Kindness needs nurturing

What seeds are you watering in life? Kindness needs nurturing too.

This post has been difficult for me to write. I have an important point I’d like to make, but I am struggling to find an interesting angle to make it more digestible. I think that’s because the crux of my point is about building a habit. That takes work, and honestly, isn’t always fun. Recently, I was reminded of my original goal when I started to make kindness an instinctual reaction–a kindness habit. And just like any new habit, it takes dedication and repetition to develop it. Yes, kindness needs nurturing too.

It Really Works

It’s safe to say that most of us have had success incorporating concrete habits into our lives. Afterall, we brush our teeth regularly, right? However, I think it’s harder to believe that we can also build “soft” habits, like kindness. But we can. I realized I did…and it wasn’t even on purpose. Here’s how.

Last year, after 9 intense months of studies, I officially became a certified practitioner of positive psychology.

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life worth living.”

-Christopher Peterson

A lot of people ask me if positive psychology just means thinking positively and being happy. No, it doesn’t. It celebrates all parts of being human, embracing the full range of emotions and feelings–positive and negative. Using evidence-based, practical tools, positive psychology focuses on building on what’s going right in life. It strives to nurture strengths and increase our resilience to better navigate life’s challenges. (Check out this article if you’d like to learn more.)

An Unexpected Benefit

You’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with building a habit of kindness?” Well, I noticed an unexpected benefit of the program that proved you really can strengthen muscles like kindness.

When I signed up for this program, I expected to increase my knowledge in the subject as one typically does when studying something intensively. To my surprise, though, by immersing myself in the theory, research, and tools of positive psychology, I improved my own “soft” skills. I found that I had become more resilient, hopeful, and agile when faced with major life changes.

How do I know this? Because I got a chance to test it. During my studies, I experienced a major life disruption. I could have easily viewed it as a setback, but the months of reading, writing, and discussing positive psychology had equipped me with new tools and “soft” skills to better handle the challenge.

Of course, I felt disappointment and loss. Sure, I had a good cry (or two). I wasn’t covering up my sadness with distraction or denial. However, I was able to weather the uncertainty better. I was able to be honest with myself and with my loved ones. And I fundamentally understood that connection and communication are critical, and we are stronger together.

Flexing Your Muscle of Choice

The positive reinforcement of being able to manage this life challenge reinforced my belief that it is possible to create a habit of kindness. It just takes practice.

What “soft” muscle do you want to develop? Because you can build any habit you want; this is a universally applicable concept. Perhaps you want to foster greater humility, gratitude, or generosity in your life. You’re not limited to which muscle you want to build–it’s just deciding to get down to it.

The How-To

When I first started my website, I spent a lot of time making plans and creating a framework of how I would approach building a kindness habit. But that’s because I like that sort of thing; I love organizing. You don’t have to do that. Here’s a short list of how to nurture your new habit:

1. Immerse yourself.

  • Read about it. Find authors who write about it and pick favorite quotes you can revisit.
  • Watch a show about it. You would be surprised how documentaries and mini-series there are that explore research and stories on even the most theoretical concepts.
  • On social media, follow and like influencers that support your idea. My feed is largely made up of kindness stories and quotes.

2. Schedule actions that reinforce your idea.

  • Set mini goals. Create small ways you can live out your idea and build them into your daily routine. For example, if honesty is your goal: commit to not telling any white lies to people you don’t know. Your next step might be not telling white lies to your spouse or co-workers.
  • Create reminders. Put them in your phone, post a sticky on your monitor. Whatever it takes to remember that you want to build this habit through small changes.

3. Create accountability.

  • Let people know you’re trying to create this new habit.
  • Pay for it. For example, if tranquility is your goal: sign up for meditation classes.

4. Enjoy it!

  • Take time to savor your new habit. You want to make this change–don’t forget that. Building greater resilience and hope was easy for me because I really enjoyed my course and colleagues at the Flourishing Center.

Watering the Seeds You Want to Grow

Thich Nhat Hanh was a Buddhist monk who had a wonderful way of explaining life concepts through nature. The following is an excerpt from his book, The Art of Living:

“We can practice watering the seeds in us that we want to grow and transform. Our mind is like a garden in which there are all kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love, but also seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate and forgetfulness. How you act and the quality of your life depends on which seeds you water…if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow…when the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently will grow strong, so you need to be a mindful gardener, selectively watering those seeds you would like to cultivate and not watering the seeds you do not want to grow.”

We have the choice of shaping who we want to be by choosing which seeds to water. My crop this season is kindness. What’s yours?

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