- Listen to your body and give it exactly what it needs, including rest and nourishment.
- Allow yourself to really experience your emotions, even difficult ones.
- Express yourself creatively, and spend time on the activities you care about.
- Be patient and forgiving to yourself, and set boundaries where you need them.
Imagine if you have to spend the next 60 years stuck in an unbreakable relationship. You have to go everywhere together, do everything together, and experience life’s every joy and pain together. Would you rather this be a person you love, someone who also loves you? Or would you rather it be a just-tolerable neighbor you’re stuck tolerating forever?
Now the twist: This person is yourself. After all, you have to spend every day with you, for the rest of your life. You can either put up with yourself, occasionally being at odds or maybe even frequently irritated with this anchor. You could be dismissive towards yourself or even put yourself down, sowing doubt in your dreams or sabotaging your efforts to grow.
Or you could be kind and empathetic and gentle. If given the choice, which relationship would you rather be in? And if it’s the loving one, how can you go about cultivating that love? Let’s explore a few good places to begin:
1. Listen to your body.
Our bodies are our most valuable asset. Without them, we can’t enjoy good food, smell flowers, learn new skills, fall in love, challenge our assumptions, hug our families; and bodies are precious because they’re irreplaceable. But we often go around using our bodies as tools, pushing them as hard as they’ll go. I know I’m certainly guilty of often not paying attention to my body until something goes wrong.
What happens if we pay more attention to our body’s needs? We would rest during our busy days and give ourselves the best chance for quality sleep at night. We would eat more nourishing food, spend more time in nature, and probably stretch more often. Exactly what your body needs only you know. And if you really listen, you’ll begin to rekindle a loving relationship with it.
2. Give yourself permission to feel.
Emotions are never inherently good or bad. They’re simply natural reactions we have to situations, and often the best tools our brains have for communicating danger, injustice, connection, desire, and need. If we label emotions as “bad,” we pile on shame and guilt and frustration simply for being human. If we allow and appreciate our emotions, instead, we’d have greater self-awareness and self-compassion.
Next time you feel anxious, or furious, or desperate, don’t automatically shut your emotions down and try to create “positive vibes only.” Ask yourself, instead, what this emotion tells you about your current situation. You may find that there’s sorrow hiding under the anger, or confusion behind that frustration. These can be valuable clues about what your next steps should be. You may choose not to act out what the hot emotion wants you to do (e.g., you don’t have to punch a wall just because you feel angry) but at least you are on the same page with yourself instead of fighting both your own feelings and the difficult situation.
3. Express yourself, gain mastery.
Humans are restless, creative creatures. We simply need to express ourselves. You may not think of yourself as creative because you’ve never taken painting lessons or been confident with a piano, but not all creativity fits into the box of traditional arts. Maybe you’re the dinner party comedian who cracks people up. Or you’ve always got the best Halloween costume. There might be an incredible wine sommelier living within you if only you’d turn your appreciation into effort. Perhaps your dream is to run a marathon on every continent.
One of the greatest ways you can love yourself is to give yourself the satisfaction of mastery and freedom of expression. Dig into something you care about and give yourself the permission to fail.
4. Forgive yourself, and be patient.
Of course, when we give ourselves the chance to explore new things, we also risk failing and making mistakes. Sometimes the consequences of these mistakes are severe. They uproot our relationships with people we love, change the direction of our financial or physical health, make us question our own moral integrity.
Shame and guilt can really sting, but there's a good reason for that. For us social animals with moral brains, these self-conscious emotions hold us accountable to ourselves and to each other. But they’re not as helpful when they linger and fester; it’s hard to make true amends or grow from your mistakes when you’re weighed down by self-hatred.
How do you forgive yourself? Start by fully taking responsibility for your role in whatever mistake you made, and also letting go of the parts that were not your responsibility. Be realistic about this. Then, acknowledge why you did what you did—perhaps in a moment of impulsive defensiveness, you undermined a colleague in front of your boss without considering how much your words would affect their position in the company. Maybe you were feeling so low about yourself and your relationship that you took comfort in someone in a way that betrayed your partner. These are not excuses for your mistakes. They are honest acknowledgments that will help you to understand what happened so you can begin to make things right.
Last but not least, be patient. Just as it takes time to forgive someone else, it takes time to forgive yourself, too. Actively show yourself compassion and take actions to make amends; don’t punish yourself, because I bet you don’t need more reminders about the weight in your stomach.
5. Set boundaries and be your own best advocate.
Loving yourself means valuing yourself. When you value someone, you respect and advocate for them instead of taking advantage of them. Often, we’re good at valuing other people, but stumble when it comes to ourselves. For example, we could be riled up on behalf of a friend who deserves a pay raise but make excuses to procrastinate negotiating our own salary. Maybe we’d never think to drop a pile of paperwork unannounced at a coworker’s desk and beg them into doing us yet another favor, but when a colleague does this to us, we have a hard time saying, “No.”
What are we telling ourselves? We don’t think we deserve respect. How can you love and treasure someone if you don’t even respect them?
Set boundaries for yourself, even with your closest family and friends. Stick to them kindly but firmly. Practice assertive communication skills often. Practice saying “no” to unreasonable requests in the mirror. Practice asking for what you need in the mirror, too, whether it’s a salary commensurate with your expertise or your partner’s acknowledgment of a past hurt. When it feels tough, pretend you’re standing up for your best friend.
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