It’s coming to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a great opportunity to spend some time checking in with ourselves, and observing how our own actions can impact our minds. One of the ways we can do this is by taking a look at our habits. Developing good habits is classic go-to advice for anyone looking to improve their mood, but like most matters of the mind, this is easier said than done.
As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I’ve spent the past few years trying to cultivate healthy habits to combat my own low points. Looking back, I always ran into the same problem when it came to sticking with the habits in the long term; I was using shame and negativity as motivators. This sentiment is reflected in the mainstream as well. The motivation for working out might be dissatisfaction with our current bodies. The motivation for meditation or relaxation practices might even be the feeling that we need to be more productive than we are. These subtle hints that we need to somehow be more, or different than we currently are can be seen everywhere in society, from self-help books to fitness programs to social media. But the problem is, if we are motivating ourselves with shame, we will continue to feel shame. Our mental health suffers and ultimately we don’t stick to the habit anyway. So, if you’re looking to develop habits you’ll stick to and improve your relationship with yourself, let me make the case for self-kindness as your primary motivator.
Kindness Helps Us Choose Wisely
When we are in a negative mental space, we are much more likely to set unachievable goals. If I’m upset with my body, maybe I’ll decide the only way to change that is to go to the gym six days a week. While this might be doable for some, I’m setting a goal that is unrealistic for me personally, in order to punish myself. I’m not going to follow through, and I will be left feeling worse than before. Instead, if I can approach the goal through a lens of kindness, maybe I will be gentler with myself. I can ask, what feels achievable to me? What does my body enjoy doing? Maybe ten minutes of yoga a day is a more nurturing path for now. Kindness allows us to more accurately assess our current state and set ourselves up for success later.
Kindness Lifts Us Up
Sometimes there are legitimate reasons we cannot complete our habits for the day. If we are hard on ourselves about it, we are taking a step away from kindness and toward negativity. Not to mention, we can get hurt if we push ourselves too much. If I choose to be kind to myself when unforeseen circumstances arise, the motivation to try again tomorrow comes from a positive place. That positivity becomes enmeshed with the habit in my mind. When we feel positive about something, we go back to it. Through an approach of kindness, we’re much more likely to show up consistently in our habits.
A practice of self-kindness might start within the context of your habits, but you’ll quickly see it spread to other aspects of your life. Try viewing yourself in a kind and gentle light, like you likely view your good friends. This has the potential to transform your relationships, your work, and most importantly, your relationship with yourself. Creating one habit that feels like a kind and nurturing gesture can help you increase your sense of worthiness, boost your mood, and branch off to create other long-term habits. When we choose to embrace ourselves rather than shame ourselves, we realize we are capable of achieving so much more than we ever knew.
Self-kindness can be cultivated when starting any new habits. Whether it’s working out, journaling, meditating, or anything else you think might improve your daily life, an approach of kindness is the way to go. This path is much more likely to lead to success than shame or negativity ever will. What habit are you hoping to cultivate? Do you think kindness could help you achieve that goal? I dare you to try it out. You might just be surprised by the outcome!