serious issue for everyone regardless of age.
How you talk to yourself whether in your head or what you mutter aloud when you make mistakes matters. As in changing the way your brain functions type of matters. The brain has an evolutionary affinity for negativity. Stanford researcher Rick Hanson has a catchy metaphor for the brain’s response to positivity and negativity: Negativity is like Velcro and positivity is like Teflon.
Last year I wrote an essay for Black Girl in Om and I mentioned learning the difference between self-love and self-like. I see self-love as the actions we take: caring for our physical health, taking care of bills, showing up for our relationships authentically and consistently. Self-like is the sum of the feelings, emotions and regard we have for ourselves. I like to call this the Would you enjoy conversation over a glass of wine with your doppelgänger test?
Many of us would fail based on the soundtrack playing in our heads, myself included. Although pop culture has made conversations about self-love mainstream, we don’t really dive into how self-kindness plays a vital role in making self-love more than just an obligation. I’ve uncovered a few strategies to amp up your self-kindness if you’d like to have more positivity stick.
1. Make it plain
One of the reasons that it’s hard to kind to ourselves is that the negative self-talk largely happens in our head. Much like the psychological difference between spending cash instead of a credit card, making our negative self-talk more tactile and visceral will help uncover triggers. I do this by repeating the negativity I said aloud in my head so I can feel that it’s not true. I immediately follow that statement with a no and an alternative statement that speaks more to the truth of the situation. So instead of saying I’m so dumb for tripping again, I’ll say that plenty of people trip in mules because those shoes slide off your feet easily especially on stairs.
2. Play a game of pretend
My unkind inner voice feels like me because in my mind’s ear it sounds like my voice. When I’m stuck in more unkind phases, I pretend that the voice sounds like I’ve inhaled helium. It’s hard to feel and internalize negativity when the voice sounds ridiculous and squeaky. Your silly voice may be different from mine, but you can take inspiration from pretty much any cartoon character for adding levity to unkindness to undermine the negative impact on yourself.
3. Hide affirmations for your self
I’ve written about this before, but I like to have little affirmations for my self that I can read throughout the day. I made a poster for the inside of my medicine cabinet door with four positive poems from black women that make me feel more confident and hold myself in higher regard. I also have silent alarms on my phone everyday that help me redirect my thoughts toward more positive directions. Somehow having surprise positivity integrates into my life more and it feels less like a chore.
4. Remind yourself of the FOMO
For years, I used to excuse my internal criticism as essential to my success. Now that I’ve learned how wrong that line of thinking is thanks to the wonders of therapy, I try to focus more on the upside I miss by subjecting myself to criticism. I take a few moments to ask myself how much more creative and productive I could be if I didn’t devote mental energy to making myself feel bad about myself.
Self-kindness is awkward for me. Many of the articles and social media campaigns slide over how awkward it feels to upend self-criticism. I’ve tried saying affirmations aloud, I’ve tried listening to recordings of myself saying affirmations, I’ve tried saying affirmations in the mirror. If these strategies help you be kinder to yourself, that’s excellent. In my experience, they felt inauthentic.
Mindy Kaling recently spoke at Glamour’s Women of the Year and said that many people say that’s she full of herself even when she knows that she isn’t. She realized that people feel uncomfortable around people who don’t hate themselves in some way. Know that many people, including those closest to you will feel uncomfortable if you start to act kinder toward yourself. Self-kindness unfortunately is the exception rather than the rule.
When I’ve taught self-care workshops, some of those participants also express difficulty getting started because self-kindness feels unnatural. It’s very easy to put down yourself especially when you are in environments where people both explicitly and implicitly tell you that’s normal. These four strategies have helped me move past that awkwardness by putting the burden of weirdness on the self-criticism and have self-kindness move more toward a habit rather than the exception.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.