We’ve all heard about self-love, and most of us think it sounds like a great idea, and given it the old college try.
If you’re like most people, you’ve scheduled a weekend day at the spa or taken a mental health day off of work to give yourself some much needed pampering. You may added a healthy dose of fresh veggies to your diet and started power-walked a few miles every night—at least on nights you can realistically work it in.
You’re thinking, “Okay…I’m getting the hang of this self-love thing. This is easy, I got it. I’m good to go. Self love? Check.”
Yes, it’s true. You got this. You can love yourself.
There’s more to self-love than mani-pedis, kale smoothies, and power walks. It’s an attitude. It’s a total re-write of old scripts. It’s a way of thinking and feeling about yourself that may be entirely new and occasionally uncomfortable. This whole of self-love thing requires your complete awareness and all the empathy and compassion you can muster.
It may sound kind of strange and silly to think of just being nice to yourself. But you know what? It’s time to get over all that judge-y stuff and get down to the work at hand, because no one is going to do it for you.
Self-love doesn’t always come to us in the way we wish it might. We may envision a romantic scene where we have a glorious “A-Ha!” moment and our life changes forever. We might dream of a huge, dramatic epiphany. That’s what most of us want, to be honest: we want to stand atop a mountain, gaze out at a breathtaking view, see the heavens open, feel the sun shine down on us, and realize in an overwhelming moment of insight how much we love ourselves. All while we simultaneously realize our true life purpose and see the path ahead with clear eyes and no doubt whatsoever.
But, alas, while that does happen for some people, most of us are content with incremental lessons learned while doing mundane things like washing the dishes or waiting in line at the grocery store.
And that’s for the best, because it’s consonant with the truth of practical self-love.
Self-love is about tapping into our potential to grow in the subtle, simple, every-day moments we string together to make up our lives. We need to love ourselves when we lose our cool in traffic or drop a nice plate on the floor and watch it shatter into a hundred pieces. In those moments, we need to learn to say “Oh sweetie, that’s okay,” instead of “Oh shit, I’m an idiot.” We need to learn to regulate our self-a talk after we indulge in pint (or two) Ben and Jerry’s or after spitting out harsh words in the heat of an argument with someone we love. For most of us, it’s the negative self-deprecation that needs to go. It’s the proverbial beating ourselves up with shame and guilt we need to weed out. It’s the layers of unrealistic perfectionism that show up in self-talk like “You should be better at this. What’s wrong with you?”
You know exactly what your negative self- talk sounds like. It’s the automatic dialogue that pops into your head unbidden. It’s the chatter that goes on and on, like an old cassette tape on repeat. It’s the record that plays little loops like these:
“I look different than everyone else. I’m too loud. I’m just too much sometimes. I’m always late. I’m not spiritual enough. I’m disgusted by my body. I feel left out. I don’t fit in. I’m not good enough. Everyone else has it so together. I’m clueless. I’m the only who…”
Buddhists call this mental chatter “monkeymind.” Most Westerners think of it as an unfortunate part of our Type A personality, the voice of a judgmental or parent or teacher that stuck in unconscious mind for reasons we can’t really figure out. All we know is that it’s there and we don’t seem to be able to turn it off.
One of the most radical and compassionate things we can do for ourselves get our monkeymind under control and learn to practice positive self-talk. We start by simply noticing the chatter when it starts. Recognize the thoughts when they come up. Observe the voice that starts whispering anything negative at you. Recognize it as your inner critic, and realize it’s not doing you any favors. It’s had a lot of power and influence over you and your life, and in some select moments, it’s helped you. However, when you begin to recognize it, you’re practicing mindful awareness. And when you’re able to understand when it’s helping and when it’s hurting, that’s when you begin to understand that you can rewrite those tapes or even go so far as to throw them out completely.
Learn to catch yourself as soon as the inner critic begins its act. Take a breath. Then take another breath. Then, without judgment or continuing the criticism, simply say “Oh, sweetie…” just like you would to a small child or a friend in need.
Do this enough, and you’ll create new habits. You’ll turn your harsh inner critic into your best internal support system. You’ll create a new way you respond to yourself, every moment of every day. You’ll find an internal voice that’s empathetic, joyful, and appreciative.
Why is it we can be so nice to everyone else, and treat ourselves so poorly? Ask yourself how would you liked to be loved? Then love yourself just like that. Ask yourself how you’d most like to be shown care and concern. Then show yourself that exact same care and concern. When your inner critic tries to tell you aren’t good enough, you should be doing better, or you can’t seem to win, replace it with words of compassion like these:
“You’re doing your best. You’ve been through a lot and you continue to shine and grow. You are so brave to keep facing things like you do. You are perfect the way you are, and I love you.”
If this sounds too much like Stuart Smalley, I get it. But the thing is, it works. If it feels uncomfortable, that’s probably because it’s a brand new way of being with yourself and relating to yourself. Vulnerability can be scary, but you can be brave. Lean into discomfort. Why? That’s where growth happens. You can do this!