How to make kindness a habit

Have you ever wondered how to be kinder? As I was reading Radical Kindness by Angela C. Santomero, she discusses the impact of kindness on others and gives practical tips on how to cultivate a habit of being kinder to everyone around you.

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Kindness includes self-love
  2. Give others the freedom to be themselves
  3. What’s most important right now?

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash

Kindness includes self-love

Angela talks about how being kind to others starts with being kind to yourself. You need to be able to love yourself to fully love others.

A big part of loving yourself is to ensure that you are both fully accepting of yourself and ensuring that your needs are met.

If you don’t accept who you are, you’ll always be unnecessarily critical and harsh on yourself. But once you completely embrace who you are, then you can truly love and take care of yourself.

Additionally, you need to make sure your needs are being met, such as getting enough rest, alone time, and any other self care which is needed to restore your energy. Even though sometimes it feels selfish to take that time for yourself.

She talks about how after she had her first child she went back to work, but then refused to do anything else because she felt like she was taking too much time away from her child. But you need that time, such as going on dates with your partner or having time with your friends/yourself, so that you can rejuvenate yourself.

Just like you have different physical needs (eat, sleep, move, bathe, etc.), you also have different emotional, mental, and social needs. You need to make sure you’re taking care of all your needs, so that you can be wholly yourself and can give your best to those around you.

Neglecting yourself can negatively affect you and everyone around you. You’re most productive when you take breaks. You‘re healthiest when you get enough sleep and eat balanced meals. You’re happiest and kindest when you take care of all your needs.

Give others the freedom to be themselves

In the book, she discusses this habit of “heart seeing”, which means to view people through your heart rather than your mind. Heart seeing means to meet people where they are and to see them in their entirety.

Viewing others with your heart allows you to circumvent all the stereotypes and biases you’ve learned over your life.

We learn to make snap decisions for various reasons, like making sure we see/sense danger or through establishing routines. We make so many decisions each day that our brains help us by automatically making some decisions for us based on our past experiences. Most of the time these snap decisions are useful and help us, but they can also lead to developing unconscious biases about people.

However with heart seeing, we consciously avoid making quick judgements about people and allow them the freedom to be exactly who they are.

When we remove all expectations or pre-judgements from our perception of others, then we are able to see them for who they truly are. If we make assumptions (conscious or not) about people before we know them, all of our interactions will be tainted by the assumptions and we may miss what they are showing us.

Angela is the creator of Blue’s Clues, and she discusses how they almost missed hiring Steve because of their biases. When he came for the audition, he looked like a typical skateboarded and like someone who wouldn’t meet their expectations. But as soon as he did the screen test, he looked into the camera with so much kindness that they knew they had found the perfect fit.

People can surprise you, you just need to give them the opportunity to freely express themselves.

What’s most important right now?

A big part of the book was discussing how you can make kindness a habit. Most of us react to situations instinctively, and those instincts may not always be the kindest option. However, if you try to be more conscious of your reactions, you can choose the kinder option.

The best way to build a habit of being intentionally kind is to ask the question “What’s most important right now?”. It can help you shift your priorities to allow for a kinder option.

For instance, if you’re in a rush on the way to the grocery store and your mother calls and really needs to talk to you. You may not be able to actively listen to your mother if you’re so focused on grocery shopping. But if you take a moment to pause, avoid the autopilot of going grocery shopping, you might see what’s really important at the moment is taking the time to have a focused conversation with your mother.

Another way you can use this question is when you are faced with anger from others. If something happens and the other person is angry, should you meet the anger with more anger or is there a way to react with kindness.

The more intentional you can be with kindness, to yourself and others, the more you’ll build the habit and make kindness your first reaction to situations.

My thoughts

I thought this was a nice little book. I personally loved the discussions around Mr. Rogers. She talked about how much she felt seen by Mr. Rogers and how big topics around kindness were covered on the show. I also found it interesting how influential children’s shows can be, as so many in my generation still love Mr. Rogers.

But as I was reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mismatch of who will read this book and who would benefit the most from this book. People who are likely to read this book may be those interested in being kinder, learning about others, and being considerate of others. I know I’m generalizing, but I can imagine that most of the people interested in this book are already fairly kind and considerate of others.

I believe everyone can be kinder and more generous, there’s always room to grow. But as I was listening to the book, it just felt like preaching to the choir.

I know I’m not perfect. Though I would consider myself a good listener, considerate of others, and more likely to respond with kindness than anger.

I guess, I just don’t feel like part of the audience that would benefit the most from this book and I doubt the individuals who would benefit most from this information would want to read the book.

Adding nuance to the discussion

I also felt like there wasn’t an acknowledgement or discussion of the fact that sometimes you don’t need to react with kindness. There are times when you don’t need to put the other person first. Sure, the world would be better if kindness was the default reaction, but I don’t think kindness is always the answer.

I think I struggle with this because certain people have always had to be mindful of others and to treat others with kindness. As a woman, I feel like society always expects us to be kind, compassionate, and understanding of others, without providing us with the same treatment. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been questioning why the expectation disproportionately affects some and not all. Why aren’t we all expected to be considerate and understanding of others?

Since I’m white, I can’t speak from the experience of someone of the global majority. But I’ve often heard people joke about knowing white people better than they know themselves (because they have to, so they can avoid making someone feel uncomfortable or “unsafe”). So people of the global majority may also feel disproportionately affected by this expectation.

I’m not saying that we need to be mean or cruel to others to balance out the expectations. I just think there should be more nuance in the discussion of who bears the greatest burden of kindness and compassion for others, and it was missing from this book.

Would I recommend it?

If you’re looking for a short book that discusses how to be kinder, with suggested actions you can take, and highlights the benefits of being kinder to others, then this would be a great book. She gives suggestions throughout the book on how to make kindness a habit in your life, with a range of options to find what works for you.

If you want to learn more about the creator of Blue’s Clues and hear a little bit about the power of children’s tv shows, then you might also enjoy this book.

However, if you’re already confident in your ability to be kind and considerate to everyone, you may not find this book that insightful. You may still enjoy it, but I would understand if you don’t make it a priority.


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