What Happened To My Brain When I Completed Thirty Acts Of Kindness In Thirty Days
Many times in the past I’d thought about trying to complete an ‘acts of kindness’ week or month but you know what it’s like, life gets busy and things get pushed aside.
The problem was, that I kept coming across shared videos and stories of amazing humanity and kindness online and every time they filled me with such pride at the power of humans, that I couldn’t drop the idea.
When I am unexpectedly on the receiving end of kindness, it overwhelms me. Simple eye contact, a smile and recognition of my existence, lifts me beyond words. There’s the big stuff too, people sponsoring me with their hard earned cash, encouraging me on with endurance challenges or friends who have sent surprise parcels to inspire happiness or wish me well.
I had to give it a shot and so my thirty days began.
I planned day one and two in advance, taking advantage of the fact that I’d already contacted friends and gathered a large collection of clothes and toiletries for Syria. Getting the car full of stuff to the drop off point would be a whole afternoon away from an already busy life but seemed like a fitting way to start.
On day two I left change and a note at a parking meter. I’d seen photos where other people had done the same and liked the idea of it starting a conversation or making someone smile.
The first week progressed and it all felt pretty good. Little things, small moments of goodness put out into the world. Unfortunately it quickly got harder.
I had decided not to allow myself to include anything that I’d normally do such as buying ‘The Big Issue’, letting drivers out wherever I could or putting change into collection tins. So suddenly I found myself working full time, training for a pre-organised fundraising challenge, trying to fulfil my other tasks for the day and searching for new ideas.
I scrolled through ‘random acts of kindness’ lists online that had inspired me in the past but now only a couple seemed relevant. Either they were things that I’d normally do in life or they were just daft!
Everything started to seem stressful, I found myself questioning if it was right to share my project on my social media pages and worried about what I’d do if I couldn’t complete it.
I also discovered a fear hiding in me, that I hadn’t even known was there. I’d bought snacks and bagged them up, to keep in my handbag, just in case I came across a hungry person. However when I was walking with friends, past a homeless lady, I found myself sweating with nerves that if I presented her with the snacks, she might reject them and me. Full of shame I failed to even offer!
Thankfully things settled down when I had another realisation. The human brain is very clever. If you ask it the right questions and then give it some peace, often it will come up with some great answers.
Separating myself from my brain a little has helped enormously in recognising negative thoughts, that are normal human reactions, ones that I simply need to allow to pass me by. It also helps me to remember that sometimes you need to change your question and then just shut up and let your brain do the rest!
It took about two weeks for my brain, who I affectionally call Brian to figure it out. Soon Brian was humming away and noticing the world a little more. The need for stress had drifted away and ‘Brian’ relaxed and confidently knew that at some point in the day inspiration would come.
As time passed I imagined the stranger that came out of their house and found a pot plant and note, the person finding the letter in a library book, the person ordering a coffee and finding it had already been paid for and the dogs who found the tennis balls that I’d left in the park. It was satisfying. I wondered which elderly person had received the flowers that I’d left or if the couple in the little cottage had noticed the slate garden sign that I’d hung on an overhanging rose bush branch. I thought about my second attempt at offering snacks to the homeless lady, her kind reaction and whether she knew that she’d helped me, probably far more than I’d helped her.
Towards the end of the thirty days I was loading my shopping into the back of my car and noticed a man who’d just done the same. Before I knew what I was doing, I was by his side asking if I could take his trolley back for him. Out of the whole thirty days, this looks like the smallest thing that I did and yet for me it was one of the biggest and one which made me grin. It didn’t enter my head that the guy might think I was weird or tell me to go away and it was instinct that made me offer help and not conscious thought.
How did this challenge affect my brain? It made it relax, really see the people around me and stop fearing rejection. It made me realise that I do kind things everyday but sometimes it’s the ‘out of the ordinary’ things that might bring an extra smile, start a new conversation or maybe even begin a ripple of kindness that continues further than ‘Brian’ could believe.
Originally published at www.imustnow.com on May 28, 2017.