Kindness as Success

How do you measure success?

We often look to the outcome to tell us whether or not we were successful. Did everything go according to plan? Did we accomplish the goal? Do we have the things that show others that we are successful?

I’ve been learning to measure success a little differently. Time and again, I’ve seen that the thing that makes the biggest difference as we move toward whatever it is that we want isn’t more motivation, discipline, or strategy.

It’s learning to to treat ourselves with kindness.

When we’re kind to ourselves we are better able to stick with it when things get tough, recover from setbacks, and act from a place of feeling capable instead of inadequate.

All too often we use criticism, strictness, and shame to try to force ourselves to be better. While this may sometimes push us to work harder, it keeps us shrinking and striving. We get trapped in a never ending struggle to prove we’re good enough, while withholding the support we need along the way.

What if we gave ourselves something better? What if we measured success by how kind we are to ourselves in the process?

I can hear the arguments. How can I count it as success unless I actually achieve my goal? I need to be hard on myself or I’ll never follow through. If I’m kind, I’ll just end up being lazy or weak.

Here’s what I would tell you. Kindness does not mean letting yourself off the hook. It does not mean pretending something is great when it’s not. Kindness is not about indulging in whatever would feel comfy in the moment.

When I talk about kindness here, I’m talking about treating yourself as someone who is capable and valuable and worth investing the very best support.

When we encounter obstacles, kindness doesn’t just tell us to get over them or berate us for struggling. Kindness looks at what isn’t working and considers where we could try something different. When we have a set back, kindness doesn’t give us up as a failure, but encourages us to learn from what happened, make adjustments, and try again.

Kindness does not stand by and watch you diminish yourself. Kindness looks for what more is possible and how you can bring more of what matters to you into your life. Kindness is about giving yourself what you need to be resourced and replenished for the long-term. Kindness allows you to feel good in your life now—not just someday if you earn it.

Treating ourselves harshly often looks like turning our back on ourselves any time we think we don’t measure up, but that’s exactly when we need support the most. We can be there for ourselves no matter what—through the ups and downs.

Even if you are interested in giving this whole measuring-success-by-how-kind-we-are-to-ourselves-in-the-process thing a try—there’s still the question of how we trade harshness for kindness.

Maybe you’ve tried to be kinder to yourself but you keep slipping back into criticism without even realizing it.

Maybe you’ve tried to be kinder to yourself but didn’t find it satisfying or supportive because you confused what felt easiest in the moment for what was most kind.

Here’s the thing…many of us have been treating ourselves harshly for decades. It’s a habit. It’s not fair or kind to expect ourselves to instantly be different as soon as we decide to choose something new. It’s going to take some practice and—you guessed it—some kindness.

When you notice you’ve been unkind you have a choice. You can punish yourself for failing to be kind or you can practice kindness by acknowledging your disappointment and encouraging yourself to try again.

A first step to treating yourself with more kindness is to notice where you are being unkind. Over the next couple weeks pay attention:

  • How do you speak to yourself?
  • Where are you telling yourself that it’s not ok to feel a certain way?
  • How attuned are you to your body’s signals about what you need—food, rest, water, movement, etc?
  • Is there anywhere you are comparing yourself with others?

Just notice what’s going on. If you notice that you’re often unkind to yourself, you’re definitely not the only one. It doesn’t mean you’re bad, but it is helpful to notice.

Once you’re aware, you can start sorting through what feels supportive and what you would like to exchange for something kinder. Then you practice.

These are just a few questions that get at the places we’re often unkind to ourselves. You can find more in the Self-Trust Inventory in the library . (If you’re asking what kindness has to do with trust , I don’t know about you, but I am much more likely to trust someone who treats me with kindness and is there for me no matter what than someone who shames, punishes, and criticizes me any time I am imperfect.)

If you’d like some support in learning how to treat yourself with more kindness, I would love to help.