The other day, as I was hunched in front of my laptop, feverishly trying to meet a book deadline, I noticed an Amazon delivery guy out the window. He smiled as he caught my eye, put a package on the front step, and waved goodbye as he hurried back to his vehicle.
It was a 10-second moment of kindness in a pretty stressful week, and it actually reminded me of one of my favorite Amazon ads this past holiday season. The ad shows a sad young woman who is noticed by her older neighbor. In the quick montage of scenes, we learn that the older woman loves birds: she feeds them from a bench in front of their apartment building. She orders a gift online for her lonely neighbor, and we next see the younger woman entranced by birds flitting around the new birdfeeder on her balcony. She sees the older woman across the way on her own balcony and mouths “Thank you,” with a smile. The final scene shows the two women sitting together on the bench.
The tagline for the ad is “Kindness. The greatest gift.” Nicely done, Amazon.
We desperately need more kindness in the world. Desperately. You probably agree with that statement. And yet in order to get there, there are some absolutely crucial changes that must be made in our culture, our social media, and our communities. And what we may not realize is: they all start with the person looking in the mirror every morning.
Let’s look at several steps that we need to grapple with.
Step #1: We must realize . . . we’re not as kind as we think we are!
Our research for The Kindness Challenge found that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem. (And believe it or not, that is only a slight exaggeration! We found that if you want a better marriage: be kind. Better leadership at work? Be kind. Be a better parent? Have a better sex life? More fun with your in-laws? Be kind.)
The problem is: we already think we ARE kind!
Yet the moment any of us start the kindness initiative we researched a few years ago (the 30-Day Kindness Challenge), we soon realize: “Oh wowwww. I’m not as kind as I thought I was!” We suddenly realize that every day we exhibit so much unkindness without realizing it—for example, maybe we have the habit of pointing out the flaws in the way something was done, rather than calling out positive and praiseworthy things. Maybe we have made sarcasm such a habit that we simply don’t realize those we love are withering under our witty banter. Maybe we don’t even notice that we roll our eyes at our kids’ “drama.” (Oy. Even as I write this, I’m cringing at how often my own kids have seen that look.)
Thankfully, our research uncovered three daily actions that are really, really effective at opening our eyes to those things. These three daily actions make up what we call the 30-Day Kindness Challenge and they are absolutely transformative to our relationships—and ourselves.
Step #2: We need to try the 3 steps of the 30-Day Kindness Challenge
Here are the three daily elements that our research found makes all the difference, if you do them for someone with whom you want a better relationship. That could be a troubled relationship you want to fix or a good relationship you want to make better! And pick just one person to do this for—that is essential. You can always do your second needy child or your other difficult colleague as the next 30 days!
You may think these sound simple—and they are. But once you try them, you will also begin to see your child, or colleague or spouse—and yourself—in a whole new way.
First, say nothing negative about the person you choose. And that means saying nothing negative to them but also about them to someone else. This may seem easy. And obvious. But when we focus on not saying anything negative, we realize just how often we may let things slip out of our mouths—or in our body language—that are not the nicest!
Second, find one thing to praise each day and tell them. Then take it a step further and tell that positive thing to someone else (this is the best kind of gossip!) Often, as we do this, we realize how infrequently we praise or say something positive. Even if we think positive things about our person, so frequently we just don’t say them out loud! Here’s our chance to share it—and also get in a good habit of seeking and finding the good in not just our person, but others in general.
Third, do a small act of generosity for your person every day. What will make them smile? What small thing can you do that will help their day go more smoothly? Or what would be a treat? Can you send a text in the middle of the day letting them know you were thinking of them and it made you smile? Can you speak up to praise your difficult colleague in an important meeting?
Step #3: If appropriate: record your words of affirmation each day and share them as a gift
As you do the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, you’ll be finding things to verbally affirm or praise about this particular person you care about. If it is a relationship in which this would be appropriate (for example, a spouse or child), try secretly recording those words of affirmation each day in a journal or notebook that you can later give to that person as a special gift.
Based on our research, you will find yourself beginning to appreciate that person more and more as you not only see those positive things, and say those positive things, but remember them as well.
Not only will you have the experience of watching your relationship with this person blossom and grow over the 30 days; at the end of that month you’ll have the priceless experience of watching their face as they open a present they will keep for a lifetime. A written record of you—day after day after day—contemplating the wonderful things you appreciate, love and value about them.
We encourage you—if you want more kindness in the world—start with the person standing in your shoes. And if you feel a stirring that you should do this, don’t let it pass. You can do it on your own, but we definitely recommend that you sign up for 30 days of reminder emails and tips at the 30-Day Kindness Challenge today. I promise it will be life-changing. Join us at jointhekindnesschallenge.com now.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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