Kindness is Safety, To-do Lists Are a Privilege, on Failing Brilliantly and The Power of Being an Anti-Expert
Thanks to a mix between my inbuilt confirmation bias and recency bias, it's felt like each month has had a defined theme. What I mean by that is that each month, something has caught my interest and suddenly it seems to play out everywhere. That's just the mind starting to pay attention to whatever you prime it for.
It's a powerful bias as that's what can make people think that they're suddenly seeing a certain number everywhere, or that their newly purchased, unique coloured car is suddenly quite common and the same bias that makes you think you're unlucky and unlikeable if you've primed your brain to look out for such signs and the same that happens if you prime your brain to believe you're lucky and lovable.
Whatever you tell your brain to focus more on, it will.
This month, I've had many thoughts and focuses but there hasn't been one persistent theme. So, as the title indicates, I'll briefly touch upon many different themes:
How kindness is safety, that our to-do lists are a privilege, on failing brilliantly and on the power of being an anti-expert.
I use value work a lot with my clients. It's about identifying what personal/characteristic values/your needs are, so that might be that you highly value consideration or personal growth or fun and adventure or contribution. Gaining that insight can offer a lot of insight into how you live your life, your triggers, why you're feeling stuck or unhappy, how to create the life you want for yourself, the sticky points in a relationship and so on.
For as long as I remember, kindness has been my top value. It baffles me when it's not other people's top priority because kindness is everything to me... or, so I used to argue. If we're kind, we're also automatically considerate and we don't have to love someone to offer them kindness (for those who value love above kindness). Kindness is respect, kindness means wanting what's best for others and yourself, kindness is equity and generosity and it takes kindness to grow and develop (I could make a long, long list as to why kindness is everything). However, what can baffle some people is how they can have a top value that means the world to them and yet not always apply it towards themselves or others. That's just our shadow (a therapeutic term for our subconscious processes and/or that which we don't like about ourselves so try to ignore). So, of course, I'm not always kind. Of course, I get mad and say things I regret or do unkind things. You might call that hypocrisy but the thing is that we're all hypocrites from time to time. So, when I find myself disliking someone and wanting to gossip about them, it really annoys me because it's unkind.
I've had that discussion on and off with one of my friends and he's always amused by why I'm so intent on being kind. It's not his top value at all (something that also annoys me).
And then it clicked a few weeks back - my top value isn't strictly speaking kindness (well, there's another interesting thing about values work and that is that what one word means to one person, doesn't necessarily mean it has the same meaning for someone else). The reason kindness is so important to me is that for me kindness means safety.
If you value kindness above all else, if you show up in interactions with kindness at the core of your intentions, if you try and navigate the world from a kind-hearted place, you're signalling that you're a safe person. That other people's well-being is important to you, while also saying that you are important to you.
People who are unkind towards themselves tend to project their inner turmoil unto others, which isn't safe. And people who don't value kindness are, indirectly, telling me (according to my logic and feelings) that I can't trust them to treat me with kindness.
When I get annoyed with someone, I try to focus on what the kindest thing would be in response because as much as I'm annoyed, perhaps deeply hurt, it won't help the other person if I lash out and it won't really make me a safe person to be around either. So, kindness is an act of loving them, while also protecting myself.
I won't flog the horse (what a marvellous British saying!) and carry on. For me, it was an important addition to my user manual - that kindness means safety, so when I gossip, I show to the person I'm gossiping with that I'm not a safe person as I will talk behind someone else's back. When I judge someone for how they're showing up online, or how they run their business or live their lives, I'm showing up as judgemental, which isn't safe. But when I show up according to my own values, I'm much more likely to attract similar people by what I'm projecting into this world.
So, kindness is still my top value, or should I say top priority, but I now have more clarity about the specification of that word - it's about safety.
The second theme that dominated my life in April was my to-do list. I kept telling people that I had no updates, I was just working through my to-do list every day until I paused and actually reflected on what was on my to-do list and how privileged I am for having so many things to get on with in life. Even when we're annoyed that we need to arrange for a plumber, and the car needs its MOT and the garden is full of weeds that we want to attend to but we also want to fit in the gym and we need to buy a new phone... All of this is because we're so rich and privileged that we can even afford to have these luxury items on our list. But more than that, my list (mostly around running two businesses) is based on living my dream life - it just comes with more admin than I might want.
I wrote a lot more about that here.
A bigger focus this month has been on failing and reframing and reclaiming that big and uncomfortable word. It's part of the focus for my other business The Training ComPenDium and you can read more about that here, if failure and making that a brilliant thing interests you...
Last week I caught up with a dear friend and we talked about the power of being an anti-expert. It's kind of linked to kindness and safety to me. There are so many self-proclaimed experts out there and in my experience, the only thing they do is make others feel stupid, insecure and/or not good enough. They make us fearful of not knowing enough, they're the reason we believe there's such a thing as a stupid question (because they have all the answers, as experts), they make us insecure about our own knowledge and fearful of adding anything because, as experts, they'd already know it all, right, so what could we possibly add to the conversation?
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a client...
I'd promised them the week before to let them know when there were 5 minutes left of our session. But instead, I got drawn into their story and didn't notice the time until it was up! I apologised and explained my mistake and to my relief, the client laughed. They said it made me more relatable and trustworthy that I was a flawed human, willing to own my mistakes because previous therapists had come across as these perfect beings and it'd made my client nervous to let her imperfections show.
I also ran a workshop once and on one of my first slides it said that even though I was presenting the material (narrative practices), I wasn't an expert. For one, I couldn't possibly be the expert of someone else's narrative and secondly, being an expert meant I was closed off to learning new things and seeing things in a new light. One of the participants told me that once I got to that slide, he relaxed into the session. He realised he wasn't about to step into a session with an expert and authority and be told how to think but I opened up the workshop to everyone's thinking being valid and important.
As Adam Grant writes in his book Think Again, it's not about 'best practice' because that closes you off from curiosity and growth, it's about 'better practice' to always strive towards improvement.
And maybe these themes are all linked.
By being the anti-expert, we own our flaws and failures. We role model being kind and safe people to be around as we're not perfectionists but just normal humans. We make it ok for others to be human alongside us. It builds trust and connection rather than distance. And maybe our relationship with our endless to-do lists should be approached from a kind place, where we're showing up as safe for ourselves, instead of pushing some unhealthy, unsustainable idea of what it means to be an adult - an expert in adulting. Maybe if we allow ourselves to fail at our to-do list, we can add more fun and self-care and compassion - because isn't that the kind and psychologically safe thing to d for ourselves but also our bodies by reducing stress?
These are all lessons being added to my manual.
But what about you? Did anything here spark any insights for you and how you might progress on your Manual of You?
On the 1st of each month, I'll write a meandering journal entry about my biggest take-away from the previous month and what I'll add to my own manual of how to human.