Unwrapping this impractical and confusing endeavor
We always hear these things... "be yourself," "find yourself," "self-care" and "love yourself" without ever really knowing what they actually mean. They're as vague and nebulous as they are frustrating. Self-love is hard to do and it's hard to talk about because it seems to get lost in translation. It falls flat because there's no real definitive concept of it, at least not one that's commonly held by most people.
Over the years I've worked to unwrap this idea and where I am now realizing that I always missed the mark was I thought it was just something that a person just feels, like a state of being. I realize now that it's much more than that. It's something that you practice. By practice I mean practice like you might practice a guitar or tennis and yet just a bit different from that.
We often hear the word practice when it comes to things like meditation or yoga. We use the word practice because it requires practice or in other words, deliberate dedication to getting better at something. And just like you would practice anything else, you have to do it regularly and you have to stay diligent with it. It requires dedication. Self-care and self-love are just things that you practice.
It starts with the right motivation. If you ask me, anything we do is immediately frustrated if we come at it from the wrong motivation. When we do things just because we "should," that's when thing start to break down. We can't sustain things when we just do them because we "should." We have to have a positive connection to things and why we do them and doing things because we should do them isn't the right motivation.
Don't go to your child's sports games because you feel like you "should." Do it because you love them and you want to watch them play, mature, learn, succeed and learn from failure. Do it because you're invested in someone that you love. Don't work out because you "should." Do it because you love feeling good and because you love feeling healthy. Don't go to work because you "should." Go to work because it enables you to have some quality to your life, because it gives you the means to travel or even just somewhere to stay safe and cozy.
Please. Don't engage in self-love because you feel like you should. Do it because you want a better life, because you want to be more comfortable in your own skin and because you want to feel more alive and more connected. I realize that the difference seems subtle and yet I've come to learn that it's so incredibly important.
People like lists so here's my list of 21 ways to practice self-love.
Setting boundaries - So many people experience a diminished level of happiness and joy because there are too many people in their lives who behave in disrespectful ways. Not enough have learned that good fences make good neighbors. Setting boundaries with disrespectful people is necessary for self-love and it's an ongoing process to retrain certain relationships or distancing yourself from them. Setting boundaries is a way to show yourself that you're not going to allow yourself to be disrespected unnecessarily.
Conscious eating - Give your body what it needs as an act of self-love. Instead of eating to feel good or to self-medicate out of convenience, give your body some good food but also drink plenty of water. These are simple ways to practice self-love.
Making sleep a priority - Not much else to say here other carving out time for yourself to rest and rejuvenate. Give yourself the gift of unplugging. Put your phone somewhere else and read a book before you turn in.
Attending to your emotions - Start seeing your emotions as important messengers that are delivering important messages to you. Pay attention to them, listen to them and attend to them properly. Care enough about yourself to give yourself attention in a similar way that you would attend to someone that you love when they're emotional. Instead of avoiding difficult emotions, explore them and be present with them.
Physical movement - We all know this is important but as I said before, don't exercise because you "should." Do what feels good to you. Go outside and walk when the sun is out or get into a swimming pool if you love the water. Do what speaks to you and your body.
Sunlight - Speaking from experience, I was terribly vitamin D deficient years ago and it was awful. You can feel fatigued and horribly depressed when your body is low on vitamin D. The best way to get vitamin D is to be outside in the sunlight and allowing your body to synthesize it naturally. We've been taught that sunlight is bad for us and it's cancer causing but we need to realize that balance is key. Zero sunlight could kill you as well. In the hotter months it's better to be in the sun earlier in the day or later in the day. Sunlight can really just feel amazing, sit outside and soak it up for twenty minutes, it feels amazing. Matter of fact, I took a break in the middle of writing this article to go sit in the sun and it felt amazing.
Laughter - Part of the problem with life and practicing self-love is that sometimes we just take it far to seriously. All to often we are burdened by a sense of duty and responsibility when it serves us extremely well to just let allow ourselves to laugh. Laughing at ourselves can be very therapeutic. We live in an era and a society that takes itself far to seriously and there are people that get offended so easily that we've stopped making jokes and we've stopped allowing ourselves to just laugh at how silly life can be.
Fun - If I had to pick a top 3 from this list, having fun would be in that top 3. No doubt about it. We've become so shackled to responsibilities and duties these days. We just take ourselves way to seriously these days. It's important to have fun but it needs to go beyond that. We need adventure because it gets us outside our comfort zones.
Learning - Learning new things that are interesting to us is so good for us. It keeps us fresh, it changes or perspective and often motivates us to change. Find something that interests you and learn about it, it's a much better use of time than staring at a phone.
Letting go - This is a bit more complicated but practicing acceptance and letting go is extremely healing. Life is so much better when we let go of certain beliefs and ideas about how we think things we should be or how we should or what we think our position in life is supposed to be.
Forgiveness - Forgiveness is an example of acceptance and letting go. People resist it when it's very much an exercise in self-love. Being able to release anger, resentment and bitterness is a gift to ourselves.
Grieving - Grief and grieving is difficult but very therapeutic. As a therapist, I see so many people avoid this because it's painful and hard. It's just one of those things that is so incredibly good for you. People feel so much better when they work through it.
Embracing the process/walking the path - People often want quick fixes. They want to be done or completed. They want to complete the process and arrive and it just doesn't work like that. We can't practice self-love if we're not being ever present with the process of growth and change. There is no completion, there is no arrival. Love the journey and you will be more likely to experience self-love.
Personal solitude and alone time - Most people spend their alone time doing things that will only make them feel more lonely. People hate being alone with their thoughts and emotions and so they practice escapism which only increases their loneliness. There's a difference between isolation and solitude. Isolation is bad, solitude is positive.
Being creative - I can't stress or emphasize this enough. We must be creative and pursue our own individual creativity. I love writing. I don't just write about mental health, I write about the human experience, I write fiction and I write poetry. We need to engage in music, art and that other good stuff. It's so good for the soul and it's a way to express our individuality.
Slowing down - I see so many people that struggle with what I call "not good enough syndrome" where they feel like they have to be perfect all the time. Every day is a struggle to be productive enough. It doesn't make them happy, at best it just temporarily holds off the crushing dread of unresolved emotional issues. Learn to just to take the time slow down and allow certain things to be in a state of disarray, at least to a degree.
Choosing your battles - Plain and simple... you can't fight all the battles. If you fight every battle, you'll lose the war. We can't be everything at once nor should we be and I just find that so many people are buckling under their perceived need to be everything and fight in every battle. They tend to lose themselves as well; it's so easy to just lose the plot.
Turning off the news - If you ask me, the news is serving up giant heaps of powerlessness which results in anxiety, frustration and maybe even trauma. People will often say that they want to be informed and I say that trying to be informed by watching the news is working against your mental health. I just have a hard time believing that the news does it's due diligence to check everything and make sure they got it right. Being informed is being misinformed. Turn it off and read a book or better yet, write one.
Getting off social media - When it comes to social media I don't hesitate to pull rank. I'm a mental health expert and I believe, unequivocally, that social media is awful for our mental health. Okay sure, use it from time to time but don't scroll through it because it's easy.
Giving yourself permission to make mistakes - Literally 100% of humanity makes mistakes on a daily basis and yet we tend to treat our own mistakes with zero tolerance policies. Mistakes aren't just normal, they're wise teachers. The fact that making mistakes is widely frowned upon is just indicative that society has entirely lost the plot. It's a lot easier to practice self-love, by the way, when you're not comparing yourself to others on social media.
Challenge yourself - Strength is built through struggle and I'm convinced that our collective mental health is suffering because we aren't challenged in positive ways. Technology has made things too easy and we don't benefit from life not having any growth inspiring challenges to it. You'll feel good about yourself when you engage in some growth, it's good for you.
When it comes to self-love, so many people get hung up on self-worth and worthiness issues. They don't think they deserve self-love and based on the information I've provided here I would say that you don't need to get caught up in this mental trap. You can just get to work on practicing it. Replace it with a right response. Self-love is a lifestyle and we don't need to overthink it, we can just busy practicing it.