How to Be Kind to Yourself (+ Top 10 List)

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Day, Dr. Isoma shares his own struggle with being kind to himself and shares a list of ways to treat yourself with more kindness.

This has been a rough first month of the New Year for me. My wife and I are expecting our first baby, we just opened our new practice, and we are still putting our new home together. I know this all sounds really exciting, and it is. But, at times, it can also be stressful and scary.

What if my practice fails? Am I going to be a good father? What if I can’t manage everything? These questions constantly bombard my mind. Then, my inner critic starts up: “You’re too disorganized,” “You’re in over your head,” “You don’t even know how to hold a baby – you’re going to be a terrible dad.” The underlying message tends to be the same: “You’re not good enough.”

Perhaps you can relate to some version of the “I’m not good enough” story. When it shows up, it can make us feel terrible about ourselves and bring us down. Most of the time, we work really hard to push this story away, argue with it, or distract ourselves from it. But it always comes back, typically when we feel at our worst.

Sometimes it can feel like our mind is our worst enemy – like a bully just looking to kick us while we’re down. But if you take a closer listen, you might notice that this so-called bully is actually trying to give you some important information. 

Our brains evolved to keep us safe from perceived dangers, connect with others, and help us grow. Being able to anticipate failures, avoid pitfalls, and drive our system into fight-or-flight mode increases our chances at continued survival. This means that even the most self-critical information is for the purpose of safety and advancement.

Think of it this way – It wouldn’t be all that helpful if our minds gave us only positive affirmations. What would happen if my mind only told me I’m going to be the best dad in the world? (Yes, that’s what my future mug will say.) What’s motivating me to learn how to properly hold a baby, take parenting classes, or even attend to my child’s needs? Without my inner critic, I would think I’m already awesome at everything, even if I’m really not.

In some ways, our “negative” mind is more like a close friend without a filter rather than a vindictive bully. Most of us want our friends to let us know when we mess up, so we can learn and grow. The problem with this friend is he has no idea how to say things in a “nice” way. Still, you know he has your best interest in mind.

So, how do we deal with this filter-less friend who really just wants the best for us? For starters, notice what isn’t working – telling your inner friend to shut up, arguing with him, ignoring him, or drowning him out with the fifth consecutive episode of your favorite show. Instead, I invite you to do something completely different – listen to him.

If you are willing, even for two minutes, listen from a different perspective. When your inner friend says, “I’m not good enough,” what do you think he/she is really trying to tell you? If it’s possible that their words are intended to keep you safe, would you want to treat him/her differently?

I’m not saying you have to like this inner friend all the time – I know I don’t. You don’t even HAVE to be kind to him/her. But see what it might be like to stop fighting with him/her all the time and invite them to join your journey. If you would like to learn specific ways to treat yourself with more kindness, here’s a list of my top 10 recommendations.

10 WAYS TO BE KIND TO YOURSELF

  1. Give yourself a hug. If it feels awkward and weird, you’re doing it right. Give it another 10 seconds and see what it was like to really hug yourself.
  2. Do the activity that makes you feel most connected to life. For me, going to the beach is when I feel whole, even if I’m also feeling hurt.
  3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. There is a big difference between fighting against painful feelings and being willing to have them.
  4. Chances are you are doing the best you can with what you have. Gently remind yourself of that and see what happens when you can let your best be good enough.
  5. See if you can remember a time during your childhood when you felt hurt. Bring to mind what you looked like during that time. Then, imagine you were able to meet this childhood version of yourself. What do you think this small child needed back then? Are you willing to give that child what he or she needs in this moment, if only in your imagination?
  6. Re-introduce yourself to your inner voice. Spend 30 seconds allowing your mind to just chatter on and see if you can really listen to what the mind is saying, as if this is a close friend you haven’t seen in years.
  7. Try out some of the self-compassion exercises by Kristen Neff.
  8. Imagine someone you care deeply for in their most painful moments. How would you want to be there for that person? What are some things you might say or do when you are with that person? Now, see if you can replace that someone with yourself.
  9. When you notice your mind criticizing you, no need to try fighting with it. Believe it or not, this is your mind’s way of letting you know something important is happening. Picture this inner critic as an infant or toddler trying to get its needs met. How does this change your relationship with your self-critic?
  10. If you’re anything like me when trying these exercises, the mind still judges and criticizes, like a bully who just won’t give up. The secret about bullies – they’re usually the ones who need to be cared for the most. So, when you notice the bully show up, give them some love too.