Each of us talk to ourselves the most and spend the most time with our self the most, but we can often be our own toughest critic and be the last one to do anything nice for us; a far cry from how we treat those we love. With inspiration from BrenéBrown, Kristin Neff, Dr. Seuss, and my practice and study of yoga primarily, I'm going to dive into why we all need to practice more self-love and how to begin this lifelong practice.
That voice inside our head that we hear every day is one of the most influential voices on so much of our life and our outcomes. Research is just beginning to scratch the surface of how our intangible thoughts have real measurable affects on the brain and cognition, disease, genes and epigenetics, and our overall happiness. Moreover, the relationship we have with our self shapes every other relationship in our lives. What we expect and accept of ourselves we will often expect and accept from others towards us. Think about it. Do you settle because you think that's all you deserve or do you talk yourself up and think about what will go right before your next big ______ (presentation, interview, etc. - you fill in the blank)? Do you ruminate on a mistake you made or comment you shouldn't have made or do you learn from your errors and console yourself like you would a friend after his/her slip-up? And if you're lucky enough to have someone close to you console you, do you believe them when they say, "you deserve better than that" or "we all make mistakes" or does that little voice in your head think, "they're just saying that, they don't mean it"?
So how do we change this inner dialogue and how do we practice self-love? Going back to the Brené Brown quote, we must practice:
LEARNING HOW TO TRUST OURSELVES
This can be a hard one, we so often want to think and reason, but sometimes we need to tune into our intuition, our instinct without conscious reasoning, what some of us call our gut feeling. As Jane Austen said, "We all have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be." This is where yoga and meditation help me the most. In both practices the focus is on observing and witnessing rather than judging and critiquing. This brings you to the present without all of that mental chatter pulling your attention away or allowing all of those opinions in. This takes time and patience, but the pay-off is so worth it; start with one yoga class or 5-10 minutes of a guided meditation. When we can be present we can tune into our instincts; we can observe how our breath might change when we are nervous or uncomfortable, we can hear when our body doesn't feel good during a certain exercise, and we can be aware that our desire to eat or drink that ______ (insert your vice here) is really because of our stressful day. The more we practice trusting ourselves, the more we get to observe these things as small signals instead of emergency flares.
TREAT OURSELVES WITH RESPECT
The definition of respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Do you feel a deep admiration for yourself? If the answer is no or if you haven't really thought about it, take some time to reflect on this. We all have amazing abilities (our body alone is made up of 206 bones; 650+ muscles; many feet of intestinal tract, nerves, blood vessels, and alveoli (air exchanging sacs); a brain more complex than many computers; trillions of symbiotic bacteria; and so much more covered by a layer of semi-permeable skin that works day in and day out to keep you alive), unique qualities (as Dr. Seuss says, "Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!"), and have accomplished some impressive achievements. We can show our self this admiration through self-care habits like eating freshly cooked meals, getting adequate sleep, drinking water to nourish our cells, moving our bodies, meditating, and so many others. Even just acknowledging your abilities, qualities, and achievements can be helpful (read on about starting a gratitude practice). Another way to show admiration is to set boundaries so that you know when to say no or end a relationship that is toxic. Brené Brown has a great short interview on that here.
BE KIND AND AFFECTIONATE TOWARD OURSELVES
When we have respect and admiration for ourselves, we might also naturally begin to act more kind and affectionate toward ourselves. Kindness and affection can also become part of our self-care habits through things like self-massage, talking to yourself with a little more compassion and understanding, allowing yourself to express your emotions through creative outlets (journaling, painting, knitting, cooking or baking, building things, dancing, etc), and doing something that YOU enjoy. For more on self-compassion, Brené Brown and Kristin Neff teamed up on CourgageWorks to create a short course on practicing self-compassion that I found eye-opening. One big take away for me (someone who can be VERY self-critical) was reframing the way we think of our inner critic and saying, "thank for you for trying to protect me and having good intentions."
I also have found a daily gratitude practice to be a simple and effective way to change the way we think about our day and our frame of mind. A gratitude practice can be done anytime throughout the day and asks that you find one to three things to be grateful for. We all have our own examples, but here are a few to get your gears turning:
- being awake early enough to see the sunrise
- having the time to cook dinner
- for the random person who picked up my pen for me when it feel
So do something this weekend and in the weeks and months ahead to practice your self-love; you'll be happier, you're relationships will flourish, and your health will improve. As Lucille Ball said, "I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into place."
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