There is a lot of talk about kindness these days.
For good reason, many of us believe that more peace is needed, and I couldn’t agree with that more.
But there is one point that we usually forget in this context. We save animals, speak up against war, work to save the environment, and treat everyone well around us. In between all of that, many of us still feel anxious and sad at times. I believe there is a reason for this.
From a young age, we are taught to always do our best. Perfection is the goal of many, and failure is inevitable while trying to reach it. Looking back, we try to figure out what we could have done better, and more often than not, there is usually something to find.
Within this overachieving mindset, there is much room for criticism against ourselves. That’s where our peacefulness seems to end. Why don’t we notice this sooner?
Being the kind people we are, we carefully choose our words when talking to others. If it happens that we disagree with someone, we try to address our concerns in the most polite way possible. But what about ourselves? Have you ever found yourself questioning your entire personality after making a mistake or not being successful at something?
I know that feeling all too well. Being a yoga teacher, I remember times when I would question my qualifications if nobody showed up for a class (which happens sometimes and doesn’t feel great at all). I realized that on a professional level, and also in my daily life, I would beat myself up if something went wrong. A little thing, like dropping a glass on the floor, had the potential to cause a nervous breakdown. At one point, I found myself asking: Where is this coming from?
Friends saw my struggle and would tell me to stop being so hard on myself. After ignoring this well-meant advice for a long time, I started taking a closer look at it.
Imagine if we spoke to others in the same way we spoke to ourselves. Would we call someone else an idiot for dropping something? If we saw a yoga teacher leaving the studio after no one showed up to class, would we tell him he sucked? No, because that is not how we talk to other people—but for some reason we are doing this to ourselves.
It gets even more hurtful when we think about our body image. Seriously, would you walk up to a friend and tell her that she gained some weight and looks disgusting? I hope not.
As much as we learn to not judge other people or hurt their feelings, it seems like these rules don’t apply when we talk to ourselves. All of a sudden, we say things that we would never dare express to others.
We need to evaluate our actions and be mindful of what we cause around us. So why not do it in a kind way?
Just as we are mindful toward other people’s feelings, we should also be kind to ourselves. That’s where peacefulness starts. There’s nothing wrong with noticing something that we want to change or improve, but there’s no need for self-destructive insults when we’re talking to ourselves. Once we realise this, there is much more space for self-growth and improvement, and more time to find real solutions for challenges that matter to us. I believe that most of us waste a lot of time by overthinking and judging ourselves instead of taking action.
This doesn’t apply to everyone though. In Germany, we have a saying that addresses this paradox. It is about how overthinking creates artificial obstacles that only we are able to see, because they are not real.
“While the intelligent one is still in doubt, the dumb one is already fiercely determined.”
Thinking twice about something never hurts, but thinking a thousand times about the same issue usually doesn’t help. That is the advantage of simple minded people: they don’t overthink. Intelligence can be our enemy if it’s only used to unveil our imperfections and create self-doubt. We have the potential of being our worst enemy without even noticing. The smarter we are, the bigger the risk.
There will always be weird or fearful thoughts in our mind that we keep from others. We might worry that we’re crazy for having these thoughts, but guess what? Everyone else has these same thoughts. They are just as crazy as we are.
Instead of talking down to ourselves all the time, let’s start being more polite and compassionate to ourselves. When it comes down to it, our nervous system doesn’t know if someone else is attacking it or if we’re doing it to ourselves. We deserve all the peace in the world, but we have to start on the inside.
If we can be kind to others, we should also be able to extend that kindness to ourselves.