10 Rules Series: Be Kind

I can now officially say it–

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My brain and spirit have been in fall mode for about a month, but as of Friday, September 22, I can officially relax into sweaters and flannel and slippers. We got some lovely misty, cool, rainy weather up here last week, and we’re running the heat setting on the mini-split now (not quite cold enough for the wood stove yet!). I am not a PSL girl, but fall is definitely my vibe.

I was going to spend this week giving you all an update on the hard things for 2023, but… well, those goals and habits aren’t really going so well. So I thought I’d focus instead on the rule I skipped previously–Rule #4 of my 10 Rules for 2023: Be Kind.

Why I Wrote This Rule

People who know me in real life might wonder why I had to write a rule to remind myself to be kind. I generally come across as a reasonably nice person, after all, despite my congenital misanthropy.

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Here’s the thing: when I wrote this rule, I was mostly thinking about working on being kind to myself.

I am generally pleasant and polite in public. I say please and thank you. I open and hold doors for people. I let people cut in front of me in traffic. I don’t yell at customer service people, I tip well, and I take my cart back at the store.

Someone will point out here that “kind” is not the same as “nice” or “mannerly,” and that’s true, too. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is stop a bad decision, even though the action may not appear “nice.” And if I had to get a sick family member to the hospital, you can bet I would suddenly become a pretty assertive driver.

But I say all of this because I think you might be hard-pressed to find any acquaintance of mine who would say that I am unkind. “Yes, yes, she says she’s a misanthrope, but she doesn’t act like one,” most of my acquaintances would likely say. (I should probably work on my reputation if I want to maintain my hermit status.)

So why would I write this rule?

Because the one person I am the most unkind to is me.

Behavior vs. Reality

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think some of the challenge comes down to behavior vs. reality.

I was always a “good kid” growing up. I am a rule-follower. I do not like to rock the boat, largely because I don’t like to draw attention to myself and I fear being punished. (This fear is largely unfounded as I never suffered particularly harsh punishments except those I mete out to myself. I just don’t like to be wrong, I guess.)

Those two motivations dictate a lot of my behavior even to this day. At the risk of revealing too much, I often act in ways that I don’t really feel. My mannerly, polite behavior is not always heartfelt. I feel like that’s part of functioning in a civilized society–being a decent human even when we don’t feel like it. Hiding my misanthropy is a kindness, to be candid.

But it’s hard to show myself the same courtesies that I show others. If a server or barista goofs up my order, I tend to shrug and reassure them that it’s okay, and we find a solution that’s amenable to everyone. I very rarely assume malice or even incompetence; most of the time I think that it was simple human error, possibly exacerbated by a rush of people or a lack of staff.

If I make a mistake, however, the inner monologue is very different.

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Some of this comes down to my persistent struggle with perfectionism. While there is nothing wrong with striving to produce high-quality outputs, I often take this tendency to absurd levels. Sometimes, my perfectionist tendencies result in my doing nothing at all, because if I can’t do it perfectly, then why bother?

There’s also the fact that showing ourselves genuine kindness is sometimes really hard, because sometimes, the kindest thing is not what satisfies the reward pathways at the moment. If I am tempted to eat my feelings in half a bag of potato chips, the nice, polite thing might be to let myself eat all the chips and then add a little ice cream at the end, but the kind thing would be to tell myself to have some baby carrots instead. I will regret the chips and ice cream later and find myself in a spiral of self-recrimination, but no one regrets a handful of baby carrots. The challenge is to engage the pre-frontal cortex to remind myself that I will be happier later if I eat the baby carrots than if I eat the chips and ice cream.

It’s Been a Rough Year

Which brings us to the habits and hard things for this year…

I am not doing so well on all of my goals. I am nowhere near finishing all of my 23 hard things for this year, and I have made no progress on marketing my freelance commercial writing this year. While I have worked on fiction semi-regularly this year, I have not made nearly as much progress as I wanted to, including with promoting my work.

So basically, while we’ve managed some entertaining travel, it’s been a rough year for self-improvement, both personally and professionally.

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And with this in mind, I’m trying to figure out how to be kind to myself going forward.

First of all, I need to recognize that I did accomplish a few things. I should celebrate those wins. I may not have had as many wins as I wanted, but “a few” is not nothing. We are back in a church we like. I updated my commercial writing website. I’ve tried some new recipes, finished a draft of a new novella, and caught up on all the self-care appointments. Those things are important.

But also… I think that being kind to myself right now means slowing down and maybe even backing up a bit.

Back to the Habits

A while back, I wrote a whole series on habits and the messaging around them. At the time, I still had high schoolers at home, I was still taking one kid to school every morning, and I still had a small volunteer job (this was after AHG). I think when I wrote those posts, I kind of thought that maybe if I could just be disciplined enough and focus on the right things, I could get traction on… something, and then eventually my kids would move on to other things, and my time would open up, and I would magically be able to do All The Things I wanted to do.

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It should come as no surprise that this fantasy world did not materialize.

If anything, my life feels less predictable now than it did in 2019. Maybe part of that is because my days were built around specific schedules back then, or maybe it’s because I fell into too many bad habits during the pandemic years, or maybe there’s some other third option I haven’t discovered yet.

The point is… I’ve become too focused on achieving specific outcomes, which has led me into a spiral of unkindness toward myself, which creates a spiral of self-recrimination and self-flagellation that just isn’t good for anyone–especially me.

So for now through the end of the year, I am focusing on resetting my inner voice. I have been fighting the demons of regret and self-recrimination for too long. While I may not make much more progress on my habits or goals for the year, I think it might be more important to back up, take some deep breaths, and rediscover grace and kindness.

Honestly? This may be the hardest journey I will ever take.

Stay tuned.

 

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