As part of our month-long celebration of kindness in March, we spoke to Shahroo Izadi, a behavioural change specialist in private practice and the author of The Kindness Method, a forthcoming book that details her approach to behavioural change, which evolved from her experience treating substance misuse.
We spoke to Shahroo to learn more about the book and her background, and found out why we can’t be kind to others until we have learnt to be kind to ourselves…
What led you to develop the Kindness Method?
My first role after graduating in Psychosocial Sciences and Psychology was as an assistant psychologist at an NHS substance misuse service in north-west London.
I learned a huge amount about how drug addiction is treated in this country and found working in the field of addictive behaviours fascinating. I received training in the different approaches used in addiction treatment and went on to become a substance misuse practitioner and then a Criminal Justice Lead.
I later became a consultant to a number of organisations responsible for treating addiction. During that time, some of the staff asked me how they could adapt some of my motivational training to overcome their own habits – whether procrastination or smoking. That encouraged me to develop a framework that would be applicable to a more mainstream audience.
Following a sold-out workshop at The School of Life and a series of articles for The Pool, I was receiving so many enquiries that I set up my own private practice. I secured a two-book publishing deal with Pan Macmillan in the summer of last year.
What is the Kindness Method?
The Kindness Method consists of exercises aimed at helping you change any habit and activate any plan of your choosing – whether you want to train for a marathon or develop a better relationship with alcohol.
The Kindness Method teaches you to credit yourself with the ability to accomplish your goals, instead of anticipating failure
These exercises focus on developing a kinder internal dialogue. They teach you how to credit yourself with the ability to accomplish what you have set out to do, instead of anticipating failure or being harsh on yourself at the slightest setback.
How does it work?
The theory behind the Kindness Method is that we speak to ourselves in ways we would never speak to a loved one.
If a partner or close friend was working towards a goal or experiencing a personal challenge, we would only offer them support and encouragement.
With ourselves, we are much crueller and less forgiving – we often fall back on core beliefs that might have been in place since our childhoods: ‘I’m the sort of person who…’
If you want to train for a marathon, for example, circumstances can inevitably mean you have to deviate from your plan – but it’s about not blaming yourself when that happens and having the faith in yourself to get back on track.
We hear a lot about ‘self-care’ these days. How does self-kindness differ from self-indulgence?
It’s not about being easy on yourself, or letting yourself off the hook. It’s about believing yourself to be worthy enough to achieve your goals.
So to go back to the marathon training analogy: you wake up one morning and it’s raining, and you’re completely lacking the motivation to go for a run. What do you do?
I would advise you to think about the conversation you’ll be having with yourself tomorrow if you go, versus the conversation you’ll have if you don’t go.
What is your own experience of the Kindness Method?
I used to be very overweight and went to an Overeaters Anonymous support group. They use a similar approach to the one you might find in AA or NA, which is based on an end-goal of complete abstinence: obviously not an option with eating!
I realised that I needed to adapt some of the same approaches I was developing with my clients in substance misuse, particularly exploring the purpose that food was serving for me. The framework I developed, and which also formed the basis of the Kindness Method, enabled me to lose eight stone.
We are often focused on what’s wrong with a behaviour rather than what’s right with it, but it’s actually more interesting and useful to talk about what somebody enjoys about a particular behaviour or addiction – that allows you to create a more unique plan to deal with it, based on adding the positives rather than taking away the negatives.
We are often focused on what’s wrong with a behaviour rather than what’s right with it
How can self-kindness affect our relationships with others?
Some of what I consider my most important work has been at a recovery house, where staff are doing such selfless work.
I also learned about compassion fatigue, however, and the importance of replenishing our stores of kindness. We’re more able to be compassionate to others when we are kind to ourselves. I learned that the best thing I can do for my clients is to take care of myself.
When you cultivate kindness to yourself, you look for it around you.
The other thing is that when you cultivate kindness to yourself, you look for it around you. The more you look for it, the more you see it and attract it.