Kindfulness - an evening with Caroline Millington

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Tuesday 13 November is World Kindness Day (aww!). According to the World Kindness Day website, it’s a day to “celebrate and promote kindness in all its forms”. However, when you dig a bit deeper and look at the myriad ways the World Kindness Day team suggest you can be a bit kinder for the day, there’s one kind of kindness conspicuously lacking: being kind to yourself. While “feed ducks in the park” and “buy a lottery ticket and give it to a stranger” are great, none of the 77 (I counted) suggestions are targeted at being kind to number one. That’s not to say being kind to others, or doing nice things for loved ones or strangers, doesn’t make you feel good. Of course it does - you only need to think back to that surprisingly insightful episode of Friends, where Phoebe tries (and fails) to do something selfless because each act of kindness gives her a small, warm and fuzzy glow.

So why is it that we so often forget ourselves in our efforts to be kind, and how can we change that?

That’s what we discussed at our November meeting, held fortuitously on the 12th (World Kindness Day eve!).

We were joined by award-winning (ooh!) journalist and author of a new book, Kindfulness - Caroline Millington.

Caroline, who shared with us that she had suffered depression at university, said that she felt compelled to write the book after she had a period of feeling “discombobulated” in 2016 - similar to the way she felt during her period of depression. She said that, at the time, she couldn’t quite put her finger on how she was feeling, and said she was “really frustrated in life, but there was nothing wrong.”

Through trying to be more mindful of her feelings, Caroline came to the realisation that she was a complete people-pleaser (a learnt behaviour, which she shrewdly identified as being common among women). This compulsion to please others, often at the expense of her own health and wellbeing, had to stop - or at least be managed in order for Caroline to get back on track. She started to put herself first - and discovered that she was much happier for it. This realisation - that women (in particular), so often strive to please everyone around them - led to Caroline writing Kindfulness, which is packed full of tips for putting yourself first and being kind to yourself.

During the discussion, Caroline explored many reasons that women so often feel overstretched and unhappy. Too often, she said, we compare ourselves to others around us (and in particular, to the polished social media lives that we’re exposed to on a daily basis), and try to tick all of the boxes. Great mum? Tick. Great friend? Tick. High-flying career? Tick. Beautiful home? Tick. Luxury, totally Instagrammable holiday to Bora Bora? Tick (JUST KIDDING, literally no real person can afford to go to Bora Bora). All this ticking can leave us exhausted, self-critical, and anxious. And labelling ourselves, or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of our relationship status (whether with a person, or a job), isn’t healthy either. Through her self-exploration, Caroline identified that many of her negative feelings were down to a lack of confidence, and a lack of self-esteem, compounded by comparing herself to others. She nailed it with this quote: “If you’re looking to outside for other people to validate who you are, it can be really dangerous.”

So how do we tackle that nagging voice that tells us we aren’t doing enough? That we should be doing more? And how do we put ourselves first, without feeling like we’re letting other people (or ourselves!) down?

“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” - Doctor Maya Angelou

Caroline says it all starts with us, and knowing our own worth. She says we need to stop doubting ourselves, to be kinder to ourselves, and to refrain from constantly comparing ourselves to others. Instead of constantly giving ourselves a hard time and focussing on all the things we haven’t achieved, says Caroline, we should congratulate ourselves for all the things we have - “we’re not failing - we’re trying to do too much!”.

Another important step in being kind to yourself among the stresses and strains of modern life, Caroline suggested, is to get comfortable with saying “no” - which is by no means easy. It just doesn’t feel nice - but Caroline promises that the rewards are worth it. That’s not to say we have to say no to everything, turn down every plan, and stop doing nice stuff for people altogether. It just means that we should - when we want or need to - be able to say no. No to checking work emails in the evenings. No to that drink your friends asked you out for, when you just really want a cup of tea and an early night. No to the mum at school who’s badgering you to bake cakes for the PTA, when you just don’t have time. With this approach, says Caroline, you might even discover the mystical beast of JOMO - the Joy of Missing Out. We’ve all heard of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but it’s *just possible* that when you’re curled up on your sofa in your PJs with a glass of wine when you (politely, of course!) declined your friends’ invitation to go out, that you might even feel a little bit smug.

So remember - putting yourself first isn’t about making other people feel bad - it’s about making yourself feel good. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive!

And finally - repeat after us - you are enough!

Have a happy, kindful 2019.

Some practical tips and thoughts for being kind to yourself:

  • Take time for yourself

  • Say no

  • Choose when you go on social media, and don’t forget that you’re seeing other people’s showreel, while you live your own “behind the scenes”

  • Put meetings in with yourself at work - you’ll have something in your diary and can say no to clashing meetings people request

  • Stand up for yourself - Caroline’s mantra: “I know my worth and you’re not respecting it!”

  • Stop doubting yourself

  • Remember you don’t have control over other people’s actions

  • You don’t have to be friends with everyone!

  • Tell your boss you don’t check emails in the evening

  • Think about your friendships - what are you getting out of them? Who’s demanding your time, but not returning it?

  • Stop waiting for people to open the door of opportunity - knock on it!

  • Set boundaries at family events (e.g. how long you’re going to spend at a family gathering)