How do you talk to yourself? I don't necessarily mean out-loud as you’re walking down the street, I mean what is the tone of your inner dialogue, the chatter that you experience in your day-to-day life? Are you calm, forgiving and kind? Or are you demanding, impatient and judgmental?

I’m often surprised by how unkind we can be to ourselves. And yet people are mystified by how little peace of mind they have and wonder why they’re so unhappy. But how could the mind be settled and calm when we’re constantly berating it?

This is a pattern I see again and again and it’s amazing the different ways that we can justify this behavior. Some even suggest that being unkind to yourself is a way of putting others first. This is of course complete nonsense. The ability to be kind to yourself and also to others is not mutually exclusive.

In fact, I would argue that until we have learnt to be genuinely kind to ourselves, it’s very difficult to be genuinely kind to others. More realistically, what we’ll actually be doing in these situations is fulfilling an idea of kindness, rather than coming from a place of kindness. In this sense, it is a learned kindness, rather than necessarily reflecting our innate kindness.

If you’re not too sure what healthy mind chatter sounds like, then I think the following can be a useful rule of thumb. If you said the same thing to a close friend, how would you expect them to react? Likewise, if they said the same thing, or spoke in that tone of voice, to you, how would it make you feel? If the answer is ‘not very good’ then you could probably do with softening up.

That doesn’t mean trying to be different or thinking positively. It means noticing when you snap at yourself, when you beat yourself up, when you reinforce negative thought patterns, and in that moment of realising what it is you’re doing, seeing it for what it is...a thought, a feeling, just passing by...no more than that. In that moment you’ll notice how the mind softens, how it lets go, and how it finds a new sense of calm and clarity in the most unlikely of places.

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Andy Puddicombe is the founder of Headspace, a digital health platform that provides guided meditation training for its users. He is a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus Arts.

This post was originally shared on Headspace.

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