It is World Kindness Day (thanks, Peppermint Narwhal for the notification). I love that we have a whole day dedicated to reminding us to be kind– to others, to the planet, and most importantly to ourselves.
This year’s theme for World Kindness Day is “Kindness makes you live longer.” And this is so true! Research shows that doing nice things for others, especially without expecting kind acts in return helps us develop a sense of purpose and helps you connect with other people. These experiences bring us out of negative head spaces, help us see the world more positively, and fuels your drive to work on your goals as it relates to others. Kindness also releases the feel-good hormones of oxytocin and dopamine, while simultaneously reducing the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol are also linked to higher inflammation in the body. Lower your cortisol, lower inflammation. Be kind, live healthier lives. (1)
Kindness Starts with You
But there is more than just doing good deeds for others to release feel-good hormones. I adhere to the sound logic that you can’t be kind to others if you aren’t kind to yourself. If you aren’t treating yourself with compassion, love, and acceptance, how can you show others that you care and respect them?
I just finished a fabulous book by Mel Robbins called The High Five Habit. In the book, Mel talks about reasons to take time every morning for yourself, before your day begins. “When you celebrate YOURSELF, it helps you cheer louder for others: your friends, your colleagues, your family, your neighbors, and your partner. That’s because your relationship with yourself is the foundation of every relationship you have in life.” Being kind to others starts with being kind to yourself. (2)
In Energize, a book about (as the subtitle states) going from dragging ass to kicking it, authors Stacey Griffith and Michael Breus agree with Mel’s position on self-kindness and self-compassion. “Kindness–in particular, being kind to yourself– is an energizing practice that can lift your mood, drain tension, and help you sleep better.” And don’t get me started on how sleeping better will improve your life, your health, and your longevity. (3)
Kindness helps you live longer. And self-compassion, or kindness towards oneself, helps us be more giving and compassionate.
But…how do you practice self-kindness?
Here are five practices for that will jumpstart your life of living kind.
1. Loving Kindness Meditation
Barbara Fredrickson is considered by many to be THE positive psychology expert. In her book Love 2.0, she shares a loving-kindness meditation that ripples out to engulf the world with compassion and empathy. But she starts the loving-kindness meditation with ourselves. (4)
Barbara tells us to sit still, in a comfortable position, and focus on each word and feeling as we repeat in our head, silently on our lips, or out loud (whatever your comfort level tells you is appropriate).
May I feel safe.
May I feel happy.
May I feel strong and healthy.
May I live with ease.
When you are ready, extend this thought to someone close to you. Feel the words.
May this one feel safe.
May this one feel happy.
May this one feel healthy.
May this one live with ease.
Extend further and further for as many rounds as you like. Extend to family, to acquaintances, co-workers, bosses, the person who cut you off in traffic, the job who rejected your application, the political candidate whom you dislike. I promise, this practice is powerful. Start with yourself, and allow the ripple to grow.
2. High Five Yourself in the Mirror
Mel Robbins’ book is very inspirational. Her idea is to train your brain to see what’s RIGHT in your world, and look for opportunities that will help you, motivate you, and encourage you to do what is healthy, inspiring, and beneficial for your life. That starts first thing in the morning. She tells us to wake up, go to the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror, and give your reflection a high five. This small simple action is like giving a pep talk to a friend, but that friend is you. It empowers us, and fires us up to take on challenges. (2)
There are many other self-help experts who share similar practices. Hal Elrod, the author of Miracle Morning, talks about his S.A.V.E.R.S, (Silence, Affirmation, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribe) and how they prime him (and the millions of people who follow him) each morning, first thing. The Miracle Morning is a one-hour routine just for you. The Affirmation and Visualization aspects are very helpful, but can sometimes be tricky. When using an affirmation, we must word it carefully so that our brains don’t feel like we are lying to ourselves. So, no “I am rich beyond measure” mantras when you have $20 in your bank account. But perhaps, “I will work hard and not give up” will motivate us to do the work that earns us the money to become rich. Same for Visualization (and Mel talks about this in her book, too). So often people visualize crossing the finish line, standing on the medal podium, or accepting the award. That is fun to fantasize about our dreams, but what is more helpful is visualizing running in the freezing cold, showing up for practice early in the morning, doing the WORK that earns us the award. (5,2)
So, take some time to train your brain– high five yourself with an affirmation and visualization that motivates us to be the best version of ourselves.
3. Take a Bubble Break
Another golden idea from yet another self-help guru, is Take a Bubble Break. This is from Dr. Kimberly Pope-Robinson, a veterinarian and speaker who helps animal care professionals combat compassion fatigue and burnout. She tells us that one of the most helpful ways to promote self-care while on the job is to take what she calls a Bubble Break. On a literal level, Kimberly encourages us to take a five minute break to blow bubbles. Why?
It provides a quick easy activity that promotes mindfulness, concentration, letting go of negativity, and practice breathing. We don’t have to worry about anything for 5 minutes except blowing bubbles. Getting into the flow of blowing bubbles, the rest of the world can fade away while we focus on the colors, the size of the bubbles, how many, and what are some best practices for blowing the best bubbles. After just five minutes away, most of the time, we are much calmer, focused, and feel in harmony with ourselves. (6)
4. Create Boundaries- It’s Okay to Say No
I know this can be a tough one, especially in the animal care field. When we say no to work, sometimes we feel we’re saying no to the animals. This simply isn’t true. Remember, you can’t take care of the animals if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You can’t show up and be your best, and be kind to others, if you aren’t able to put your NEEDS above others’ desires.
I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but I read somewhere, “My inner peace is more important than other people’s approval.” Copy that. Write it somewhere, possibly on your bathroom mirror where you perform your high-five ritual. Tattoo it on your mind. Not just your inner peace, but your physical health, your mental health, and your emotional health are more important than other people’s approval.
(Read more about gathering the courage to put yourself first here: What Simone Biles Can Teach Us About Self-Care)
I understand that simply telling you how important it is to say no when you need your space is easier said than done. So, animal train yourself. Start small. Stupid small. Have friends ask you to do the most absurd favors ever, so you can practice saying no. “Will you take me across the country so I can stalk my favorite movie star?” “Hell, no!” Then have them ask for more reasonable, but still undoable favors. “Will you spend your weekend doing nothing but make cookies and sweets for a bake sale? And no, you can’t have any freebies.” “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Unfortunately, no one will wave a magic wand and make your fear of saying no, or people-pleasing, self-doubting mentality just disappear. It takes practice, and putting yourself first. But when you do (put yourself first, and say no), you are making a promise that your NO is actually saying YES to a better, stronger, healthier you.
5. Reach Out for Help
Asking for help is one of the bravest things I think any human being can ever do. It’s interesting, though. Look back on your life. When someone has asked for help from you, how did that feel? Did you feel compassion? Did it feel good to help your friend, your neighbor, your sibling or parent? Did you resent the person for ASKING for help? Did you feel the person asking for help was too weak, too stupid, or too incompetent?
So, here’s the thing. If you don’t feel a person asking you for help is weak, or stupid, and if it felt good to be asked for help, and being able to help them, why do we feel shame when we need help ourselves? Why is it okay for others to receive help, but not for us?
The answer is, it IS okay to get help, especially if you need it. But even if you just want it, asking for help is one of the biggest acts of self-kindness we can perform. The thing is, others like to feel needed and appreciated as much as we do. When we ask for help, we aren’t just providing a kindness to ourselves, we are opening an opportunity for us to connect with others in healthy and positive ways.
This is why I created ZooFit– to be there for others when they want to reach out for help. You know, I could make this list of ways to provide self-kindness 20 items long, 50 items, 100 items long. There are so many small acts we can take, small habits we can establish to take care of ourselves and perform random acts of kindness. Gratitude, eating a healthy meal or snack, drinking water, getting plenty of rest. All these help, too. But sometimes, we just need a helping hand to get there.
If you are struggling, I want to be there for you. If not me, there are many others in the community who can lend a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to brighten your day. Reach out. You are totally worth it.
So, this World Kindness Day, show yourself some love and compassion, so that you can shine brighter as the best version of yourself, today, tomorrow, and forever, for you, your community, and the entire planet.
May YOU feel safe.
May YOU feel happy.
May YOU be healthy and strong.
May YOU live with ease.
Peppermint Narwhal is a small company who does amazing digital animal art. Each year they put out an Animal Holiday Calendar, which is basically how I stay in touch with fun animal-themed days. Check them out, and perhaps grab your own calendar. BTW- this is not an endorsement, I just love Peppermint Narwhal’s stuff!
- Robbins, M. (2021) The High Five Habit. Hay House, Inc.
- Breus, M, Griffith S. (2021) Energize! New York, Little Brown Spark
- Fredrickson, B. (2013) Love 2.0. Plume Publishing
- Elrod, H. (2012) Miracle Morning. Miracle Morning Publishing, LLC