Feeling like you just can’t respond with kindness to that tense client or frazzled co-worker? Try this four-step thought exercise once a day.
1. Wish yourself well by thinking, “May I let go of stress” or “May I feel calm.”
2. Then, imagine a loved one who easily elicits feelings of warmth, and think the same thought for them.
3. Next, extend thoughts of kindness to a more neutral person—someone you are not that close with, like an acquaintance.
4. The last component can be the most challenging and includes someone you are experiencing difficulties with. If you feel some resistance, add, “May I be free of any tensions toward this person.”
Learning how to be more compassionate doesn’t just help you be a better co-worker and friend. It has major mental and physical health benefits.
The science of compassion
Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have provided evidence for what some of us already know: our happiness is entwined with those around us, and compassion is a big part of our own well-being.
Studies indicate that emotional connectivity is measurable in brain scans, and that, with practice, people can develop their “compassion muscle”—just like weight training.
Not only does compassion strengthen our happiness, but social scientists have discovered it can also boost immunity and improve emotional responses to stress.
It’s easy to respond with compassion during times of crisis or loss in our loved ones’ lives, but how can we cultivate this practice in smaller ways, with those whom we interact with daily—like our colleagues or clients? The four-step thought exercise above is a good place to start. Here are some other tips.
Start with yourself
The act of compassion ripples outward. Kindness in the form of nurturing and positive regard for yourself is the foundation. In being more in touch and gentle with our own challenges, we can better recognize and empathize with those of others.
Pause and evaluate
We have a tendency to live with lists in our heads that can often obscure what is happening to another person right in front of us. If we take a step back from ourselves long enough to really see someone else, we are more likely to respond from a place of patience and tolerance instead of irritation and frustration.
That small pause can often be enough to remind us that each harried clerk, demanding relative or irate driver is also coping with their own lists and struggles. When we stop personalizing other people’s behavior, we are in a better position to respond with kindness.
Keep it simple
Compassion does not have to be a grand gesture. Often, an understanding smile or listening with genuine interest can make a world of difference. Feb. 12-18 is Random Acts of Kindness Week—the perfect time to try a few thoughtful gestures.
We might never know the impact the smallest kindness has on another person’s day, but thanks to science, we can now see the benefits within ourselves.