The Power of a Post-It


One of my favourite children’s books is When I’m Feeling Sad by Tracey Maroney. There is a line in the book that describes sadness as something which makes the whole world seem grey and dull and droopy. A perfect explanation of how our mind can shape our reality. And a perfect description of how things looked to me (and probably many others) on September 11th. I didn’t want things to look grey on that day – I wanted to see colour and resilience and joy everywhere. I didn’t want to feel sad, either – I wanted to feel inspired and motivated to perform a beautiful act of kindness on the anniversary of the most unkind act imaginable. But there it was: everywhere I turned, there were grey buildings, grey faces, grey thoughts. Sometimes the sadness and the greyness is just too big.

And then a few days later I remembered that whatever I wanted to see in the world, I could help to create it. If I wanted to be reminded that we live in a beautiful, colourful, joyful world, the best way was to remind others. So armed with some sparkly pens and pretty post-its, my friend K and I waged a kindness campaign against all the most grey and dreary objects we could find. We put love in phone booths, smiles on tables, positivity at bus stops and happiness on park benches …

We imagined people as they sat down at the table, stepped into the booth to make a phone call or sat down to wait for a bus, each one stopping for a moment as they found a little handwritten note. We knew at least some of them would smile. And suddenly, just like that, the world seemed a lot less grey.

The World Can Only Change From Within

“Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.” – Jono Fisher, Wake Up Sydney

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them. This lesson really hit home for me. When someone very close to me died a couple of years ago, I felt very much like I should try to remember the happy memories and not wallow in sadness because that was not what they would want. However, denying the negative feelings was not making me happy. In fact, the suppressed sadness was like a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to do anything much at all. Then a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful gift – he gave me permission to be sad. He told me sometimes really sad things happen, and you just have to let yourself be sad about it. So I did. And at first there was so much sadness I thought maybe I would never pull myself out of that well again, but after a long time of allowing myself to sit with that sadness without pushing it away I felt it gradually ebb away on its own. Trust that you are strong enough and resilient enough to get through any negative emotions and that embracing them will allow you to emerge more appreciative and more positive.

Make time for stillness.
Inner peace does not mean happiness all day every day. In practical terms it means embracing the moment regardless of the challenges it presents with an open heart and a quiet mind. In order to develop a quiet mind, we must make time for stillness in whatever form fills us up. It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed saying “ommm” (although this works great for many people) – it could be listening to beautiful music, writing in a journal, walking in nature, people-watching at a cafe… Whatever makes your mind calmer and clearer and allows you to gain perspective. Make it a priority by deciding that your own wellbeing will come before all else, because it is the foundation for success in every other aspect of life.

Realise everything you have ever done was the right thing.
Wow. Really? But what about …? And even that time …? Yes. Every decision we make takes us in a new direction and helps us to change, learn and grow. The moments we don’t want to face are the ones that offer the chance to heal like no other moment can. The past has brought you to right here and now, armed with all the lessons you need to go forward. It is not possible to change anything that has already happened, but it is very possible to change your perspective of it. Did someone stomp all over your heart, and you are left angry and resentful that you didn’t see it coming? Why not re-frame the scenario to be incredibly grateful to that person for showing their true colours and setting you free to find someone who will give you 110% like you deserve? The greatest gift you can give to the world is your very best self, and that means accepting yourself and your past completely. That way you can move forward with a peaceful mind and channel all your energy into what you are meant to contribute to the world.

Stay on your own mat.
Sometimes when attending an exercise class its hard not to look around at other people and compare your own flexibility, or speed, or strength to theirs. But really, these comparisons don’t help us to perform better and usually end up making us feel bad about ourselves because there will always be someone who has more flexibility, speed or strength than us. The same is true in life – everyone is on their own path, with their own strengths and weaknesses. So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and keep our focus on our own mat. Forget about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on being the best version of yourself.

Be grateful for bees.
As I said in the introduction to the previous post by gorgeous Lesh, one of the most striking moments of the whole conference for me was being told that one bee works their whole lifetime in order to produce just a quarter of a teaspoon of honey. If we want to be truly kind to ourselves, that means rediscovering the rhythms of mother nature and recognising that we are connected to all creatures. We have a responsibility to not only feed our bodies with the cleanest, most nourishing foods but also to consider whether we are taking only what we need and doing so in a truly kind and ethical way. And that leads me to …

This week’s kindness challenge: Make food choices that are kind to animals and planet earth. Check out Lesh’s guest post for lots of simple, practical ideas (and check out her blog for awesome vego recipes if you are so inclined!)

Weekly Mission: Be Kind to Yourself

One of the many unexpected lessons I have learned while doing this project is that no matter who you are and what you have experienced, being kind to yourself is often the most challenging of all kindnesses. We all know it’s not good to take on too much, to feed ourselves an endless loop of negative self-talk, to constantly doubt our own worth and to give without being equally open to recieving. Most importantly, failing to look after ourselves and value ourselves means we are not able to give fully to others. If we feel drained of energy, love, positivity and kindness, it is virtually impossible to give those things to anyone else. Thinking about it this way makes me realise I must start making it more of a priority. Every day I make time for work, gym, socialising and doing one kind deed for someone else, but being kind to myself tends to slip off the to-do pile.

Apart from the hospital visit on Wednesday, my kindnesses this week have been on a smaller scale and this is in some ways a kindness to myself. Although the most most rewarding kindnesses are usually those that require really going out on a limb, they take up a lot of time and energy and its simply not sustainable to keep that up every day. Besides that, sometimes even the smallest kindnesses can be more powerful than you could ever predict, as was the case this week.

On Tuesday I bought coffee for a lady who looked very stressed and frazzled. She was in a big rush to get to work until she heard about the year of kindness, and then seemed to have all day to talk about the importance of being kind to one another! Thursday I baked brownies for a friend who has just had a baby. And on Friday I spoke to the gym instructor to tell her I had really enjoyed her class. I also told her she should not get so down on herself for the tiny mistakes she made, because I wouldn’t have even noticed if she hadn’t kept pointing them out! Just another example of how we can create self-fulfilling prophecies. This morning when I saw her again she revealled that she had actually been thinking of quitting because she felt she wasn’t very good at being an instructor, but after that class she had changed her mind because she realised her her “flaws” were probably mostly in her head. Incredible the power of some positive feedback. I’m so glad she had that realisation, considering she loves the job so much and is actually one of the best instructors.

After all the incredible kindness experiences that took place on July 13th a few of you have requested more missions that we can undertake together. So, each week I will set a different mission – something I will also do myself, of course – and you can choose to join in if you wish. I hope you will continue to share the results of your missions because it is amazing to hear about the little kindness ripples spreading out all over the world!

This week’s mission: Be kind to yourself. Do at least one thing this week that is purely about making you feel happy, calm and worthy of your own kindness. And if you know someone that needs to be kinder to themselves, encourage them to join in this mission too. Go for a walk in the rain, cook your favourite meal, meditate, dance around your living room, buy yourself some flowers, make a list of all the things that are awesome about you. Forgive yourself. Talk to yourself as you would your very best friend. Be happy. You deserve it.

100 Days, 100 Kindnesses

For my 100th kindness I wanted to do something really meaningful, something I had never done before and something that would take me totally outside my comfort zone. Wanting to take part in the 100th Day of Kindness challenge, my Mum volunteered to help me with my act of kindness for the day. After much discussion and some dead-end ideas, I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. I know that the best kindnesses come naturally, and you just have to trust your instincts. The idea that has kept coming back to me this week whenever I think of people in need of kindness was the hospital. And since I had promised myself (and all of you) that I would give away flowers on my 100th day, I decided we should find a patient who didn’t get many visitors and would really appreciate a bunch of flowers. This was a big ask. I had no idea how we would go about this, but I told myself if it was the right kindness it would all happen fairly easily. And it did.

Mum called a friend of hers who works in a nearby hospital and explained the whole crazy 100 Days of a Year of Kindness situation (that would have been an interesting conversation). And almost immediately she gave us the name and room number of a lady who got hardly any visitors. Strangely enough, she was in the same ward as my beautiful Grandmother had been in before she died, just down the hall in fact. I decided this was a good sign. We arrived at the hospital, flowers in hand, and explained to the nurses what we wanted to do. As we walked to her room I asked Mum if she felt nervous, she insisted she did not but then promptly told me, “You do the talking, I don’t know what to say.”

We stepped inside and I introduced us and explained our mission, and so it was that I came to spend an hour with one of the most lovely, positive, warm-hearted people I’ve ever met. Someone that instantly reminded me of my own grandmother, whose generosity and love instilled in me the value of being compassionate and kind. I knew instantly that my instincts had been right on this one. And she certainly was incredibly grateful and deserving of kindness. She told us she did not get many visitors because her family lived far away and “at my age, you don’t have many friends left anymore”. Although she was a regular at the hospital and often stayed for periods of up to two months, she had never (never!) recieved a bunch of flowers. She told us that every day the hospital flower lady came around and every day she had to tell her there were no flowers for her to put in a vase – “Until today! Today she will come in and I can say, surprise, yes I do have some!”

She was extremely interested in my kindness project (or what she called “Make a wish come true project”), and wholeheartedly agreed that everyone needed a little more kindness in their life. She told us about her children and grandchildren and about living through a war and a depression. We learned that she was in extreme pain most of the time and found it hard to walk. She had experienced a lot of sadness in her life, but whenever the conversation veered too much to the negative she would bring it back to the flowers, about how she just couldn’t believe it, she was just so delighted, it was the best surprise she’d ever had and she would remember it forever.

I tried to explain to her that I was incredibly grateful to have met her, that I too would remember her always, that her story and her positivity despite all odds resonated far deeper than could be explained. I think she thought I was just being nice, but it is all true. And I didn’t say it at the time but I would like to visit her again, to talk to her more about her life over a cup of tea and her favourite pecan pie. I hope I can make that happen.

As we left the hospital I thought of the homeless man I had spoken to last week, and the lonely lady I met the other day. Despite their differences, they all wanted the same thing: to feel listened to and validated. It’s not about the flowers, or the sandwich, or the compliment, it’s just about listening and caring, and thats something we can all do.

Lessons on Courage from a Mother and a Homeless Man

“Fear cannot take what you do not give it.” ~ Christopher Coan

Fear is something that we all experience, in some form, every single day. Fear of failure, rejection, pain, loss … Just the thought of these worst case scenarios can be completely paralysing. This week on my kindness journey I met two people whose everyday realities would be many people’s worst fear. But rather than giving up or dwelling on the negative they chose to respond with courage and even gratitude.

For my 92nd day of kindness I donated blood. At the blood bank a middle-aged lady sat next to me sitting back with eyes closed, headphones in and a smile on her face. I admired how calm and content she seemed. I don’t have a problem with needles and I feel very positive about donating, but I still don’t enjoy the experience enough to be smiling about it! When the nurse came over to check on the lady, she took out her headphones, breathed deeply and said, “I’m okay as I keep listening to the music.” The nurse enquired what she was listening to and she said it was her son’s favourite band. It helped her to overcome her fear of needles and think instead about her teenage son, who was seriously ill and relied on blood transfusions to stay alive – surely one of the worst fears for any mother. She said she regretted letting her fear stop her from donating before he became ill but a positve side to his illness was that it had given her the determination to help others now.

The nurse nodded knowingly – I suppose she hears those kinds of stories every day. But I certainly don’t. I wanted to tell the lady that she was amazingly courageous. That her story was incredibly touching. That she had just made me really, truly realise how important this all was. But before I could say anything at all she had put her headphones back in, closed her eyes and begun to smile again. And just imagine, for eight minutes of our time and a little bit of discomfort we could all be giving three more people the happiness of knowing their loved one has a second chance at life.

On my 93rd day of kindness I experienced another story of facing fears that will stick with me for a long time to come. I decided it was the day to give away $10 to a stranger. While walking through the city I decided I would smile and say hello to people, and maybe the right person would present themselves. This resulted in having a lovely chat with an elderly gentleman about what he felt were the keys to a happy life: a good attitude and a good night’s sleep. I also said hello to a couple from Florida and offered to take a photo of them in front of the Opera House. They said they thought Sydney was the most beautiful city in the world and the people were “just super dooper friendly”. No arguments here.

Continuing my walk I noticed a homeless man sitting on the footpath, holding a sign simply saying “Please help me”. His head was bent so slow it was almost touching the ground as a constant stream of people rushed by, not a single one acknowledging he was there. I hesitated. Would he accept food rather than money? What could I do to make him feel validated and respected? What could I say to him to find common ground, and not sound condescending? As I approached it was clear it had been a long time since anyone had taken the time to look him in the eye and say hello, and he was beyond grateful when I did.

It turned out I needn’t have worried about what to say, simply demonstrating I was open to conversation was enough. He told me his story from before he lived on the streets – he had lost his job and then been kicked out by his wife. He did not blame his boss or his wife, because he took the job and the marriage for granted and this was the consequence. After I had bought him a sandwich, coffee and newspaper (for around $10) he then told me his terrifying reality – he had to sleep during the day and stay awake during the night for fear of being set on fire, as had already happened to him three times. So it was not possible for him to get a good night’s sleep, but he certainly had an astoundingly positive attitude. He was determined to get his life back, he was saving little by little and told me with a smile, “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ I get off the streets, it’s ‘when’.”

Gratitude is the first lesson: to never take for granted when our loved ones are healthy and well, when we live in a place that is safe and beautiful, when we have a job, a home and people that love and support us even when we make mistakes. But beyond this, the second lesson is choice: we cannot stop things falling apart, and most of the time we cannot even stop ourselves fearing that things might fall apart in the future. But we can choose to feel the fear, and keep smiling anyway.

What’s Your Superpower?

“When you meet someone, you need to have a super power. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake.” – Seth Godin’s Blog, March 15, 2009

What could be better than x-ray vision?

A couple of years ago I overheard a conversation between a group of five-year-old boys that I will always keep in my pocket for days that need a little sunshine. The boys were talking about superheroes and weighing up the benefits of each of their powers (nothing knew here – I have heard grown men having the exact same debate twenty and thirty years on.) They all wished vehemently to have x-ray vision or superhuman strength or the ability to create fire out of thin air. All but one. He stated that he did not want any of those things because he had a superpower already. The other boys scoffed and scowled and sarcastically asked him what it was. He shrugged, unphased, saying he hadn’t figured it out yet, but he was “pretty sure it was going to be awesome”.

Without any help at all, children instinctively dream big and happily believe in the impossible no matter what the evidence to the contrary. I remember when I was in kindergarten a girl told the whole class that Santa wasn’t real – not a single person believed her. Our belief was so strong that her suggestion seemed completely ridiculous. Even at the tender age of five people begin to question us, to criticise our beliefs, to cast doubt on our dreams. And pretty soon we do the same. So even when there is no one telling us we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, we start telling it to ourselves.

Believe in yourself like some of us believed in Santa – without question.

But in adulthood being aware of what you can uniquely contribute to the world and having complete faith in that contribution is a superpower in itself. Not so long ago I thought Year of Kindness was just silly and idealistic. Pretty much everyone I spoke to about it thought the same thing. Nice idea, sure, but not practical and definitely not something that could have any real impact in our crazy, mixed-up world. Even after I started Year of Kindness, a small part of me still thought it was naive to think I could possibly influence anyone elses actions.

So you can imagine how I felt this week when I recieved a link to a Facebook Page called 12 Days of Kindness. It is a page created by two of the Year Nine students I spoke to a few weeks ago about The Year of Kindness. They have just completed their own kindness project for 12 days, with kindnesses including bringing lollies for the teachers to share, vacuuming the house without being asked, cleaning up the playground and going vegetarian for a day. I doubt that anything could have brought a bigger smile to my face than reading their posts. Katie and Ben, you are amazing and I’m certain your generosity and thoughtfulness will bring so many positive things your way. I also think perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that this morning when I told my barista I would pay for the next person’s coffee, it turned out to be a hot chocolate for a Year Nine student whose resulting smile was the biggest I’ve seen in a long time.

Hi, my name is Cat, and I’m going to make the world a kinder place.

Chris Guillebeau says in order to have faith in yourself and value your unique contribution, you have to consider what the world would look like with you in charge. He suggests we imagine meeting someone important and introducing ourselves by saying “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m going to ____.”

You have something that you can give to the world in a way that no one else can. You have a perspective, an idea, a talent, a wish for the world that is uniquely yours. The tricky part is listening to your instincts to figure out what that is and ignoring anyone who says it’s not important, or valuable, or necessary. Even if – or especially if – that critic is yourself.

What do you love? What do you value above all else? What can you give to others? How can you change the world? If you haven’t figured out your superpower yet, you can and you will, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

Chocolate and Rainboots

I adore the above poem by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. The honesty, the optimism, the beautiful metaphors and striking imagery. Mostly I love the idea that although every mother wishes they could simply pass on the lessons of life and save their child all the hurt and the heartache, unfortunately each one of us must learn the hard way that “getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air”.

This kindness week was all about positive affirmations, to remind my friends and family of their beauty, strength, intelligence and value. I wrote kind messages on post-it notes and sent messages of encouragement every day. These included: “All you have to do is believe in yourself and follow your instincts, and you will end up exactly where you are meant to be” and “You are strong, kind and beautiful. Every moment is an opportunity.” As each person recieved their individual affirmation and repsonded so positively, I realised that while its true that thoughts create words create actions, sometimes it happens differently. Sometimes reading or hearing positive, kind things about yourself from someone else can actually shift your own thoughts. One post-it note that I put on the bathroom mirror at work simply said “You are beautiful”. The next day I saw that someone had added their own comment: “Thankyou for reminding me. :)”

Imagine if everyone knew beyond any doubt their own strength, beauty, compassion and innate value? And for those that didn’t know it yet, imagine if they all had cheerleaders around them to remind them every day of their unique contribution to the world until they did realise it for themselves? Life will always throw enough curve-balls to ensure the necessity of chocolate and rainboots, but maybe being our own cheerleaders can allow us to face the hurts and the heartache like the little girl Sarah describes who just keeps on singing, whose eyes keep shining, who never stops asking for more.

Previous Older Entries