You know those situations or relationships that make you crazy… or those that are good but you want to be great? It turns out: three small changes make all the difference!
I’ve been studying this for years as a social researcher, and the answer is something we call the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. It transforms almost any relationship, and has the power to completely change our culture. And today you have a special opportunity to participate in the Challenge with the Beliefnet community.
I’ll explain in a moment. But first, picture yourself in this scenario:
After the usual morning scramble, you drop off your 5-year-old with your mother-in-law. She makes a disapproving face, and says, “Well, I was going to take Ben to the park. What a shame you didn’t bring a warm enough jacket. We’ll just have to stay inside all day.” You drive away, fuming. You need her to watch the kids, but is dealing with her passive-aggressive behavior worth it?
Heading toward the office, you call your spouse and relay what she said. Better to let some steam out of the kettle now, than to explode on your mother-in-law when you pick up the kids later.
At work, you hear a chorus of cheerful “good morning’s,” and one grunt from Barry at the next desk. Not that you expected anything different. A natural contrarian, he shortly picks holes in your presentation at the big meeting, landing you with hours more work. By lunch, you realize that Barry is also late getting you his budget numbers. You cancel your lunch meeting with a friend, telling them in exasperation that you’re also going to have to work at home all night.
On the way home, a rude driver cuts you off, and when he flips you the finger, you start riding his bumper and shouting at the windshield. A person can only take so much.
When you walk in the door and your spouse grumpily asks why you forgot to get milk at the store, you turn around without a word and head back to the car, slamming the door on the way out.
Sounds like a fun day, doesn’t it?
Probably brings back some memories. We’ve all had situations like it.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be that way. For my book The Kindness Challenge, we spent years and tens of thousands of dollars researching what would change those dynamics – permanently. With the help of 700+ people in a study group, survey experts, and dozens of insightful leaders (especially Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth who first introduced me to her Husband Encouragement Challenge), we developed a simple, three-step solution.
How to Do the 30-Day Kindness Challenge
Pick one person with whom you want a better relationship. Then for 30 days, you will:
- Say nothing negative about your person—either to them or about them to anyone else. (If negative feedback is unavoidable--for example, if you need to address a child’s disobedience--be constructive and encouraging without a negative tone.)
- Every day, find one thing that you can sincerely praise or affirm about your person and tell them, and tell someone else.
- Every day, do one small act of kindness or generosity for your person.
That’s it! So simple. And yet 89 percent of relationships improved!
A Replay… With Kindness
What might this look like in the imaginary-but-oh-so-relatable scenario above?
Well, imagine that you decide to do the 30-Day Kindness Challenge for your mother-in-law. You really want a good relationship, after all. So you sign up with Beliefnet to get the daily reminders and tips.
Then for thirty days you can’t say anything negative to her or about her.
You can’t express your irritation. And as you drive away, you can’t call your spouse to vent.
I promise, it’s possible!
We may think venting is harmless, even healthy. We’re wrong. Neuroscientists found that as we express anger it doesn’t “let a little steam out” – it actually increases it! It further activates an interconnected anger system in the brain.
So standing in front of your mother-in-law, you remember you’re looking for things to praise every day. You take a deep breath and say (sincerely), “Sorry about forgetting his warm coat. But maybe you could do more of that artwork with him? He came home last week talking about that. I love your creativity with him.”
Then as you drive away, you call your spouse and say “You know, your mom is so creative. I love how she teaches him art and music.”
You’ve just distracted yourself from the negative thoughts, and purposefully focused on the positive. Sounds a lot like Philippians 4:8, doesn’t it? We are commanded to think about what is worthy of praise, rather than what is worthy of driving us crazy. Because that is how God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds.
And finally, when you drive back to pick up your son, despite your rotten day, you bring your mother-in-law a couple of cupcakes leftover from the office birthday party. You’d rather eat them… but you know she loves them. That’s your small act of generosity. A little thing. But it quietly says You’re valuable. I care about you.
As you do these three things, steadily, simply, you’ll see a pattern emerging. You are impacting the other person, transforming the relationship… and completely changing you.
You start seeing more positive, and less negative. You start liking your mother-in-law more.
Even more important, once you have to stop yourself from saying exasperated or irritated things about your mother-in-law, you realized just how often you said them. You realize how little you offered affirmation.
Suddenly, you realize this applies to Barry as well. And your spouse. And your kids. And other drivers on the road…
Trust me: Starting this process shows each of us just how negative and unkind we have been, in ways we never realized before. In The Kindness Challenge book I outline the seven distinct types of negativity we found, ranging from exasperation to overt criticism to suspicion. I strongly recommend you find out your negativity patterns, so you can watch for them!
I hope you will sign up for the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. Get a group of friends to do it together, using the free resources on the website!
Be a part of the movement. Our culture needs more kindness. And so do we.