If you look up self love in the dictionary, it defines self- love as “a regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.”
Nothing wrong with having regard for your own happiness and wellbeing, right?
In fact, when we have regard for our own happiness and wellbeing, presumably we are happier or at least more at ease. And when we are happier and more at ease then we become more patient and more tolerant of each other. So you could argue that practicing self love is actually an act of kindness not only to yourself but also to others. You could argue that self love is precisely what we need to get ourselves out of this divisive funk. But still, it’s hard to know how to make the concept of self love practical.
Step one is self acceptance, the ability to accept ourselves fully as we are in this very moment, no strings attached. Self acceptance is the epitome of self love because it is unconditional. It is not based on doing or achieving or being anything other than what you are right now. Self acceptance does not say, I will accept myself when…
I will accept myself when I lose 20 pounds.
I will accept myself when I get a promotion.
I will accept myself when I get a girlfriend.
Self acceptance is not contingent on any stipulations.
It is acceptance as we are for who we are right here, right now
Step 2 is self-compassion, the ability to offer ourselves kindness and understanding in moments of imperfection. To be non-judgemental in our weaknesses, failings, shortcomings and mistakes, exactly the time that we usually would double down on self-judgment.
Consider this, imagine a young child, maybe your own child or someone else’s. Now imagine that child is skipping in the park with an ice cream cone, when all of the sudden she trips and falls dropping her ice cream cone. Imagine her both sad and embarrassed.
How would you respond to this child? Would you tell her she is stupid, clumsy, would you call her an idiot? Likely not. But that is often what we do to ourselves when we make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we chastise, we engage in mean and hateful negative self-talk.
Not only is this harmful to our psyche, but it is also damaging to our goals. In fact, studies show that when we are overly critical of ourselves, we are more likely to self-sabotage and get in our own way of success. It is for this reason that self compassion practices are increasingly becoming a component of successful habit change practices.
So next time you blunder, meet yourself with kindness. Recognize that your imperfection does not make you unworthy or a failure, it makes you human. Have compassion for your humanity and move on.
The final aspect of self love and the most actionable (I personally am not a fan of theory but prefer actionable guidance) is selfcare.
Selfcare is a major buzz-word these days but what does it really mean? Selfcare might be considered a massage, a night out with friends or indulging in your favorite comfort food. And while all of these are fun, relaxing and even necessary, they do not replace true selfcare. Selfcare is not necessarily relaxing, in fact self care takes effort. It requires work to do the right thing for ourselves.
Here are my personal top 4 selfcare practices:
- Nourish your body with wholesome food. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go into the details here but basically make time for good food. Take time to keep your home stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. Make time to cook, or at least meal prep. This does not have to be very time consuming. You don’t have to go Martha Stewart style, but it does require some planning, some preparation.
In essence it requires intention.
Consider removing the temptations. The food delivery apps are a good example. Removing them from your phone may make it easier to make better choices.
- Make time for movement. I say movement because exercise is often met with resistance. That is not to say that movement still is not intentional, or even exertional, but it may help you to hold it differently in mind. The word movement may also be more aligned with a sentiment of self love and self care and so easier to take on, because moving your body is a form of caring for it. And if you can dial into a practice that you enjoy, even the exertion can feel good. So find a practice, hiking, stretching or yoga or maybe consider something that intimidates you or feels above reach. And as you are huffing and puffing, remind yourself that too is self care and do a little happy dance while you’re at it.
- Sleep might be the most overlooked kind of self care. People wrongly think that sleep is idle but in fact your body is very active during sleep, restoring your mind and body, filing away memories, reorganizing brain cells, activating your brain’s glymphatic system, the system that clears and removes waste from the central nervous system. By doing this, sleep prepares your brain for a fresh start and a new day. Adequate quantity and high-quality sleep also reduces irritability, depression and anxiety and promotes mental wellbeing. Not to mention the benefits to your metabolic health, immunity amongst other positive benefits.
- Finally, care for yourself by engaging in quiet. I used to recommend meditation to everyone I saw in my medical practice. But that’s not everyone’s jam. Besides, there are many other ways to slow down and create the space for quiet introspection. So now I just recommend a meditative practice. Maybe that is meditating or breathing, but maybe it is journaling, coloring or sitting under a tree. Anything that takes us out of doing and into being. You will be surprised by how much of a caring act this can be.
And lastly, lastly, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. The thing you are thinking ot be the ultimately barrier to implementing this work. Of course, that barrier is TIME.
Time is our most precious commodity and our most precious resource and yet, we refuse to expend it on ourselves. But what if you were completely strapped for time, all of the sudden, an unexpected work project happened, a friend called with an emergency, the kids need a ride… whatever…guess who all of the sudden has time!
What if we viewed our own care with the same non-negotiable urgency? Or what if we prioritize our own needs before others. This is not a call for neglect of your work or your kids, however, when we consistently dismiss ourselves in the service of other people and other things, no matter how noble or important, we will never set the boundaries that makes us a priority, someone or something will consistently take precedence over our own wellbeing.
So, yes, self love means having enough regard for oneself that we appropriate the time needed for our own self-care – worthy of the time and effort and yes work required for our own care.
Here’s to loving yourself today and every day!
If you loved this article please share it with someone you care about. And if the content made you feel good there is a lot more where that came from. My book Hungry for More, Stories, and Science from the Inside Out is my love letter to you.