How we speak matters. Our words not only express emotions, they trigger them. This is why we learn from a very young age the correct, polite way to talk in different situations.
Learning to say “please” and “thank you”, learning to praise and express affection, learning the polite way to disagree with someone are all incredibly important skills.
Equally important is how we speak to ourselves. We often treat ourselves less kindly and considerately than we do friends. For example, if a friend skipped yoga class we wouldn’t say, “You’re lazy” or “Why don’t you try harder?” but we might say it to ourselves.
Speaking with kindness is a skill which we need cultivate, though, whether addressing ourselves or those around us. It is rooted in three practices that will help us communicate and connect in a loving, expressive way.
The first step to speaking kindly is to be mindful of the person and situation. This begins with ourselves. If you are being self-critical, stop and ask yourself: Why am I reacting like this? What is stressing me? How could I approach this differently? Mindfulness helps us see beyond the immediate emotion and identify our deeper feelings.
We usually think of listening in terms of listening to others, which is obviously important. But listening to ourselves is just as necessary. Our heart and gut tell us a lot. We need to recognise the validity of our instinctive feelings and listen to what our body (and mind) is trying to tell us.
It isn’t enough to listen, you have to acknowledge — that means you have to consciously accept the value and worth of what you’re hearing. True compassion begins with acknowledging your own feelings and experience (even if it is painful or difficult). This in turn allows you to acknowledge the realities of other people.
Mindfulness, listening and acknowledgement are building blocks to knowing what to say — graciousness tells you how to say it. By graciousness, I mean to give everyone — yourself included — some grace. Accept your imperfection, fear, anger, failure, or whatever it is, with grace. Instead of using critical words, choose supportive, compassionate, nurturing words.
Instead of saying, “you screwed up” say: “you tried and things didn’t work out, but you will learn and grow from this experience.”
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