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What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?

I wonder if you can see a connection between these two events?

First one: A few years ago I was running a course on strategies, tips and tricks to help researchers’ improve their time management. Throughout the session one person seemed particularly engaged: asking lots of questions about how he could apply the strategies and was taking lots of notes. To my bemused surprise, after the session he came to me and said, ‘Have you got any strategies to help me improve my time management?’ Despite my first reaction being ‘Where were you for the last two hours?!’, I asked him, ‘What’s happened to make you ask that question?’ ‘I’ve been in bed this week with the flu and haven’t got anything done.’ He replied, ‘… But I really want to push myself to give 110%.’ I then wondered if there was at least a correlation between him wanting to push himself 110% and him ending up in bed exhausted with influenza and not getting anything done?! He was not impressed with my wondering.

Second one: This year, at least in America and the UK, many traditional ‘New Year’s Resolution ‘New Year, New You’ newspaper articles and podcasts have focused on the idea of self-compassion as ‘the one new year’s resolution you should resolve to keep’. There are even 20-day challenges to ‘cultivate your self-compassion’, as if it’s just another task to be completed on an already bursting to-do list.

Any thoughts about what might connect these two events?

For me, it’s kindness: especially towards ourselves. By kindness, I don’t mean a fluffy, soft, twee and fragile conception of the word, but rather a healthy, robust and almost strong but gentle conception of it. And kindness is at the foundation of the work I do with researchers to help them develop their resilience, manage their procrastination and be a little bit more productive.

The touchstone question I suggest researchers ask themselves to boost their resilience, productivity and reduce their procrastination is this:

‘What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?’

Sometimes, the answer to this question might be to just step away from your work and take a break: get some fresh air, if you can; go for a ten-minute walk; get a cup of tea and come back to your work feeling refreshed. Sometimes, the kindest thing might be – particularly to help with our procrastination – to just stay put on a task, say for another fifteen or thirty minutes to get it done, and remind ourselves of the sense of satisfaction that comes with completing the task.

And the key to answering this question is to listen to the wisdom of our intuition and see what it suggests.

So this week, try asking yourself this touchstone question: What’s the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?’ and see what happens.

And perhaps if our friend in the first event had asked himself this simple, yet powerful question, who knows what he might have got done that week!