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Make 2024 the year you become an expert in self-kindness

Updated: Feb 18

By Lucy Myers, Founder and CEO Therapeutic Coaching Consultancy


"When anxiety is high and morale is low, kindness isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity."

So says Andrew Swinand (CEO of Publicis Groupe Creative), exploring the research that proves kindness in the workplace yields positive outcomes for businesses. With verbal recognition resulting in greater talent retention, enhanced productivity, and "happier, more engaged employees", as an executive coach and psychotherapist I couldn't agree more. All makes total sense, right?


Yet the article got me pondering why we consistently hear from our clients that something prevents the impact of these well-intentioned acts of workplace kindness being truly felt by employees. At TCC we know from our work that so many of you are excellent and caring leaders, who prioritise the wellbeing of your teams....so what's going wrong?


Here's one way to look at it. While there may be wider issues in the workplace culture that are beyond a manager's control, what we often find is the barriers can unknowingly exist inside of senior leaders themselves. If you're kind to your colleagues or employees but not to yourself, the lack of 'practising what you preach' can potentially be damaging on several levels.


If you've tried to take better care of yourself in the past, for example by creating a better 'life-work balance', but feel frustrated by your failed attempts, this could be a sign that something deeper is going on. Your blocks might be unconsciously existing outside of your self-awareness, meaning developing self-kindness habits will be harder (if not impossible) to create and sustain.


If all this resonates, and you'd like to find a way to start 2024 feeling more empowered to model balance and kindness for yourself and others, read on to find out:


  • Why self-kindness is so important for you and those in your life

  • How to recognise if you're lacking self-kindness

  • 3 of the most common blocks to creating self-kindness habits

  • 5 self-kindness tools and techniques you can start practising today


Why is self-kindness important?

Let's cut to the chase. Learning to be truly kind to yourself - inside and outside of the office - can be a game changer for us as individuals, and for the people around us. This is not only because of the positive work outcomes described above, but also because it makes us feel calmer, less stressed, more able to make balanced, sensible, decisions.

More than all of this though, consistent self-kindness might be warm and loving, but crucially, is not to be confused with 'softness'. Developing habits of self-compassion and self-care are some of the biggest sources of strength and resilience we can have, giving us inner grit, resolve, resourcefulness, motivation and determination when things get really tough.


How do I know this? I've experienced it for myself, and through my work with countless clients (there's a reason why 'kindness to self and others' is one of TCC's core company values). However, it's not easy to achieve. As human beings, we develop our personalities and 'rules for living' over a lifetime, and they've usually worked for us for a long time for good reason. Entrenched behavioural habits will always trump logical intention to change.


For habits of self-kindness to become deep and sustainable beyond a new year's resolution, change needs to happen both internally (our thinking and feeling), and externally (our behaviours). Therapeutic coaching is effective in helping with this because it address both levels - working therapeutically on the internal conscious and unconscious beliefs and emotional processing, and coaching through the the actionable, behavioural strategies that need to be created and practised.


What is self-kindness?

What does self-kindness actually look and feel like then, and how do you know if it's missing? If you have self-kindness, also known as self-compassion, you will be able to relate to yourself in a way that’s forgiving and supportive when situations aren't going as well as you'd like them to. I like to think of it as a bit like having your own internal cheerleader inside your head, who's honest and reflective but also your biggest fan, who picks you up when you're down so you're ready to go again, with love and confidence.


When we've developed the habit of self-kindness, we're able to have compassion and understanding toward ourselves when we fail at something, or when we feel emotionally wounded or in pain (Neff, 2003a). For example, instead of hearing a harsh internal critic erupt when we get something wrong, making us feel angry, useless, or hopeless, instead we recognise the negative influence of self-judgment and treat ourselves with warmth, empathy, and patience instead (Gilbert & Irons, 2005).


Science backs this up. From a neuroscientific perspective, when we're kind to ourselves we:


  • release more serotonin (a natural anti-depressant)

  • oxytocin (the love hormone)

  • endorphins (the body's natural pain killer)

  • decrease cortisol (stress hormone) and reduce blood pressure

  • activate the brain's reward system and increase energy



Self-kindness literally makes us feel physically and mentally better.


How to overcome blocks to developing self-kindness

I mentioned before that if you try to be kind to yourself but struggle to create or maintain self-care habits, there might be something deeper going on. Self-kindness is closely linked to our feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. When we see ourselves as unconditionally 'good enough' (Winnicott, 1961), we feel valuable, loveable, and worthy of care, regardless of our daily successes and failures.


In psychotherapy we understand that we develop our feelings of self-esteem very early in life, and while our experiences later on can shift and evolve this, the core beliefs and 'conditions of worth' (Rogers, 1959) we hold about ourselves will shape the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. We experience these things as The Truth, not realising they may actually be 'self-limiting beliefs' preventing us from making or maintaining the logical changes we desperately want to make.


When these are brought out of unconsciousness into our self-awareness, we are then able to observe them, gently challenge them, and make newer and more balanced decisions about how to do things differently as a result. As therapeutic coaches, we specialise in helping people do this. Here are some of the things we most commonly observe in clients....do any resonate with you?


3 common blocks and barriers to developing self-kindness habits:

  1. Core belief that if I take time for myself 'I'm being selfish'


When this emerges for clients, I ask them the question 'What would it be like to reframe self-ish as self-care? You may have heard the powerful metaphor of being on plane with an elderly person on one side of you and a baby on the other. The plane gets in trouble and the oxygen masks drop - who do you put the mask on first?

The answer is of course yourself, because otherwise you will have no oxygen to help anyone else. If you're aware of all this but still can't prioritise your own needs, you might be locked into habits of 'people pleasing' (for the record, I don't like this term as it's far more complex than just 'wanting to please', but ultimately it means your core sense of self only feels valuable, loveable or safe when it is in the service of others). It is possible to change this with empathy, compassionate challenge, and support. (If you're curious to find out more about breaking people pleasing habits, I recommend Emma Mahoney's 'Please Yourself').


2. Core belief that 'If I do 'nothing' I'm being lazy'.


This one can be deep rooted. Think back to your childhood. Was peace and rest, pure indulgent relaxation valued and celebrated, or was it something to be squeezed into 5 minutes of the day, if at all? Or was everyone always on the go with a job to always be done?

Questions I ask my clients include 'When was the last time you felt truly relaxed and at peace in mind and body? What value would you put on creating these moments on a regular basis? How would this benefit you, or those around you? Does this change your view on whether doing nothing is lazy, or necessary and strategic tool for your mental and physical wellbeing?


3. Low self-worth


Underneath all of the above can be a feeling that you're not worthy of relaxing, or that you don't really deserve to have to slow down, treat yourself, or have the nice things.  Perhaps this is the reason why you keep so busy. Maybe you're worried that if you do stop....what happens then? I know from my clients that this can feel really scary. A bit like opening a box when you're not sure what's inside. Working with a psychotherapeutically trained coach can provide a safe and contained space for you to find unpack the unknown, find strength in your vulnerability and be curious about getting to know yourself more deeply.


5 techniques for practicing self-kindness and self-care this year

1. Embrace the concept of 'If not me-first, me-too'.


If you're in the habit of caring for the emotional wellbeing of others well before yourself (ref: 'people pleasing'), the concept of putting yourself first might feel as alien as walking outside naked in public. So let's find a middle ground that you can experiment with inhabiting, to try it out and see how it feels. This concepts recognises that your needs are not more important, but they are just as important as everybody else's, and it's ok to identify and verbalise these to others. How can you put this into practise?


Ask for help with a deliverable at work, or say no to a new project that you just don't have the time to contribute to (without working weekends/late nights etc). Block a space in your diary every week for a gym session, and attend it. Go on a long dog walk or have a cup of coffee and read the paper in peace for a few hours at the weekend.


In psychotherapeutic terms, we call this 'setting healthy boundaries'. Notice how people respond around you - clients often find that what they fear will happen (people being upset, annoyed, disappointed) usually never materialises. The added benefit of this is that you're providing space to allow other people to be kind to you - so they will also benefit from all those lovely neuroscientific chemical releases alongside you....oxytocin-endorphin cocktails all round. (Note: something to ponder is that if people do respond negatively, they may have potentially been benefitting from your lack of healthy self-care boundaries).


2. Embrace the concept of 'good enough'.


As a 'recovering perfectionist', I can easily recall a time when nothing I did felt truly satisfying, because the focus was on what was missing or what went wrong - the perfection bucket is never full. Something that helps me and works for many of my clients, is recognising that actually a 'good enough' outcome really is indeed good enough. Borrowed from the concept originally developed by psychotherapist Donald Winnicott in 1971 in relation to parenting (which is fascinating but we don't have space to explore here), it's removing the pressure we put on ourselves to be surpassing unreasonably high expectations across all areas of life, and recognising that this is not only exhausting unsustainable, but also rarely necessary. I ask my clients, if we can agree that 70% gets you a first class degree, what would a 7/10 result (note: far from the 10/10 perfect result) look like for that client presentation, that first date, or the birthday meal with your cantankerous elderly aunt? What about, Lucy, for this blog? (answer: if it's honest and true, and helps just one person, it's enough).


3. Become aware of your internal self-talk: "Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you're listening".


How much do you notice your inner voice - is it kind, warm, honest, and supportive, or critical, judgemental and harsh? Try and become aware of what happens in your mind when something goes wrong or becomes challenging - do you tell yourself 'it's ok, you're a good, smart person, you can do hard things, you'll find your way through this', or 'you're so useless, everybody's laughing at you, you'll never get this right'?


Once you become aware of your inner voice, the work can begin to develop a new, more compassionate way of relating to yourself (remembering the 'cheerleader in your head' concept from earlier). In psychotherapeutic terms, we call it working on 'your relationship with yourself' - the most important relationship you'll ever have. How can you do this?


A useful CBT technique to challenge our thinking is rooted in 'Is there another way to view this?' Ask yourself, what evidence is there that what you're telling yourself is true? What evidence is there that it's not true? Are you making any assumptions here? If so, how can you find out for sure?

If I observe a critical voice in action with my clients, I ask them, would you talk to your friend/child/partner/team member like that? If someone was following you round your office/house saying that, what would you say to them? (the response is usually something rude). If your biggest fan was on your shoulder, what would they say about the situation? What would you say to your best friend? Key takeaway to remember here: thoughts aren't facts.


4. Look at your life-work balance


Work is important to all of us. It gives us purpose, meaning, fulfilment, enjoyment, social engagement, and also financial stability. Sometimes, however, the demands of life can gradually crowd out the space we used to hold for the things that define us beyond our identity as an employee, partner, son, carer, and so on. Self-kindness and self-care is about recognising we all deserve to honour the parts of ourselves that need to grow, to be alone, to find peace, and to feel joy.


A powerful tool I use with clients is a 'Wheel of Wellness' which allows us to identify all the things that are important in making up a person's life in different sections. Common areas include work/career, family, hobbies, exercise, friends/socialising, travel/holidays, self-development, pure relaxation/time alone, and so on. Once identified, we then explore how happy you are, or how much time you are spending, on each of these areas. If there is a particular area of your life (past or present) you've been neglecting, what is preventing you from becoming happier in this area? What would be the benefits to you in making more time to focus on this? What would be the benefits to others? Write down 3 small steps you could try to improve this.


5. Get support from those around you


Research generally agrees that we are more likely to take action and achieve our goals if we tell those around us what our goals are, and this is particularly true when we tell people whose opinions we value and care about. The reason why this is so important when we're talking about self-kindness, is that it will pave the way for you to have conversations that may feel unusual, or out of your comfort zone (e.g. I would really like to help you with that project but I've promised myself I'll attend this HIT session). Asking for help, or saying no, or saying yes in a different way (I can't this week - maybe next month?) will take practise. Allow others the pleasure of supporting you to be kind to yourself.


Conclusion

Research suggests that leaders who show kindness to their team members in the form of positive recognition, compliments and praise, create happier and more engaged employees, leading to better business results. This article explores how bosses who are also able to 'walk the talk' and show kindness to themselves as well as their employees, are more likely to demonstrate authentic leadership and create relationships built on trust and honesty. This helps embed the behaviours into a workplace culture of kindness, and psychological safety. We've demonstrated how having self-kindness and self-compassion , benefits our physical and mental wellbeing, and how this extends to others in our personal and professional lives.


We've also highlighted how developing self-kindness habits can be easier said than done for some of us, and that even the best and most well-intentioned leaders can find it hard to prioritise self-care due to unconscious self-limiting beliefs and narratives about how we to need to act to succeed in the world. For these behaviours to become deep and sustainable beyond a new year's resolution, change needs to happen both internally (our thinking and feeling), and externally (our behaviours). We've shown how therapeutic coaching is effective in helping with this because it address both levels. We hope the psychotherapeutically-informed therapeutic coaching tools and techniques outlined here will enable you to make 2024 the year you prioritise - and feels benefits of - being kind to you.


Additional resources for adults and children



 

About Therapeutic Coaching Consultancy (TCC)

Therapeutic Coaching Consultancy was created in response to a recognised need for workplace support that enhances individual mental health and resilience whilst also facilitating the achievement of challenging personal and professional goals.

The TCC model of therapeutic coaching combines the solutions-focused energy and structure of executive coaching with the psychological insight and emotional depth of psychotherapy, empowering individuals and teams to flourish and thrive.

TCC's team of associates are highly experienced and accredited dual-practitioners of both psychotherapy and executive coaching, bolstered by corporate backgrounds of senior leadership roles, HR and organisational development experience, and skills in designing and delivering corporate personal development training and workshops.

We offer a unique combination of evidence-based services that support organisations to achieve both high performance and mental wellbeing for individuals, teams, and groups.


About Lucy Myers, Founder and CEO, Therapeutic Coaching Consultancy (TCC)

Lucy Myers is an Integrative Psychotherapist (MA) Executive Coach (PG Cert/ILM Level 7), an Accredited Senior Practitioner with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), a Registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and Chair of the BACP Coaching Division Executive Committee. 

Prior to retraining, Lucy enjoyed a media career spanning two decades in a range of senior leadership roles in UK based on global companies. A certified practitioner in Systemic Team Coaching, Coaching Supervisor for other professionals, and experienced Leadership Trainer, she now specialises in working with individuals and teams across a broad spectrum of workplace challenges and industry sectors.

Lucy is passionate about sharing her own experience of how enhancing self-awareness and self-compassion creates more psychologically safe, diverse, and inclusive workplaces, leading to happier, healthier, and ultimately higher performing individuals and teams.

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