how to be nicer: start with yourself
I worked as a barista in a café in the upper Haight for years when I lived in San Francisco, and we had one basic rule, broadcast by a big sticker on the side of our espresso machine (which happened to face the entrance):
As long as everyone was following the rule, we could keep the vibe on the high side and things stayed pretty peachy in there. If not? All kinds of trouble ensued.
While I understand that we can’t exactly “leave” the scene of our inner unrest when we’re not being nice to ourselves, I think this is a good motto for all of us to stick up somewhere inside and try to remember while we’re managing our own inner emotional and creative environments.
No matter what we’re up to when our own inner instigators arrive to disturb the peace, we should let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they can either be nice or be quiet. And if they can’t be quiet, they can GET OUT! They’ll definitely come back. (It’s kind of their thing.) But if they get 86’d enough times, many will stop showing up as often, if at all. Or they’ll linger on the doormat muttering until you notice them (sometimes that’s the trickiest part! But with practice, it gets easier), and eventually, one little stink-eye from you (and a “READ THE SIGN!”) will usually send them packing.
Keeping the peace is often really just about having an effective strategy to fall back on in a charged moment (aka, call the cops immediately if that Age-of-Aquarius guy with the banjo starts taking his clothes off in the doorway again). One that I like to share is the self-compassion practice that research psychologist Kristen Neff teaches. The steps are simple, and it can be a real game-changer when practiced regularly.
Recognize and accept that you’re experiencing pain or difficulty. It’s not easy to feel like this; this feeling is challenging.
2. Shared Humanity
Remind yourself that this is a human thing to feel, and lots of other people feel this. Many are feeling it right now.
Offer kind gestures and words to yourself. A pat. A deep breath. Kind words, like “I’m doing my best”, or “these things happen.”
One of my personal favorite things to say to myself in these moments comes from writer/coach Jen Sincero:
“I’m just a little bunny, working through my issues.”
It really helps lighten the feeling! You’re just a little bunny–you’re going to be okay.
This peacekeeping self-compassion practice is useful not only in everyday moments of frustration, disappointment, confusion, or self-doubt, but also in deeper times of anxiety, despair, or anything in, around, between, or beyond them. At the end of the day, we’re all just little bunnies, bumping along, trying not to get eaten. When you find yourself in a dark or dodgy moment, try to lighten up, be nice, cut yourself some slack, and then get on with the business of living and being present in your life, doing what you can to shine up the place.
Being consistently nicer to ourselves helps cultivate more compassion in general, which spills out into other areas of our lives, improving all of our relationships. Kindess is catching.
If you’re interested in social psychology and have never listened to the “Dear Sugars” podcast, you’re in for something special.
Writers Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond answer any and all questions listeners have about life, love, and relating, with profound care, openness, wisdom, and humor. They discuss topics ranging from gender roles to romance to in-laws to infidelities and much, much more, inviting relevant experts and artists on here and there to chime in and help sort things out and offer advice.
As with the collected columns in Cheryl’s book Tiny, Beautiful Things (from her time as “Sugar”, the secret advice columnist for The Rumpus), all of these episodes are absolute gems, regardless what, exactly, you’re personally or currently dealing with.
As I read recently in Jami Attenberg‘s fantastic novel, All Grown Up:
more on our relationships with our creativity. . .
This clip of coach/entrepeneur/philanthropist Marie Forleo talking with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity is one of my all-time favorites, and Elizabeth in general is a bright, shiny, superstar in the margin who I return to regularly! She’s most well-known for her memoir of travel and self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love, but she’s also a seriously excellent writer and a truly extraordinary thinker on all things relating and creativity. For these reasons, especially, she’s one of my heroes.
And lastly (but never leastly!)…
Here are some books that I’ve found extraordinarily helpful as I navigate the relationships in my own life, trying to be the best bunny I can be for myself, my creative work, and for the people and world around me.
May they help guide your heart in all its directions, as they have mine.
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, by Dr. Kristin Neff
Tiny, Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed
Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, by Jonathan Van Ness
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and Other Truths about Being Creative, by Danielle Krysa
The Art of Communicating, by Thich Nhat Hanh
As always, please consider supporting your local independent bookstore if you decide to purchase these or others. Remember – your vote is your superpower! If you enjoy wandering in actual bookstores (who doesn’t?! I know I’m biased, but still), it’s on you to keep voting for them. Most will ship books right to your door, too! If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar bookstore in your area, bookshop.org is a great option for ordering; they support small bookstores all over the country. Happy reading, and happy relating, loving, and following your very own weird!
Breathe, love, be well, and stay tuned for more! xo, ali
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