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The alarm goes off on Jim’s phone, signalling it’s time for him to head out for his 3 p.m. appointment. The traffic is heavier than he expected so he’s running behind and feels he needs to hurry or he’ll be late. He finally gets to the building and sees the elevator door closing as he’s running to catch it. Just before the door fully closes a hand pops out to make the doors open again.
Jim jumps on the elevator with a smile and says thank you to the helpful senior citizen. Her response is simple: a smile followed by, “It was my pleasure to help.” Jim replies, “Once again, thank you. I find that many of us are often rushing and don’t take a moment for a simple act of kindness, like you just did for me.”
The lady smiles back and says, “I’m sure you’ll return the favour to someone else, as it doesn’t take much effort to be kind.”
This micro skill reinforces how simple acts of kindness can help another person meet a need, can reduce stress and can boost your mood.
Performing an act of kindness shifts our attention to a positive that can be helpful when our mind is busy worrying or stressing.
Keeping up with all the demands of life can be a grind for some of us. The kind lady who held the door for Jim demonstrated how little effort it can take to help another person meet a need. Acts of kindness begin with a level of awareness outside of ourselves and a willingness to help another person or provide a spontaneous gift. Kindness benefits the receiver and giver when it’s done with pure intention with no expectation to receive anything in return. A true act of kindness is typically a two-way gift, with benefits for both receiver and giver.
To benefit from this micro skill requires being open to the notion that doing something nice for another person – regardless how small the act of kindness – can benefit both parties. Many people have days when we’re on a treadmill that has us constantly rushing from point A to point B to keep up with the demands of the day. This drive to keep up can result in tunnel vision and you forget to pay attention to what’s around you. Acts of kindness are often not planned; they’re spontaneous. It doesn’t take planning or a lot of effort to participate. It only takes a willingness to notice and be open to opportunities to provide an act of kindness to a stranger or someone you know.
It doesn’t take much effort to consciously engage in acts of kindness, other than a willingness to be kind to others. Luckily, there are many kind people, and acts of kindness happen every day. We’ll all be healthier and happier if we can experience acts of kindness as well as perform acts of kindness for others.
Here are some tips to become more engaged and aware of acts of kindness:
Opt in to kindness – To benefit from acts of kindness requires accepting the benefits. One way to explore the benefits is over the next 24 hours to perform three simple acts of kindness. For example, hold the door open for a colleague or put extra water in the kettle at work so it will boil faster for the next person.
Define what acts of kindness mean to you – Acts of kindness are things we do for people we know or don’t know to help them meet a need. It’s helpful to brainstorm the many opportunities you have each day to do things for others without being asked that can help them out. For example, you get home early from work and notice your son hasn’t cut the grass yet. You know he’s working hard at school, so you decide to cut the grass for him and text him to tell him not to worry about it today; you gave him a week off.
Promote social kindness – Commit to not engage in gossip of any kind, or to complain about others behind their back. People can be cruel to each other. When we make a commitment not to tease or judge others we’re helping to stop and prevent peer negativity.
Notice the benefits – Notice how you feel when you perform an act of kindness. Notice if you feel good. If you feel regret or any negative emotion, it isn’t an act of kindness. When you notice how you feel, you’re reinforcing the benefits and strengthening the likelihood that you’ll do more things for others. Our mental health can be positively impacted when we can shift our focus from what we don’t have to what we do have in the moment.
Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.
You can find all the stories in this series at tgam.ca/workplaceaward