Cultivating internal kindness is the way to release energy, creativity and resilience says Anna Pinkerton of Kindness Incorporated.
“If an entrepreneur knew that being kind to themselves was true responsibility for themselves, they’d be up for it.”
Successful businesses rely on entrepreneurs pushing themselves to extremes. We work long hours, neglect our family, miss lunch. We constantly jump outside our comfort zones. We push on through fear and anxiety. Because to be successful, we must ignore our weaknesses. Or so we are told.
Not some wishy washy stuff
But this week we met experienced therapist and trauma expert Anna Pinkerton. And she’s turned all that on its head. Anna runs Kindness Incorporated. Her mission is to help people be more kind to themselves. This isn’t some wishy washy hippy stuff. It’s seriously saving people from breakdowns and helping them recover from trauma, depression and anxiety.
We asked her how it works.
“We are trained by society and our culture to carry on regardless. To ignore internal feedback. We are hardwired to survive. But if you consistently ignore what you want and need, your brain will give up and that will lead to a breakdown.”
We’re taught that being resilient is all about being “tough” and ignoring pain. But Anna explains that if you don’t look after yourself, then you are less resilient.
At the centre of this is what Anna calls “being fully human”. We’re not supposed to be happy all the time, she says. Sometimes we feel anger or jealousy or fear. Being fully human means accepting all of your feelings, including the negative ones.
“If you allow the feeling it will be transient, like all feelings are transient. If you say you’re not allowed to feel that, then the feeling will still be there, but it will stick around and not go away. The trick is to acknowledge that we feel bad, and to sooth ourselves. Be kind to ourselves.”
How does this affect us as entrepreneurs? There’s a culture in business that is constantly expecting more of ourselves than we’re giving. Pressure to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And if we don’t do that? We are told we are resistant to change.
Being resistant to change is safety behaviour says Anna.
“Everyone’s resistant to change, it’s what their neurology tells them to do. If someone is not wanting to change, there’s a good reason for it.”
But so often we are told to ignore our own safety behaviour and get with the programme. If someone is telling you embrace the change whether you like it or not, then they are ignoring your needs.
“You need to be able to voice your agony around the change. Say you’ve got two children, you’re not particularly well, you’re already doing a 40 hour week and you can’t see how you can do this new thing. Your business coach or leader needs to say, yes I get that, you have a choice, you don’t have to do this.”
“Having no choice means you are entrapped. It’s scary, and you’re neurology is telling you it’s not even possible, you can’t do it, you’re not good enough.”
“What would happen if your coach instead asked What do you want for you? What does success look and feel like for you? Your safety behaviour has no need to kick in. You’re not in danger. It might be that you are up for something new, but it’s ok to say no too.”
Ignoring your internal voice is so cruel says Anna. Ignoring our humanity is inhuman. We need to cultivate a less brutal approach. Treat ourselves and our needs with respect and kindness.
“Being kind to yourself takes courage. It takes you through everything you are and everything you’re not. It takes you through everything you’ve been through. It’s taking full responsibility for yourself. It’s not pretending to be something you aren’t. By being kind to yourself you are taking full responsibility for your physical and mental health.”
We all know people who have reached burnout. The biggest risk for entrepreneurs says Anna is ignoring signs of stress.
“There’s incremental steps to breakdown. People will say damn, why can’t I just keep going, what’s the matter with me that I can’t do this 70 hour week. The cruelty becomes normalised. The early warning signs are nothing to do with mental health usually. They are to do with dehumanising yourself, not allowing yourself to have a full range of feelings. Not allowing yourself to feel vulnerable or have needs or wants of your own. Other signs include skipping lunch because it takes up time, and thinking that’s ok. It’s not ok, it’s ignoring your basic human needs. If you carry on doing that, your body and mind will take you down. People are expecting the first signs to be psychological responses – feeling you can’t go on, crying etc – but it starts earlier, with dehumanising yourself.”
Anna’s top tips for business leaders and coaches
1 Take care of YOURSELF. Don’t speak about something you’re not prepared to do yourself.
2 Permit people to be fully human
3 Encourage people to be open to their full range of feelings. You can’t get feelings wrong.
4 Help people understand the energy lost in being cruel to yourself, compared with the energy released in being kind.
5 Alert people to the power of kindness. Brutality takes energy because you are fighting. Being kind to yourself releases you from the fight.