Why do so many doctors need to be reminded to act with kindness? Why can’t you “just do it”?
If doctors want to spread the ripple effects of kindness - to their families, workplaces and communities - they need to know what they are up against, and why it’s easier said than done.
7 obstacles to kindness
There are seven common obstacles keeping doctors from practicing kindness every moment of every day.
According to modern neuroscientific theory, specific habits and states of mind silence activity the “friendliness” pathways (those responsible for mammalian nurturing and bonding, empathy, compassion, social reward) in their brains:
You are distracted from within by wandering thoughts and from without by your devices and countless forces competing for your attention. You can get so busy doing that you forget how you wish to be.
You are often thrown off balance when things don’t go the way you’d like. You habitually react when your desires and needs aren’t met just as you’d like.
You are so often stuck reliving yesterday’s worries. You can’t possibly be present to offer kindness when you are stuck replaying old (negative) thoughts.
You rush through your moments trying to get to the next place or “to-do” item.
Whether from insufficient sleep or inadequate mental rest during your busy-ness, you often are running on reserve.
It’s so easy for the mind to default to defensive and self-protective instincts.
For evolutionary reasons, you tend to err on the side of worry and fear - the so-called negativity bias.
Add the fact that you are tribal by nature - exquisitely attuned to potential social threats - and your tendency towards separation or even unkindness towards others (especially strangers) becomes more understandable.
The human mind is a judging/predicting machine designed to ensure our survival above all else.
This judging habit gets easily stuck in overdrive, keeping us from connecting with others.
Just as often, we can be our own worst enemies, unable to offer kindness to ourselves.
And this isn’t an exhaustive list of those forces that drive us away from kindness.
Interestingly, it seems that a common factor among all of these is a disconnection from or reactivity towards the present moment.
What can you do to reconnect with your kindness?
So what are we to do? So many natural obstacles to kindness and connection are built into our human programming.
The good news is that just as we have natural tendencies towards defensiveness and conflict, we also have innate protective capacities for social bonding, empathy, and kindness.
Here are some steps you can take to disconnect from the forces driving a sense of separateness and to reconnect with your natural compassion and kindness:
1. Be aware of those habits of your own mind that tend to keep you separate from others.
2. Practice noticing when any of those inner voices of judgment, rumination, or worry are chattering.
3. Accept those voices as unhelpful visitors in the mind. Allow them to come and go without letting them direct your actions.
4. Remember your core intention, a desire for connection and belonging, and let that guide your thoughts, actions, and words.
And choose to cultivate kind thoughts, actions, and words towards yourself and others.