Ever make a lofty New Year’s resolution, only to find yourself on the couch at the start of February with an unopened box of kicks, an empty family size bag of M&Ms, and a nagging feeling of disappointment? Same. Which is why this year, we’ve chosen to ditch the resolutions and set goals to build healthy habits that will last longer than that Friends marathon you swore to stop bingeing two episodes ago. We’ve tapped some of our favourite experts to bring you Wellness Goals, our newest series on living well for the long run.
In our final installment of our series, we connect with mover, shaker, culture ambassador for lululemon, creator of Kind Is Strong (an organization to empower girls through personal development workshops), and the kindest person we know, Nicole Breanne. Read on to for her inspiring story, hard-fought wisdom, and strong advice on cultivating kindness that we will be using ASAP.
First and foremost, what does being kind or cultivating mean to you?
Nicole Breanne: For me, kindness is simple: It’s empathy and gratitude. It’s being gentle and loving with ourselves, and in turn offering that generosity to others. I know I feel best and most myself when I’m being kind, so remaining kind in all (or as many) situations allows me to stay true to me.
You started a movement called Kind is Strong. Can you tell us more about how and why you built that, what it means to you, and how people can get involved?
NB: 2016 was a hard year for me (and the world). My marriage had ended against my desire (with a lengthy affair to boot), Trump had won the election, and I was figuring out my identity separate from my partner of the last 10 years. A lot was happening and I knew I needed to channel my emotions into something productive. A part of me was struggling with shame from being kind to my ex after what he’d done to me (it was important for me to separate myself from the situation and offer the unconditional love and empathy I would give to a best friend if they cheated on their spouse), and in turn I had felt like a bad feminist.
We are all better people when we are happy in our own skin, so being kind starts from within.
Whether intentional or not, I’ve often felt like the feminist movement (of which I am proudly part of) leaves me feeling like I need to be a tough b*tch to get anywhere. And while rationally I know my being “nice” and “lovely to work with” is what has given me countless opportunities, I can’t help but feel like from a young age girls could stand to learn about lifting each other up and using kindness to achieve their goals. Once I learned that my kindness was my greatest strength (and not a weakness, like I’d convinced myself), Kind is Strong was born.
Right now it’s a huge vision, with some lofty dreams, but it’s a movement for female-identifying teens to feel empowered through various resources (personal development, self-love, and consent workshops, plus videos, podcasts and events) all with kindness at the core. We are all better people when we are happy in our own skin, so being kind starts from within.
How did you get to a place where being kind always became part of your personality and way of living?
NB: Firstly, I don’t even feel worthy of this question! I’m still far from perfect and don’t think being kind is ALWAYS part of my personality, but I’m grateful you think so! To be honest, choosing kindness everyday is as much for me as it is for those I give it to. While I’d love to take credit for being kind, I know I’m a happier person when I’m a good person.
Getting worked up, exerting anger on someone, or being upset when I don’t need to is especially hard on me. Plus, as a feeler of all the feelings (and major empath!) it’s especially exhausting feeling the hurt someone experiences when I’m unkind. Choosing to be kind even when we don’t feel like someone deserves it allows all of us to feel better. And I know I have been in situations where I didn’t feel like I deserved someone’s kindness and I was so appreciative when they gave it to me.
Do you think kindness has to begin with ourselves? And if so, what are some ways we can be kinder to ourselves first?
NB: I believe kindness starts by learning to love ourselves first. The times I’m the best partner, friend, worker and general good human on the planet are the times I’m feeling best in my skin. Obviously that’s a work in progress but it’s easier to love others when we love ourselves first.
Self-love is about being kind to you in whatever way that looks.
It’s funny, being kind to myself didn’t come naturally (as it likely doesn’t for many of you). By nature, I’m a people pleaser and a perfectionist – a lethal combo when trying to practice self-love! I started answering these questions after 12 hours of shooting outside, and five hours before I was about to wake up for another full day shoot throughout the GTA. While I had wanted to be a perfect pleaser and submit this early, I was reminded that it wouldn’t be my best and I had to be kind to myself and finish the next day.
My advice: make your decisions for you. If cutting your ex out of your life to heal will make you feel better, do it. If working through the pain together to remain friends will make you feel better, do that. Neither is better or worse, or right or wrong. Self-love is about being kind to you in whatever way that looks.
Canadians have a reputation for being pretty kind in general but those of us who live in the country’s big cities (like this one) know that that’s a pretty serious generalization. Why do you think it’s so much more difficult to maintain a sense of kindness in a major city?
NH: There’s a sense of anonymity in big cities. It’s easy to feel like you’re just one person in a sea of meaningless mediocrity and I’ll admit sometimes it can feel lonely (please tell me I’m not alone in this). One of my favourite things is to look at each person, and in every window of every condo in the sky and remind myself: someone with hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, and even life-crushing worry lives in there. It’s a humbling but beautiful reminder that we are all just here trying to make a difference and leave our mark, and it’s always better when we build each other up, which starts with little things.
Most of us aspire to be kinder in our daily lives but then those everyday stressors challenge us to keep our cool. What are some of your tricks for keeping your cool?
NB: Find daily reminders of gratitude in your life. For me it began as a daily photo quest to find the light, which quickly turned into the hashtag #findingsparklechasinglight. I learned that my obsession with light extends far beyond photography (though it’s a beautiful medium to express it). What began as photos of lens flares and sunsets quickly became the motto for how I live my life: In all people and experiences there is goodness and light – sometimes you just have to look for it. This daily activity keeps me grounded, humbles me, and reminds me of the bigger picture, so I suggest you find your own way to practice gratitude, as it has truly changed my life for the better.
An emotion can only actively live in our body and mind for 60 seconds. After that, we’re choosing to hold onto it.
Another one of my weird mindfulness quirks is playing the same song on repeat all day. Walking through the busy city feels strangely soothing when you’ve got one favourite song on loop. And lastly, of course, DEEP BREATHS. I read somewhere once (this is where I sound like I think I’m a therapist. I’m well aware that I’m not, but I’ve learned a thing or two from going to one) that an emotion can only actively live in our body and mind for 60 seconds. After that, we’re choosing to hold onto it.
So if I take deep breaths for 60 seconds I know the feeling, like all feelings, will pass. Knowing this has helped me hold on to those feelings – good or bad – because I know they’ll leave my body soon enough anyway. Be grateful for them.
Rapid fire! How do you handle trying to stay kind in these everyday tough situations:
A rude email from a coworker:
Most people are mean when they are hurt, or insecure. At our core, our emotions are really only fear and love, so if it isn’t love, it must be fear. I would ask myself, what did I do to hurt them, or what are they experiencing to make them feel the need to send this? Even if I don’t think I did anything to upset them, their reality is that I did.
I always try and take myself out of the situation and offer empathy, because 99% of the time other people’s issues are about them, and not us. Without being confrontational or triggering, I’d likely respond with gentleness and love, and apologize while giving them the space to explain what happened. If it doesn’t work out, I know I did my best and that this person will likely come around when and if they are ready. And if not? I just remind myself we are all doing our best within our means.
A pushy person on the subway:
This one’s easy, I just take a deep breath, and remember that they must be going through something to be pushy like that! Also, a humble reminder while I breathe: I’m standing on a moving vehicle to take me to and from my warm home and wherever I’m headed, living in Canada and extremely privileged. In the grand scheme of life, this is a tiny drop in the bucket. Usually I’ll smile at them, as chances are that’s really what they need.
That jerk who cuts you off in traffic:
We’ve all been there! I’m not perfect, and I’m the first to admit traffic is my greatest trial in patience. Usually I hear my mother’s voice reminding me that it’s never worth getting worked up or in an accident over, and she’s right. I don’t know this person’s story, or where they are headed, or why they are angry. And like I’ve mentioned before, responding with anger only makes me feel worse. Deep breaths go a long way in traffic, I promise you this! Same with playing my favourite music: currently it’s The Greatest Showman soundtrack.
Life is made up of a series of digestible moments, and choosing to be mindful of them can really save your life.
A bad breakup:
I handled my breakup differently than most people (which was right for me, and may not be “right” for you) but I wanted to take myself out of the situation and offer the love and compassion I’d give to any other best friend. Feeling angry and hurt are just other ways of expressing that we care – it’s normal and healthy to be upset.
The best thing that helped me through my break up was focusing on the little things. I remember being so grateful when the streetcar driver wished me a good morning, or when someone smiled and held the door for me, or complimented my hair. Life is made up of a series of digestible moments, and choosing to be mindful of them can really save your life.
Lastly: stop worrying about how a break up should go. Once I let go of any societal rules and decided I could control the way it would go down, it was empowering. We’re still friends and have a healthy friendship, despite both of us moving on. You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react to it.
Do you have any mantras or things you remind yourself to stay cool in stressful situations?
NB: Everyone is doing their best within their means. I take a lot of deep breaths and remind myself of that at least 100 times a day. No matter what happens in my day I try and offer the grace and compassion to everyone, knowing it will help me feel better too. Lastly, one of my favourite quotes by Ram Dass is “we’re all just walking each other home.” Truer words have never been spoken.