Yet it starts with ourselves
What does kindness mean exactly?
Contrary to popular belief, kindness is not synonymous with ‘nice’.
Wikipedia defines kindness as ‘a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others…’
Further, science backs it: ‘Science has shown that devoting resources to others, rather than having more and more for yourself, brings about lasting well-being’, according to Dr. Karyn Hall.
We all know kindness towards others is important. We learned that from Mr. Rogers. But what about kindness to oneself?
We are taught to be our own worst critics while being told to be kind towards others. I’m not saying we should be arrogant and full of ourselves. But constantly barraging oneself with negativity is not the answer either.
For many of us, negative self-talk is a habit. And like any habit, the first step to change is to be aware when you do it.
Next time you feel yourself spiraling into negative self-talk, try this:
Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Hold it for 5 seconds.
Slowly let it out while thinking the mantra ‘ooooommm’
Go on. Try it.
Now do it again. And again. Does it help? A little maybe?
This pause — or mind ‘reboot’— is a simple tactic to reset our thoughts.
Once you silence negative self-talk — even for a short while — you have the space to focus on being kind to others. Which is actually easier to do.
It’s in our DNA to be kind.
Contrary to Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory — which presumes man is competitive and selfish — Darwin believed we are a profoundly social and caring species. He argued that sympathy and caring for others are instinctual. (DiSalvo, Scientific American, 2017).
‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted..’ Aesop
Yet it can be hard to be kind. Especially — at times — to colleagues in the workplace. But like the mantra exercise above, with practice, it gets easier.
Tips to be more kind at work
Make eye contact. Smile. Look and listen when someone speaks to you.
Say good morning. If they don’t say it back, don’t let it get you down. But also, don’t get angry. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were distracted — thinking about something and didn’t realize you said it. But even if they deliberately ignored you, do not allow yourself to think negative thoughts about that person, as those negative thoughts will ruin your day too.
Send an IM to a colleague you haven’t talked to in a while. Don’t have an agenda. Perhaps you say, ‘Nothing urgent. Just thought of you and wanted to check-in. Hope all is well.’ If they respond, great. If they don’t, that’s ok too.
When asking a colleague how their weekend was, pause. Look at them when they respond. And actually, listen to what they say. No need to tell them about yours. Just listen.
Buy a second snack in the afternoon and leave it on a co-worker's empty desk. Don’t tell them it was you. What a nice surprise to have a treat mysteriously appear.
When you go out to pick up lunch to eat at your desk, ask around if anyone wants to walk with you. It can be a pleasant 5–10 minute break walking with a colleague.
The key in all this? Assume the best. Always. Even after you get proven wrong. Especially after you are proven wrong. Which can be difficult…
For evolutionary reasons, we are wired to remember negative experiences more easily than positive ones.
When someone does legitimately slight us, we might think, ‘Why am I always the one to be nice but no one is nice back?’ Although statistically that may not be true, the more you think that way, the more you will notice when it occurs and it becomes all you see. Which leads you right back to negative thinking, which impacts your overall disposition, and the cycle continues.
So what to do? Create a new mantra: Assume the Best.
‘Kindness is not an act. It is a lifestyle.’ Anthony Douglas Williams