According to Author of The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good, self-kindness is powerful motivational tool that brings about more self-awareness, self-esteem and impulse control. That’s why she sees it as the key to changing habits for good.
A kinder approach gives us useful insight into our patterns
When we want to embark on a plan to change a habit, it’s natural to give a lot of thought to what we don’t like about the status quo; and hope that being relieved of the negative impacts of our current habits will be enough to motivate us to change – and stay changed. We can think that beating ourselves up for not having changed already and imposing a punitive plan is the form of tough love that will get things done once and for all.
Thinking about the negatives of our habits might get us going initially, but time spent considering how they might actually be serving us can provide the insight we need to:
- Form more favourable habits that can fulfil a similar need
- Understand why we’re finding it difficult to make changes
- Create realistic plans of change that we’re more likely to keep up
Creating a truly bespoke and effective plan of change involves gaining insight ourselves, by compassionately and curiously observing and reflecting on our own patterns without judgement. The way we may observe a child, for example. By better understanding how our habits are actually serving us, we can better understand why we’re finding it so difficult to make changes.
We can start to see a habit that’s now a problem as something that either was (or still is) a solution to something. Not only does this reframe help us to forgive ourselves for not having changed yet, it gives us the insight we need to start exploring, introducing and practicing other ‘solution’ habits, so we don’t find the change process as difficult.
Tip: if you’re struggling to understand why you’re not making changes despite wanting to, ask yourself:
When did this pattern begin? What was going on at the time?
When I think about making changes, what kind of worries or discomfort do I notice?
How might it be benefiting me to not make changes quite yet?
Kinder self-talk gets goals achieved more quickly
Think about the last time you remember falling ‘off-track ‘whilst trying to achieve a goal, or a time you felt you’d ‘messed up’ in some way in any area of your life. Write down the things you said to yourself.
Now, imagine that someone you love has come to you and told you they’ve ‘messed up’ with a plan of change. Your mission is to tell them things that get them back on track with their plan immediately. Write down the sorts of things you’d say to them.
Simple exercises like this one can help to bring to our attention that sometimes the way we speak to ourselves isn’t just unkind – it’s actually very unhelpful too. Many learn that the messages they’re giving themselves (especially when they need a boost of motivation the most) are the opposite of messages they believe to be motivational.
Learning more generally to speak yourself like a loved can also help you to take the same practical advice you’d give someone else. Many can relate to spiralling in response to an otherwise minor blip and deciding to start again ‘on Monday’ for example. Yet if we were tasked with giving advice to someone we cared for who had experienced a temporary blip from a plan, we probably wouldn’t say “you’ve blown it now! you should give up, forget any progress you’ve made and start again next week.”
The next time you do something you’re not delighted with in any area of your life, whether it’s sending an angry email in haste or consuming the contents of a biscuit tin when you were trying not to, choose to consciously listen-in on the messages you’re giving yourself.
Choose to notice how long it’s taking you to forgive yourself. Then gently debate internally by asking yourself “would I ever speak this way to someone else?” and “is speaking to myself like this moving me closer to getting back on track, getting stuff done and feeling better asap?
Self-kindness helps with impulse control
Changing habits is difficult. There will inevitably be moments when you’ll want to throw in the towel with a challenging plan. When those arise, it would make sense for you to already be in the habit of doing whatever you can daily to keep you feeling as strong, positive and full of self-belief as possible. That way, you’ll generally feel more prepared when you’re faced with unforeseen tests.
That’s why it can be especially important to notice if you’ve put any areas of your life ‘on hold’; waiting to treat -or speak- to yourself in a kinder way as something of a reward for having achieved a particular goal.
You deserve to place importance on your quality of life, and enjoy every possible act of self-care, regardless of what goals you happen to strive to achieve at any given time.
It just so happens that a by-product of making ‘increase self-kindness in every possible way’ a lifelong goal in itself, we can more naturally find ourselves developing increasing impulse control.
Already being in the habit of doing things that have your joy and overall wellbeing in mind can help enormously when you’re faced with a habit-specific challenge.
Try to notice any opportunities you have throughout your day to adopt small daily habits or rituals that help you, even in the tiniest of ways, to feel more calm, worthy and positive in general. If you’ve been waiting to reward yourself with a new self-care habit, take that part of your life off-hold – and leave it off-hold!
Over time, you may find that some of those seemingly unrelated self-care habits are the same ones that are helping you feel more able to respond to cravings and urges in a way you’re happy with the next day.
The next time you’re struggling to change a habit, see how it feels to go about it the kinder way:
- Try to understand why you’re finding it difficult to change, with compassion, forgiveness and curiosity
- Reframe the inevitable moments when you want to throw in the towel as new opportunities to practice speaking to yourself the way you’d speak to a loved one
- Make the development of daily self-care and self-compassion its own ongoing mission, one that will always run alongside – and support – other goals.
A final note: when it comes to habit-change, plans are of course important, but we can’t count on things going to plan. Self-kindness can help you to count on yourself more, the next time things don’t go to plan.
Shahroo Izadi is a Behavioural Change Specialist, speaker and bestselling author. Her approach to habit-change is influenced by the experience that she gained working in the addiction treatment field as well as the personal experience of transforming her own unwanted habits. She has since been dedicated to highlighting what those in long-term recovery from substance misuse can teach the general population about motivation, self-compassion and self-awareness. Her first book, The Kindness Method, was released in June 2018 and has so far been translated into 5 languages. In 2019 she was given the ‘Thought Leader of the Year’ Baton Award at House of Lords in London, which acknowledges the pioneering work of BAME women. Follow Shahroo on Instagram and check out her website for more reads about habits and behavioural change