Recently, I had a conversation with a client about self-love. They weren’t clear on how to give themselves the love they were twisting themselves in knots to get from others. They wanted suggestions on how to strengthen their direct experience of self-love.
The question got me thinking about how we often talk about self-love in our culture from a place of consumption and commercialism. For example, you may decide to spend an afternoon at a spa to show yourself that you love yourself enough to engage in self-care.
Or you splurge on a nice meal and give yourself permission to finish the whole damn slice of chocolate cake instead of sharing it or limiting yourself to a couple of bites.
While I’m a fan of both of these ways to demonstrate self-love, I wonder if— when you turn to grand gestures like these—have you asked yourself if you’re fulfilling genuine wants?
Is it possible that the wants you’re listening to are compensating for a deeper emptiness that you’re trying to avoid?
What would truly nourish you instead?
Do you ask yourself where the want that you’re fulfilling comes from? Is it really yours or did you absorb it from advertising designed to make you feel inadequate without it or to get you to buy something?
For example, at my cousin’s wedding last year, my partner and I decided to stop drinking around 10:30 and switch to water. Though it was our last chance to hang out with my beloved Venezuelan family for the foreseeable future, we left around 11:30 pm, successfully resisting the siren song of the reggaetón, salsa, and merengue blaring from the dance floor packed with people I love.
We chose to get rest because we had about 15 hours of travel scheduled for the following day. Our choice to take care of ourselves that night in this way is an example of self-love in action.
Every day, the small actions you take that reflect self-love matter more than anything you can buy or positive things you may say to yourself in a mirror every morning.
To pump up your muscle of self-love, here are five actions you can incorporate into your day that don’t require you to splurge, post on social media, or even deny yourself something you truly want:
Action 1 — Examine your “shoulds”
When you catch yourself using the word “should,” as in, “I should get to the gym before work,” or “I should be in bed by ten,” ask yourself what you really want to do. This one can be confusing since we’re usually filled with a jumble of conflicting wants.
If you can’t decide, hold your biggest current main life goal front and center in your mind. Ask yourself if the thing you’re about to do (or not do) takes you toward or away from that goal.
Then choose to do what takes you toward that goal, not as a “should,” but as a “want,” because it brings you closer to the bigger thing you want in your life.
Action 2—Pause when you’re off-center
Instead of beating yourself up or forcing yourself to push through it when you catch yourself doing that ineffectual/annoying/fearful thing you do when you’re off-kilter, pause.
Ask yourself what you’re feeling, what sent you reeling this time, and what you need in order to come back to center again.
Be gentle and sit with what you’re feeling for a few minutes without trying to fix or change it. If a clear need or action to take arises, honor it as soon as you can, even if you can’t shift your entire day to honor it in that moment.
Getting curious in a moment you used to criticize or push yourself through is a demonstration of self-love. It means you care about yourself enough to get to know your nervous system’s triggers and what you need to give yourself so you can shift back to resourcefulness and centeredness.
Action 3—Give yourself permission to cancel
When you’ve overloaded your schedule because it’s hard to say no, or you’re stuck in savior mode because being needed by others is how you feel validated, or you desperately want to be liked and accepted by someone, slow down.
Take a few breaths and ask yourself what you’d still want to do if you weren’t being pulled by your need to please or save anyone else.
Cancel one of the things that you don’t really want to do. Ask yourself what you’d want to do with that time you just freed up for yourself AND DO IT. Even if it’s lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling. Especially that.
Then cancel something else that doesn’t make the cut. You are allowed to say no to more than you think, and doing so is evidence of self-love and alignment.
The beautiful side-benefit of this one is that when you do say yes to do things for others from this place, your yes feels great to them because it’s real instead of being laced with resentment (as it likely was when you were overloaded and felt obligated to say yes). This one action does wonders for improving your relationships.
Action 4—Carefully choose what to read
If you know you’re triggered by a certain topic in the news, give yourself permission to not click on articles about that topic for a while.
You don’t have to re-trigger yourself to stay informed or prove to yourself that you can handle tough stuff.
It’s a gesture of self-love to choose to avoid a trigger until the time that you feel steady enough to be able to stay present and work with your feelings when they get activated.
Action 5—Practice noticing what you do right
Before you go to bed, take a moment to reflect on your day and remember one thing you did well. Language it as something you did, not as something you didn’t do. For example, “I stuck to my food plan,” instead of “I didn’t eat sugar.” Write it down in a self-love journal that you keep for this purpose.
This practice builds the habit of noticing what you’re doing right, which builds self-love. Our brains are inherently wired to look for what’s wrong as a survival mechanism. It takes diligent practice to train yourself to shift your attention to what’s right.
In conclusion, self-love can’t be bought in a face cream, a vacation, bath salts, or a new car. It’s the choices you make each day to be gentle or kind with yourself — or do the thing you said you’d do because integrity rocks — that add up to an unshakeable foundation of self-love.
One day you’ll realize that you no longer do as much of the grasping, pushing away, or self-destructive stuff that you used to do. It’s not that your willpower is suddenly iron-clad. It’s because those old behaviors are no longer compelling. You’ve moved on.
You’ll discover that your baseline of self-love has changed, the cracks in your foundation have been filled, the table beautifully set and candles lit, not only for a treasured guest, but for yourself.
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