Kindness: The Currency of Change

How can we create change to stop hurting ourselves and others?

Posted Jan 14, 2016

Fotolia_98096725_XS copy
Source: Fotolia_98096725_XS copy

We’ve all made mistakes, hurt someone, or hurt ourselves and then wished we could have done differently. But how do we bring out the most effective way of no longer doing that? How can we create change to stop hurting ourselves and others?

First, we have to acknowledge that we’re self-critical. When we make a mistake, oh wow, do the devils come out! Then they stick us so many times in so many different ways that we can’t get the mistake out of our minds. But we’re so used to our self-criticism that we almost don’t realize what we’re saying.

For example, when we put on those few extra pounds, we get on the soapbox of self-criticism. We look in the mirror and call ourselves names, we feel our body in a very self-critical way, we notice what other people are looking at and think, “They must think I’m a flat blub.” Unfortunately, this self-criticism works. It makes sure that we’re going to stay heavy because all day long we are hearing the negative comments in our heads. Thoughts are incredibly powerful, so we hear these strong messages that we’re fat, fat, fat. So at the end of the day, are we ready to resist that dessert? Not likely because throughout the day, our thoughts have been critical of ourselves, of our ability to resist temptation, and of our weight, zapping motivation.

Second, we must deal with our mistake with kind thoughts. The most powerful thoughts are our own because these are the ones that we hear all day long. If we want to bring about change, we have to be kind towards ourselves, and the only way we’re going to be kind to ourselves is through awareness. If we’re not even aware of what we are doing because we’re so used to being self-critical or we think it doesn’t matter, then we’re going to get stuck and stay there for the rest of our lives. We don’t like to hurt ourselves or others, and we don’t want to live miserable lives. We can begin to make some changes, first, by acknowledging that thoughts do matter. They are not neutral. If we’re self-critical towards ourselves or others, such thoughts will impact us. If we want change, we have to have kind thoughts.

Think about it this way. Say we have a choice between two teachers, both very knowledgeable in their field but each with a different method of teaching. Now, let’s say we want to learn how to do yoga. Teacher Number One criticizes us every time we don’t get a pose right. Teacher Number Two uses kindness, love, compassion, and gentleness. Which teacher would we prefer? Of course, we would choose the latter because that one will be more enjoyable and we will learn faster. Our minds are the same. If we want to learn to change, we will have a more enjoyable time and learn faster if we use kindness on ourselves.

Let’s use the weight analogy again. Suppose we’ve put on a few pounds and someone made a negative comment about it. It was very hurtful, and perhaps we felt angry and upset about it. But the truth is we’re going to be more critical of ourselves and our weight gain than the other person could ever be. Once we start understanding that criticism, especially what comes from ourselves, isn’t going to motivate us to create change, we can replace the criticism with kindness and start making the change.

Many people struggle with change because they’re focused on the negative part of their behavior, instead of bringing about positive change in their lives. If we change what we focus on and start using love and kindness to create change, it will make a real difference. Think of  alcoholism. Until relatively recently, alcoholics didn’t have much hope of ever breaking their addiction. But then about a hundred years ago, two wonderful men started an organization called Alcoholic Anonymous. When alcoholics trying to break their addiction relapse, instead of beating themselves up with criticism, they can go to an AA meeting and learn positive steps to take. They learn they have a disease that doesn’t have to end their life, and they receive support in making changes. The main thing that changes here is that kindness replaces self-critical remarks heard all day long.

We are gentle with ourselves and learn from our mistakes. We can ask, “What can I learn from this?” We can say that a thousand times because it’s not self-critical. When we focus on what we did wrong, we’re probably going to repeat the mistake. But if we focus on how we can do better next time and without self-criticism, we can learn from it. This is going to enable us to do a whole lot better in creating change.

I see this work so effectively in my practice. People come to me and share their horrible stories, things that were done to them and, more important, what they did to other people. With gentleness and kindness, I help them understand that if their conditioning had been different, those things would not have happened. So if we change their conditioning, we can have a behavioral change. That kindness, that act of loving them and hearing their horrible stories, is caring for them and helping them get better. We all can get better with kindness.

When we mess up, we have to be kind to ourselves. We have to realize that two things caused us to be this way. One is our genetics; the other is our conditioning. We may not be able to change our genetics very much, but we can change the conditioning, and one of the most important ways we can do this is to start using kindness instead of criticism. I think people often resist this because they’re afraid that if they use kindness it’s going to give them a license to continue doing the behavior they want to change. They think if they’re kind, then they’ll continue doing it. But this isn’t the case. When we are aware of how our behavior affects others and ourselves, we realize self-criticism isn’t bringing about anything good. With awareness, we can say that we will change with kindness. We have to be kind towards others and we have to be kind towards ourselves.

It’s not that we shouldn’t set boundaries. Of course we need them to protect us from others who hurt us. But we can still be kind. We can also set boundaries with ourselves. For instance, if we battle with drinking or food addiction, we can stay away from those substances or situations that cause us to drink or overeat. We can also surround ourselves with people who help us make good choices.

We can change, and kindness is the way to go about creating that change. Criticism might work, but we’re not going to find happiness with it. If we want to be happy, we use kindness as a tool to create change. Then we can work towards finding happiness in our lives. If we’re happy, we can find ways to help others also be happy in their lives. It then becomes a beautiful circle. Kindness works. It creates beautiful, positive change.

And that change with kindness begins with awareness. We can’t change something if we’re not aware that we’re doing it. So, we watch our thoughts and see what they’re like. We don’t judge them; we just look at them. If we notice that our lives are permeated by negative thoughts towards others or ourselves, we just acknowledge that and then start changing them. We avoid self-criticism, which is not effective for making positive change. Instead, when we observe a negative thought, we ask what we can learn from the mistake it’s addressing and then move forward. If we mess up again, we repeat the process—see what we can learn from it and once again move forward. It’s about reconditioning the brain. If we believe this, we will do it and become good at it.

With awareness and kindness, anyone can change. We’re worth it. We can be happy through kindness. Kindness works.