The art of self-kindness

Jenny Light explores self-kindness and explains why we need to show ourselves some love

How kindly do you think of yourself? It can be all too easy to catch yourself on a mental loop of negative thoughts. You know the old story – you see a glossy ad offering the perfect lifestyle, if only you had the right hair, that body, those shoes. If you buy into a negative perception of how you look, everywhere you go you are likely to be reminded that you are not good enough. Before long, we can be caught in a downward spiral of negative thinking, squandering the precious moments of our life, beating ourselves up for worrying about how everyone else may judge us or for something that we feel we did wrong. Often that recriminating mental dialogue recurs around our physical appearance not matching up to an ideal. That image is often unobtainable, like a ‘perfect’ snapshot of a photoshopped person having a ‘perfect’ lifestyle – it’s a manufactured vision of how we ought to be, with the sole aim of encouraging us to part with some hard-earned cash. Once you realise that you are being sold a dream, you have the key to ignoring it. If you are outwardly measuring yourself on the yardstick of a manufactured ‘ideal’, you will always be disappointed. It’s not reality.

Self-Kindness

Rewrite your script
Let’s change the mental dialogue to one of kindness to self. Make a list of habitual negative thoughts about yourself. Then categorise them into two lists – the first is negative thoughts about your external appearance; the other is negative beliefs about your character.

Mentally rehearse a new, kinder dialogue – as soon as the mind throws up a destructive self-image, practice instantly replacing it with a positive one. For instance, you catch sight of your dishevelled hair in the reflection in a mirror and, compared to Claudia Winkleman’s perfectly sculpted glossy locks, think: ‘I look a mess’. Be prepared to immediately replace it with a positive affirmation, such as ‘I am good enough, just as I am’, or ‘My thoughts are calm and balanced’. Try using humour to defuse the negative. Think of Claudia’s perfect hair standing up to a force nine gale. Mentally laughing and seeing the humour helps to take you out of the negative spiral of thinking.

But let’s address that self-image. Can you recall any negative thoughts about your appearance in the moments running up to catching sight of how you looked? Usually, we are oblivious to how we might be perceived to others until we witness that reflection.

My suggestion is not to take your appearance too seriously. I brush my hair in the morning, then forget it. The same with make-up: after I’ve applied it, I ignore my reflection. I figure that people will love the real me, tousled and all. Develop a strong self-image which has nothing to do with how your body appears. Wearing a smile is more attractive  than any frontage afforded by embellishments. To quote Annie in the eponymous musical, “You’re never fully dressed
without a smile.”

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Be kind to your mind
Negative thoughts about your character can be trickier to deal with. Take a look at that list of negative putdowns that you often recite to yourself. ‘I’m not good enough’ is a classic. Let’s peel back the years – when do you remember starting to think that you weren’t good enough? Was it the result of an event? Did someone say it to you? Usually, we start to wear a garment of deficit after being blamed or shamed for something, either verbally or in our heads.

Just remember – to be human is to err, mistakes happen and accept that it’s a fact of life that things don’t turn out the way that you expect. That’s normal. However, what’s not healthy is beating yourself up forevermore with a mental cudgel for that error. Accept it happened, then let it go and move on with your life. Don’t allow that mistake to become the centre of your world. Th at would be a waste of your precious time on Earth. Let today be the day that you
finally drop that flawed model of yourself – mentally see it shattering into smithereens and mould yourself a
new model of who you are – strong, resiliently adaptive to changing circumstances of life, but, most of all, as kind to yourself. Catch each unkind thought and push it out of your psyche. Decide not to tolerate any negative thinking.

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Say it with love
Positive affirmations work a treat. They work by rewiring the computer that is your brain to new positive thought patterns. Think of the brain as a network of roads delivering messages – the most used thought pathways, especially those with strong emotion or feeling behind them, become super-neural highways to change how we react in any moment. Affirmations work by re-routing negative thought-messages to a new positive neural highway. The more often you say it out loud and then mentally, the quicker you build that positive thought pathway. You know when you
are winning, when the affirmation starts to play in the back of your mind, even when you are not consciously thinking about it.

‘I am positive. I think and act positively.’
‘I have the courage to be kind to myself.’

You are what you think you are. Affirmations work by programming the brain, mind and spirit. These often start with ‘I am’. ‘I’ acts like a key being placed in the engine. ‘Am’ switches on the engine and the very next thought sets that affirmation in creation.

Our thoughts are very powerful. We are continually, moment by moment writing our future by how we think. Training your thoughts to be mentally kind to yourself is a major breakthrough in living more positively. Unfortunately, this works for negative as well as positive affirmations. The brain doesn’t discriminate. It only follows your mental instructions and reacts accordingly. It’s up to us to choose wisely in how we think. Make up your mind to let self-kindness be your new paradigm.

Jenny Light is a psychologist, yoga and meditation teacher, inspirational speaker and author of Divine Meditations: 26 Spiritual Qualities of the Bhagavad Gita (Mantra Books 2019) To find more, visit living-lightly.co.uk