From telling yourself that you’re not doing well enough at work to chastising yourself for having a second biscuit, how many times a day do you talk to yourself in a way you never would to a friend? Self-criticism is something that comes naturally to many of us – so naturally in fact that it’s often hard to distinguish between it and aspiration – but contrary to our best intentions, it can actually be thing inhibiting the very behaviour changes we aspire to.
We caught up with Shahroo Izadi, Behavioural Change Specialist, speaker, coach and author of The Kindness Method, to find out why prioritising self-kindness is so important to living a balanced life and where to start in treating ourselves like we would anyone else…
Self-kindness is often under-prioritised in our busy lives - what kind of benefits can it bring?
Speaking to ourselves more kindly, the way we’d speak to a loved one, can help us to move on more quickly when we feel we’ve disappointed ourselves in some way in our behaviours. Whether it’s a blip from a plan of habit-change or reacting hastily to an email we wish we’d given more though to before pressing send, forgiving ourselves quickly can help us to remember that we deserve the same forgiveness, fairness and perspective that we often reserve for others.
How is self-kindness important in making or breaking habits?
Breaking patterns and familiar (but unwanted) cycles of behaviour is difficult, so it’s important for us to really believe in our capacity to do difficult things. Being kind to ourselves extends to focusing on our strengths and the assets we have at our disposal, as opposed to our perceived shortcomings. This encourages us to remember all the other difficult things we’ve managed to do in the past and helps us to push through in the moments with plans of change when it’s most difficult to do so.
Being kind to yourself can be difficult if you’ve spent a long time talking yourself down - what’s the first step towards challenging these kinds of self-narratives?
Make a conscious effort to listen (without judgement) to the messages you give yourself when you’re trying to change a habit. In those moments when things inevitably become difficult, you can choose to slow down, and compassionately and curiously question the messages you’re giving yourself. Instead of trying to push away any self-limiting beliefs or unkind messages when they pop-up, simply listen in and consider, is this fair? Is it useful? Is it how I’d speak to someone else? If the answer is no, try to debate fairly with them and ask yourself when you started believing them to be true. Then, consider whether there’s a kinder message you could also add to the conversations you’re having with yourself - about yourself.
Self-kindness and self-care often get confused or merged into one – do you think there’s a big difference between the two?
I see self-care as the acts we choose to engage in as a result of believing in the value and importance of being kinder towards ourselves in general.
How can you build kindness into your daily routine?
When you’re finding it hard to change any day-to-day habit, instead of beating yourself up for finding it so difficult or assuming you’re weak, consider how it actually benefits you to stay the same. Often, what’s now a problem is (or once was) a solution to something. By acknowledging that your current habits may be serving you in some way, you can gain insight into why you’re finding it so difficult, and forgive yourself for not having changed yet. This kinder, more inquisitive approach can also helps you to consider what other habits or favourable coping strategies you may be able to put in place before you take your comfortable (but unwanted) ones away; perhaps ones that do a similar ‘job’ for you and that you’d prefer to be turning to in six months.
What’s your top tip for instantly actionable self-kindness?
Each morning, spend just five minutes looking ahead at your schedule, and note down the things that you suspect will make you want to behave in a way you may regret the next day. This can be anything from knowing that you’ll be coming into contact with a person or situation that often causes you stress, to suspecting that the poor night’s sleep you had may cause you to want to reach for a quick-fix you’re trying to avoid.
Simply pre-empting your personal triggers can help you to spot them as they come up, notice how predictable they are, and respond by thinking “I predicted that this would be a challenge, that’s okay, I can still choose how I respond to it.” This tiny investment in becoming more self-aware over the course of the day can help you to create space between wanting to do something and actually going through with it. It slows things down, makes you feel more mindful and enables you to start treating urges to engage in unwanted behaviours as alerts to notice, not commands to obey.
Shahroo Izadi is a Behavioural Change Specialist, speaker, coach and author of The Kindness Method, which has been translated into five languages.
Her therapeutic approach is influenced by her experience of working in frontline addiction treatment. During this time, Shahroo developed a knowledge of how to elicit self-led change, even in those who are most resistant to it. She shares how the same evidence-based tools she used effectively with her clients in active addiction helped her to lose eight stone in weight, increase her self-esteem and help her self-manage a range of unwanted habits around food and negative self-talk.
Shahroo’s second book The Last Diet will be published internationally, beginning with the UK in December 2019. It is currently available for pre-order.