The world can be a cold and cruel place, and as such, every display of warmth and goodness makes a difference. Performing random acts of kindness for those around you—such as opening doors, offering to help carry groceries, giving free hugs, or buying a cup of hot coffee for a stranger—can trigger a ripple effect, reverberating outward into the masses and spreading the good vibes like wildfire.
However, if you’re feeling lonely and unloved, showing kindness to others is often a stretch; in fact, it can be nearly impossible to do so with any amount of sincerity.
“We have all heard the adage that ‘you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself first,’ and this is 100% true,” says Marla B. Cohen, PsyD. “When we are not practicing self-love, we may begin to see ourselves as unlovable and unworthy of the love and kindnesses shown by others. This can lead to a sense of distrust with other people and a tendency to devalue others and reject some of the kindness and care coming our way.”
An important component of this practice, Cohen adds, is acknowledging that imperfections and mistakes are a part of being human. “When we are judgmental and critical of ourselves, and when we saddle ourselves with unrealistic expectations and unending obligations, we become dependent on others around us to help, heal, or save us. As this is an impossible task, we inevitably become resentful of others, because no amount of love, concern, or assistance from another will feel adequate if we are in a constant state of self-criticism and self-imposed pressure.”
Silencing the critical voices within can be a challenge, but it’s one worth taking on—and small acts of kindness toward ourselves can be incredibly transformative. “Self-kindness helps stop the constant flow of negative self-talk, criticism, judgment, and relentless pursuit of perfection that most of us have come to see as normal
When we treat ourselves with kindness, compassion, and understanding, we feel worthy, nurtured, and secure. When we provide ourselves with an unconditional environment of safety and security, we free ourselves up to take more risks in service of our potential.”
Simply put, the more gentle and forgiving we are with ourselves, the more likely it is that these positive vibrations will overflow into our interactions with those around us. “When we accept our own imperfections and limitations, we are much more able to have empathy for others’ shortcomings. This helps us be more accepting and loving in all of our relationships,” says Cohen.
So if you’re feeling the need for a little therapeutic love boost, treat yourself to one—or all—of the following random acts of self-kindness:
1. Take a hot bath.
Soaking in a hot tub, preferably with Epsom salt and aromatherapy oils, can do wonders for sore muscles and a worn-out spirit. Light a candle and turn on some relaxing music to add to the experience.
2. Go for a walk.
Ideally, this will be in a favorite park or neighborhood. But it could be as simple as a walk around the block. Moving your legs, breathing the outside air, and taking in the sights and sounds will naturally increase blood flow and endorphins, thereby warming your body and bettering your mood.
3. Buy a special treat.
What makes you smile? Candles, jewelry, a good book, a trinket from an antique or thrift store, a bar of chocolate, flowers, a latte from a local coffee shop—there are so many small purchases that can make a big difference in how you feel, if only for a few moments. Cohen adds that it’s a good idea to keep the purchase around $20 or less to avoid buyer’s remorse. Whatever you choose, allow yourself to savor the indulgence.
4. Schedule a massage.
Touch is a powerful form of pain relief and endorphin release. Giving yourself permission to make an appointment with a massage therapist sends the message that you are worthy of tenderness, care, and relaxation. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.
Setting aside the time to simply be—for a few minutes or a few hours—tells your inner taskmaster to simmer down and be still. Using candles, soft music, dim lights, and comfy cushions during meditation will help to set the mood, and slow, rhythmic breathing will guide you into a relaxed state. You can incorporate a mantra or simply allow your mind to become empty, letting go of one nagging thought at a time until all that remains is the sound of your heart beating and breath going in and out.
6. Pick a card, any card.
Have you ever had a bad day and come home to find a card from a loved one in the mail? Knowing that someone is thinking good things about you can be an uplifting and powerful heart warmer, so imagine making that gesture of kindness for yourself. “I love to encourage my clients to go to a card store and buy themselves a loving card,” says Cohen. “It’s wonderful to write a note inside, honoring and appreciating yourself, and offering yourself encouragement.”
7. Decorate your personal space with positive messages and mantras.
Cohen encourages her clients to surround themselves with physical reminders of positive, encouraging messages. “In my office, I have painted rocks and notecards bearing messages such as ‘I matter,’ ‘I am worthy,’ ‘I will take time for me,’ and ‘I am enough,’” she says. “Keeping these kinds of messages around where you can see them regularly can really help the practice of self-care and kindness.”
8. Take yourself on a date.
The idea of going to a restaurant or a movie sans friends or a romantic partner may seem a bit daunting. But all it takes is one time to realize that the experience can actually be quite enjoyable. What restaurant do you typically only go to for special occasions? What type of food do you love to eat but never feel like making at home—or don’t know how? Is there a movie or a live show you’ve been wanting to see? Make a reservation, buy the tickets, and go solo. Bring a book to read if you can’t handle the thought of eating alone and without conversation. Your self will be immensely grateful for the gesture.
As a final thought, Cohen says, “I encourage people to consider all of the ways they show love and kindness to others, and then urge them to treat themselves with the same attention, consideration, nurturance, forgiveness, and respect.”