Why do we find it so hard to love ourselves?
Is it because we are confronted on an hourly basis of what we should look like, what we should be eating, should be wearing?
Or is it because in our culture, self love is often seen as selfish and self absorbed?
But self love isn't about narcissism and increasing your ego, or forgoing romantic relationships. Nor is it blowing people of last minute in the name of ‘self care’.
Self love simply means treating yourself the way you would treat a friend. Like talking kindly to yourself, celebrating your wins and comforting your losses. Or being patient when learning a new skill and letting yourself rest when you need it not when you feel it's been earned.
Loving yourself doesn't, in anyway, take away from loving others. In fact, loving yourself - embracing your flaws, quirks, imperfections and all - teaches you how to love others.
And whilst it may seem like the latest buzz word of wellness trend, the practice of self love has been around for thousands of years in various cultures around the world. The Ancient Greeks saw self love as one of the main forms of love, Philautia. Befriending your mind and body as well as treating yourself with kindness is an integral part of the Buddhism faith. To the more recent movement and the Summer of Love.
Below I share some tips on creating a loving relationship with the self. I encourage you to give them all a go as naturally some will resonate with you more than others. And who knows, some may become part of your life long commitment to love yourself unconditionally.
11 Ways to Cultivate Self Love
1. Focus on Being Love
Learning to love yourself is just like learning to play the piano, meditate on build muscle in the gym. It takes what I often refer to as the 3P’s: patience, practice and persistence. The idea of suddenly loving yourself might seem a little too fetched for you right now, and that’s okay. This is a life long journey so give yourself permission to start small. To take baby steps. Instead of loving yourself unconditionally, focus on being someone who is love. Allow love to flow through your veins and infuse everything you do and say. Notice what you love about the people you interact with, whether it’s during a kiss, a conversation or the man behind the check out counter. In time, this sense of love and appreciation will be more naturally directed towards yourself.
2. Be Your Own Best Friend
We have grown up in a society that teaches us to look after everyone else before our selves. And whilst this is a lovely sentiment, it is unfortunately flawed. We can’t give from an empty cup. This is especially true for women, who find that activities related to their health, wellbeing, and enjoyment, get pushed further and further down the to-do list, taking care of everyone else before themselves. But as the safety announcement on the plane reminds us, put on your own mask before helping others. How kind, caring and supportive can we really be when we are completely depleted of energy or on the edge of burnout? So start to treat yourself like you would your best friend, buy yourself flowers, or go out for a dinner, get a haircut and go out dancing.
3. Self Love Day Retreat
I love this one! We are all super busy, booked up days, weeks, months in advance so this might be a little bit of a challenge, but totally worth it. Pick a day where you aren’t working and don’t schedule anything in. Wake up and see what you feel like doing. We are so concerned with being busy, doing the things we think we ought to be doing that we rarely stop and listen in to what we actually want or need to do. It might look like reading a book, or going on a walk, or writing, baking a cake, going to yoga, painting and eating what you want. By the end of the day you’ll be feeling rejuvenated, the glass full again.
4. Accept Who You Are and Where You Are
We all know that comparison is the thief of all joy, but still, it is something we all find ourselves doing, both consciously and unconsciously. And more often than not, we take our greatest sense of lack and compare it to someone else’s greatest success. For me, my practice of yoga has been the most powerful teacher of non judgement and acceptance. ‘Why won’t my body fold like that?’; ‘How come I am so much weaker than her’; ‘Look how good she looks in her yoga kit!’ But over time and with greater understanding of the human body, I learned that we are all so uniquely built and designed, that what one body can do someone might never be able to do simply because of their anatomy. So in this way, we can’t actually compare ourselves to anyone else. We are too different. There are too many variables. And this applies off the mat too. You have no idea of someone’s background, motivation or internal world, so how can we possibly compare?
5. Body Scan
We are so conditioned to believe that there is an ideal beauty and that unless we look that way, we are ugly, flawed, imperfect. Men and women of all ages desperately turn to anything that promises their version of beauty, but rarely find the satisfaction they are looking for. It is these quirks that make us unique and beautiful. The mindfulness body scan is a wonderful way to cultivate love and acceptance of our bodies just the way we are. In this practice, you mindfully and systematically move through the body affectionately greeting each part, without feeling the need to change, modify or fix anything. This can be a challenging practice at first, but over time we naturally view our body with a sense of love and gratitude.
6. I Choose Me
Listen to your body and give yourself permission to say no. By this, I want to make it clear that I do not mean blow of your friends last minute because something better came up or you simply don’t feel like it anymore. This, as you may know, is one of my biggest frustrations by our culture. I choose me means know yourself. Like looking at your calendar in advance and knowing your limits. Perhaps you’re out Thursday Friday and Saturday and then get invited out on Wednesday too. For some people that might be too much and you know to decline, for others that’s no problem, come Sunday you will be okay. There’s no right or wrong. Release the expectations of what you think you should do and instead connect with what best serves you.
7. Surround Yourself With Loving People
When I was at uni I had a friend who loved to say: people are either radiators or drains. They either give you warmth, or they deplete your energy completely. This has always stayed with me and I am very conscious in deciding who (and when) I spend my time with. When you make this decision to show up for yourself with more love, you may find that you start to recognise what you deserve from those around you. This doesn’t mean you have to delete friends on Facebook or never see them again, but know the people who do make you feel tired and create boundaries around those relationships. In this way you not only have more time and energy to spend on the people who support and nourish you, but you don’t have quite as many social engagements were you leave feeling down and out about yourself.
8. Prioritise Self Care
I started meditating when I was 19 and found that I would meditate a lot when things were challenging then forget about it when things seemed good. As my practice has developed I have noticed the effects that not meditating has on my mood, my energy and my general day. A few years ago I made my meditation a non negotiable act of self care. No matter what, I would find time to meditate, even if it was just for 2 or 3 minutes. Now self care for you might be having a bath, reading a book, going on a walk, playing tennis, cooking a meal. Have a think about what things you could make non negotiable acts of self care. You might find that this leads to spending just a few minutes each day doing something not because you ‘should’ or ‘have’ to, but because it restores you.
9. Be Compassionate
For many of this, self compassion does not come naturally. We have a tendency to beat ourselves up when what we really need is support and love. When something goes wrong we immediately look for our flaws, attributing the situation to not being good enough at something or other. Compassion is non judgement, total acceptance and unconditional love. We can see our errors but choose to not let them affect the way we feel about a situation or ourselves. Compassionate behaviour is something we can consciously turn towards when things don’t go as planned. Instead of berating yourself with cruel language, choose instead to be loving and forgiving.
10. Gratitude Journal
I know I talk about gratitude journaling all the time, but it’s only because I believe it to be such a powerful practice for so many different reasons. Gratitude and self love go hand in hand really. We often look at the ways in which we perceive ourselves to be not enough but learning how to be grateful for the your life, your mind, body and circumstances you can help reverse the negativity bias and forge a new path of love, acceptance, gratitude and joy. If you are interested in gratitude, discover the benefits of gratitude, how to practice gratitude and a meditation in my three part gratitude series.
Self-love is empowering and inspiring. It's something that we can consciously practice every day. But it does not happen overnight and of course, some days are harder than others. The last thing I want anyone to feel is rubbish because they aren’t yet at the stage to love themselves completely. It’s almost like asking you to play Motzart before you learn the piano. So the most important thing to remember is ACCEPTANCE. To accept who we are. To accept where we are on our self love journey. To accept what we find difficult and painful to love. Next time you find yourself feeling a little down on yourself, use it as an opportunity to practice this acceptance.
We have no control over what happens to us, but no matter what, we can control the way we feel about ourselves. A kind word, a gesture, or a smile at our reflection are all simple ways to connect to this space of self love. So even if it seems a little hippie and woo-woo for your, I invite you to experiment with the practices of self love and notice the effects in your life.
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