The First Rule of Kindness — Be Kind to Yourself

After you have made a mistake, what do you say to yourself? “I am a joke, I can never get it right, everybody is laughing at my failure.” Or is it more along these lines, [voice pitch and tone now softened] “Gee, that was funny how I messed up, this is going to make for an interesting story, I’ll get it right next time.” There is a crucial distinction to be made between screwing up and being a screw-up; so why can’t we easily see that? Author and Cofounder Ben Horowitz may have the answer when he said: “by far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology.”

Indeed, the most important conversation you can have is with yourself. How we treat ourselves makes a big difference in how we succeed, attack challenges, and thrive in this world. Dr. Barbara Fredickson explains when the mind is cynical, the brain operates purely in a fight or flight mode, but when the mind is positive, we employ our full range of intellectual, social, and emotional resources to find new ways of seeing and doing things. She indicates that the latter approach makes it easier to bounce back from setbacks and achieve what was once only imagined.

There is a concept in psychology called the Positivity Ratio, which states that you need three pieces of praise for every bit of negativity because the latter has more weight than the former. In fact, the most successful marriages require a higher ratio in that they are more likely to succeed when the balance is 5–1 and the highest performing teams need even more, 6–1 as shown by a study in the Harvard Business Review. As you can see, in all varieties, there is always at least one piece of criticism because these sentiments are also valid, it is just that the critical judgment needs to be greatly overshadowed by kinder words. So the next time you are thinking about saying something harsh to yourself, be sure to follow it up with as little as three pieces and as many as six for good measure.

What Are Some Ways to be Kind to Ourselves?

1. Fill your mind with positivity. Journaling for five minutes every day about any of the following topics can help: What am I grateful for, what makes me happy, or what are my strengths? We can almost always find our good fortune if we look for it and that will put us in a gentler mood.

2. Compliment others. How about starting your day with a positive email to somebody thanking him/her? Or, what would it be like if you started your conversation with a compliment? Abe Lincoln aptly noted, “men will stand a good deal when they get a compliment.” Truth is, we feel better and are nicer to ourselves when we know we have made others feel good.

3. Do good deeds. CEO Anthony Robinson has a “random act of kindness” practice. Every so often, he would leave money with the Starbucks barista to pay for another person’s coffee. For him, it feels terrific to see somebody else smile.

4. Keep track of compliments that people give you. This is a practice I started several years ago. It is such an effective pick-me-up when you can scroll through to get a reminder of just how amazing others think you are.

When you wake up in the morning, you should be intentional with how you want to treat yourself, and when you are choosing between kind or mean, change the options to be between kind or kinder. How much more vibrant and flourishing would your life be if your positivity ratio was 10–1? Let’s go!

Thoughts for today: “A man is what he thinks about all day long, how can he be anything else.” -Emerson

“Be kind to yourself, because you will never speak more to anyone else than you speak to yourself.” Naman Gupta

Q: What things do you do to engender more positive self-talk? Visit our website and share your thoughts, we would love to hear them!