The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.
– Oscar Wilde.
Is it possible that change is difficult because we are going about it the wrong way?
With great bravado we set out on a course of dramatic ‘self improvement’, dragging ourselves out of bed for gruelling boot camp sessions, signing ourselves up for restrictive diets or demanding personal growth programs.
All this virtuous industry is a great thing. Yet is there something we are missing in all our well-intentioned striving?
Without a healthy dose of self-compassion, our self-help strategies seem to suggest there is something wrong with us. We are not quite whole, or loveable or smart or successful enough, and so we must take dramatic steps and turn our lives around.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the effort required sometimes becomes too hard to sustain. Or we make inroads for a few months, only to have our enthusiasm wane, particularly as cold weather sets in.
It’s at the point when we forget to listen to our inner voice that life can and often does become a struggle.
In my experience a small change, the right one, consistently and lovingly practiced, can bring the deepest results.
The trap that can ensnare you and stop you in your tracks, is the belief that change needs to be big, flashy and difficult to be worthwhile.
Consider my recent adoption of ‘morning pages’. The task is simple: write three pages each morning on waking.
Over time these pages have come to offer a reoccurring shape into which I pour my innermost self. I’ve uncovered a window of understanding of myself and my place in the world. Inspiration flashes more often (or perhaps I simply notice it more?).
Of course some mornings I encounter resistance to keeping faith with myself. Overall though, I am more self-aware, and the small details of my life have taken on a deeper richness and significance.
This small addition ‘of morning pages’, feels sustainable. Surprisingly I feel stronger and more able to step out into any arena with greater certainty and awareness.
To see how small changes can work magic through your life, select an act of self care you wish to give yourself: a walk in nature, a five minute sketch, your morning cup of tea before anyone else in the house is up. The smaller the better.
Be mindful of its many qualities as you lovingly carry it out. Use your senses. See, taste, touch, hear and feel it. Create a space for it. And then when it’s done, go about the rest of your day. That’s it.
Once you’ve set an intention to continue each day don’t think too much about it. As soon as it comes to mind, just do it without delay.
Over time allow this small thing, this act of self-care, to become part of you. This new habit is an expression of how you want to spend a part of your day, in communion with yourself. Being so small, you will always be sure to have time for it.
And before you know it, it will have worked its magic in your life.
7 small daily acts of self kindness
1. Go to bed earlier
Getting enough sleep is one of the simplest and most nurturing things you can do for yourself. It seems so obvious. Yet in our busy, buzzing culture, rest is becoming a dying art. Start with just a few minutes earlier each night. Keep it consistent over a week so your body clock adjusts gradually, adding another five or ten minutes a day till you’re in bed at a reasonable hour. If you’re a troubled sleeper avoid screens of any kind (phone, TV, tablet) for at least an hour before you go to sleep, and keep your bedroom technology free. Use low lighting, and soft music to create a restful environment and snuggle up with a book for a few moments to get you nodding.
Get sleep tips from my favourite blog on ‘how to be awesome at life.’
2. Rise with the sun
Have you ever noticed how early morning has a magical quality about it? It’s deliciously quiet, and the air feels laden with possibility. Preparing your morning cup of tea or taking four legged friends for a walk, the mind can linger in the moment. There’s a sense of easing gently into your day—and a chance to witness and connect to the stillness within. That awareness can carry with you, setting the tone for what follows.
Rising earlier you can avoid the whole notion of morning rush and allow you to do things in your own sweet time. Your whole day will be infused with having knowingly taken this time for yourself. Even if like me you’ve always seen yourself as a night owl, the discovery of rising early can be a revelation.
More on creating your ideal morning routine
3. Nourish yourself
Making one small change in the kitchen can make a huge difference to your wellbeing. Whisking a matcha green tea latte in place of your regular coffee—or ordering a weekly box of organic vegetables to inspire you to cook with the season. The simple satisfaction of making home baked bread instead of buying it from the store is more than enough.
With one thoughtful change, comes the opportunity to replace packaged products with lovingly prepared real food. The delight of sourcing local, whole ingredients and taking part in their transformation connects you to nature’s bounty, and nourishing you from the inside out. My personal hero is the green smoothie. With this one addition my body benefits from vegies, nuts, seeds and fruit in one delicious hit of energy. Whatever I eat next I know I’ve started the day well.
More on making changes in the kitchen. (Or try the ‘taste like icecream kale smoothie’ in my newsletter)
If you’ve ever watched your pet cat or dog closely you’ll notice they never fail to start the day with a long and leisurely stretch—and neither should you. Stretching gets the circulatory system going, sending oxygen-rich blood pumping around your body. Practiced regularly and lovingly, it keeps your muscles toned, relieves tension and prevents injury. It also makes you feel alive.
Practiced as yoga, stretching becomes something far deeper: a mindfulness practice that unites the body and breath, bringing stillness and calm to the mind. Start with one yoga pose each morning, done with great attention. Look for a balance between effort and ease. As you learn to let go of striving, so you can come to rest in joyful awareness.
Yoga resources are everywhere. Start with the classic Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar
5. Go outside
To focus and recharge our busy minds nothing beats spending time in nature. Opening up to the natural world requires no more effort than opening your front door and stepping outside. Poke around in the garden, see what’s sprouted or flowering. Observe the trees, the dew on the lawn. Listen to the birds. Take a brisk walk to the local cafe. Say hello to someone walking their dog. Get out for a hike.
Our biology is designed to interact with nature, it’s visual palette helps us relax. More than anything, going outside somewhere green to play will simply make you happy. As screens proliferate, we’re spending more time inside than any other generation. Yet the benefits of spending time outdoors, in the real world, are immeasurable.
More on the benefits of time spent in nature
6. Help someone
It takes so little to make a difference to someone’s else’s day. A heartfelt smile at the mum whose three year old is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket aisle. Dropping off a home cooked meal for a friend who is having a bad week. Raking the leaves for an elderly neighbour. Giving the person who is speaking to you the gift of your total and undivided attention.
Just setting the daily intention that you will offer help where it’s needed can provide the opportunity to be of great and meaningful service. When you give of your time and attention, you’ll remind others of the goodness in people—and in themselves. You’ll feel better inside too, and that will flow into your day in all sorts of beneficial ways.
More on how helping others helps you
7. Be mindful
Taking ten minutes to sit in silence each day is something we can all find time for. But you don’t have to be cross-legged on a cushion calm your mind. There’s countless techniques to help you practice ‘being here now.’ Brush your teeth with complete attention. Savour a raisin between your teeth. Feel the key turning in the lock. Colour in. Take three, slow, deep breaths.
Mindfulness—the simple act of paying attention as you perform everyday actions, brings you back to the present moment. By noticing, with openness and curiosity, you reconnect to the world, increasing your focus and inner calm. So slow down and rediscover delight in the world. Your intention attend to what’s in front of you is all that’s required.
More mindful ideas see the Calm book and app by Michael Acton Smith
And remember, when beginning meditation or any small change, go gently…
Don’t meditate to try to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself. Rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself.
In this way there no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for endless guilt of not doing enough.
It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot.
Instead there is now meditation, as an act of love.
– Bob Sharple