Being Kind to Yourself

BEING KIND
TO YOURSELF

A modern misinterpretation

HOW SELF CARE CAN BECOME AN EXCUSE TO TAKE IT TOO EASY

There’s a very fine line between ‘self-care’ (or ‘self-help’) and ‘self-let-down’. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received at times has been to ‘just take it easy’. In some instances, it’s acted as a reminder to have a much-needed rest, or to give myself a break. Other times, it’s acted as a dangerous precursor to give up, or to be easy on myself. In those latter moments, I find that ‘taking it easy’ is in fact a subtle and perfect excuse to let myself down and give up, disguised as a deceitful idea to ‘be kind to myself’.

Over the years, I’ve learned to push myself. Whilst I’m not a pro cyclist who competes in the Tour de France, subjecting my mind and body to unparalleled pain and suffering while climbing steep mountains on a road bike in the blistering heat, I do push myself in ways that are ecological with my personal goals and wants. I wrote in a previous blog post that my late Dad taught me the importance and meaning of hard work, and this value has been tattooed in my mind and soul. I try my best at everything I undertake, any less than that is not really an option for me. I don’t always succeed, and I don’t always get the best results. In fact, most of the time, I fail. Regardless, I’m always satisfied with the fact that I’ve tried my hardest and that I didn’t give up, or give in. This is where the experiences are lived, and the lessons learned. So, when I’m told to take it easy, I stop to think twice about what that means for me.

As a coach, I often suggest that people be kind to themselves. When we look out for the people we love, we suggest the same thing. Because we care for and empathise with the people closest to us in our lives, we naturally want to wish them well. Sometimes, our suggestion for them to be kind to themselves feels like the kindest and most caring advice we can offer, and we hope for nothing else than for them to take it on board. Over the last few years, the saying ‘be kind to yourself’ has really become quite popular. A friend of mine pointed out to me this week, while he and his husband are grieving the loss of his mother-in-law, that most of the people who attended her funeral advised them of the same thing: to be kind to themselves. He also told me that two years ago, when his father-in-law passed away, the go to sentence at that time was for them to ‘take care of yourselves’. It was an interesting observation, and I agree that recently, ‘be kind to yourself’ has become a very common saying in the world of mental health and self-help. Perhaps it’s the pandemic that has made us all much more aware of our mental states, and thus indirectly taught us to be kind to ourselves… I don’t know. It has definitely become a thing though, for better or for worse.

Here’s the problem with being kind to ourselves: it can easily be misconstrued. For many of us (and certainly for me), the immediate reaction to being advised of such a thing is to slow down. To take a break. To take it easy. And since we are such creatures of comfort and generally struggle to step outside of our comfort zones consistently, we buy into it quite easily. Suddenly, it seems OK to not just slow down, but to stop entirely. OK to not just take a break but to give up fully. OK to not just take it easy but to take it waaayyy too easy. I don’t care how ironclad a mindset someone has or how bulletproof their spirit and determination is; if anyone is ever given the permission to be kind to themselves, it can be dangerous, misinterpreted and, if given too much space (or not enough thought), it will absolutely derail a lot of what that person is working towards. We are masters at making excuses and finding comfort for ourselves, and this idea of ‘being kind to ourselves’ can be the best excuse yet if we’re not careful enough.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the value of resting, resetting, taking stock of where we’re at, realigning our plans and questioning ourselves. Hell, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve changed the course of my endeavours, or broken my routine for some much needed rest, or given myself space to think and recover. When my Dad died last winter, I basically fell off my own grid for 3 months to grieve. I needed the space and time to put things into perspective, recalibrate my efforts and reevaluate my purpose in life. I let myself experience a couple of weeks of very low energy and deep sadness and sorrow. I let my pain be felt throughout my mind and body and yes, I felt sorry for myself for a little while. This comes with grief I suppose. I opened up to my wife, my family and friends. I searched for meaning and answers and embarked on a journey of self-discovery amidst the grief. All this to say that I was kind to myself, and in that circumstance, it meant giving myself the opportunity to deal with the loss of my Dad. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, and I’m grateful that I had the means to go through that process. I’m equally grateful for the fact that I was able to bounce back stronger and find a way to make sense of this loss and give it forever lasting purpose aligned to my personal ambitions and journey.

Because THAT is also what being can to ourselves is all about. It doesn’t have to be an endgame excuse to abandon ship and lose momentum, it can also be interpreted in a way that serves us for accelerated progress and newfound strength. What if being kind to ourselves didn’t always have to mean ‘take it easy’, but instead to ‘keep pushing’? What if it meant that we could do more, be better and push harder? What if it served us as an accountability tool in our efforts to create our results more consistently and effectively? Because isn’t that also what being kind to ourselves is? To put ourselves in positions and situations where we feel elevated and keep moving forward no matter what? In my humble opinion, if we can agree on this idea, then we could all be kinder to ourselves most of the time. Who needs another excuse to slow down, especially when we’re perfectly poised to aim higher, reach further, dig deeper, stride longer and punch harder? Oftentimes, the meaning of being kind to ourselves is the exact opposite of how we think of doing it traditionally. Sometimes, it means kicking ourselves up the ass… sometimes it means agreeing within ourselves to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard this may be. Sometimes, it means being more resilient. More determined. More tenacious. Stronger, not weaker. Faster, not slower. Bigger, not smaller. Anything it takes to get you there, even (and especially!) when the going gets tough. I hear you there, mumbling to yourself… ‘Isn’t that just being hard on ourselves’?  Well, my response to you is: isn’t that what’s needed from time to time? And my subsequent response is: do you honestly think you’ll accomplish more if you’re easier on yourself?

Here’s a Rocky Balboa quote which encapsulates what being kind to yourself can be interpreted as:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

Well, amigo, at the end of the day, deep down inside of you, you know exactly what you need at any given moment, so all I wish for you is that you act on that need. Sometimes, you might need a break. Other times, you might need a wakeup call. Either way, whichever way you decide to treat yourself in that moment, you have the opportunity to be kind to yourself. So long as you know that being kind to yourself doesn’t have to be an excuse to break your momentum and offer yourself a way out of your struggle towards success, do what you need to do.

The next time someone recommends that you be kind to yourself, pause a beat and question which interpretation of that would serve you best in that moment. Perhaps it is a break you need, in which case, have a Kit-Kat! Joking aside, listen to your gut and give yourself the space and time needed to recover, physically, mentally and emotionally. I don’t know what you’re going through so if you’re in need of resting your mind and body, I suggest you do exactly that and I pray that you bounce back stronger when the time is right.

On the other hand, if you find that being kind to yourself in that moment is just an excuse to go easy on yourself – perhaps an unwelcome anchor taunting you and wanting to pull you down the well – perhaps flip the script and tease the idea of being kind to yourself by jolting yourself into a state of continuous, unbreakable, unwavering determination and hard work to get you closer to making your wildest dreams come true. Looking back, I guarantee you’ll be grateful for that reframe and agree that you couldn’t have been kinder to yourself, even if you’d tried. Whether you’re reading this and inclined to pat yourself on the back, or kick yourself up the ass, I hope the choice you make is aligned to your gut feeling – only YOU know what you need and ONLY you can take action on it. You have the power to treat yourself the way you need. Others (me included), are just here to remind you that no matter what, don’t forget the importance of being kind to yourself… Until next time, champ!

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