By Patricia Martin
The word “self-love” can feel elusive. We tend to see actionable ways to love others—listening to them, helping them, appreciating them—but when it comes to ourselves, love is often just a feeling and not something we can practice. So we don’t.
Most of the time, this isn’t because we don’t love ourselves; it’s because we don’t know how to love ourselves in meaningful ways. We don’t know how to actively take care of our emotional needs or how to protect ourselves when our reservoir of love is dry. But it’s so important to learn.
Putting self-love into action not only makes us healthier people, but it also makes us better in our relationships and communities. It makes us better for us, better for others, and better for our big lives.
With all that said, here are my five rules for putting self-love into practice:
1. List Your Qualities
To discover why you should fall in love with yourself, make a list of all the qualities that make you who you are—the good, the bad, and the quirky. Next, marvel at your awesome attributes and take a closer look at the not-so-awesome ones. Is there something you think is negative only because others have told you it was? Try to question those labels.
When I was growing up, people would criticize me for being shy. I internalized their judgment and tried to find ways to “get out of my shell.” When I was unable to accomplish this, I found that I was miserable with who I was simply because of other people’s opinions. Over the years, I learned that my personality is beautiful, whether I choose to show it to everyone or wait until I’m comfortable, and that is what makes me special.
Other people’s perceptions of you are subjective and many times indicate something they don’t like about themselves. Never forget that there is no one who knows you better than yourself. Don’t let anyone else dictate your value or what’s an acceptable way of being you.
2. Speak to Yourself With Love
Even if you are one of the rare people who has fully accepted yourself for who you are, it never hurts to give yourself a verbal high five.
When I accomplish a difficult task or even when I manage to get myself out the door on time for work in the morning, I tell myself what a superstar I am. When I get through a 45-minute elliptical session without any breaks, I congratulate myself on being so fit, regardless of how fast I was going compared to the other gym-goers. Even when I don’t do anything spectacular, I make sure that I tell myself at least once a day that I am a goddess.
Speaking to myself this way celebrates my transition from not loving myself to being completely filled with self-love. It might sound cheesy, but indulge in a gabfest of compliments—and watch how it can transform your thinking.
3. Reward Yourself
I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to find balance in my life, whether it’s the work-life balance or the healthy living, fun-food-eating balance. But I try to reward myself when I know I’m on a roll.
As a side-hustler with a full-time job, I work most of the hours of the day. I work through meals, my commute, and I even brainstorm ideas in the shower. I normally use the remainder of my day for much-needed sleep, but sometimes I splurge on social activities. I may spend an entire weekend holed up in a coffee shop writing, but instead of going home to rest, I’ll eat a good meal, drink lots of water, and then hit the town with my friends. Of course, sleep is uber important, but, for me, carving out time for fun helps me feel balanced.
With this in mind, try to let yourself celebrate without allowing guilt to overtake you. You can eat that piece of German chocolate cake after a week of eating healthy. You can go out after a hard day of work. Or, you can have a Netflix marathon after a hard day at work. If you view it as striking up a good balance, then you will enjoy the reward that much more as you release those negative feelings. Love yourself by balancing your hard work and dedication with fulfilling, enjoyable rewards.
4. Prioritize Yourself
Put yourself at the top of your to-do list. Make time for self-care and do what makes you happy, not what makes others happy.
I spent many years doing what other people wanted while ignoring my own needs. I justified this by telling myself that I had to put others first and, if not, I was being selfish. These are lessons that we grow up with and, while they are not inherently wrong, they are flawed.
Putting others first to the detriment of you is the opposite of healthy living. It is not a sign of being a “good” person. It is an indication of a person who is not living life fully.
Take it from Audre Lorde who said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation…” Actively treat yourself like the #1 VIP—it’s essential to self-love.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know, easier said than done, but try to allow room for mistakes and the evolution of you. And know that learning to love yourself makes growth easier. Whatever happens, know that you’re doing the best you can, and you can do even better tomorrow.
Before I discovered the art of self-love, I’d compare my journey to that of others, especially when it came to my career. I didn’t want to be in the place where life left me, and I felt shame and disappointment in myself. I had to learn that just as each of us is unique, we reach our destinations in unique ways, too.
Everything that makes me who I am has contributed to my life story, and I must embrace it. What’s more, I must be intentional in changing whatever trajectory my decisions have put me on if that’s not the path I want to take. The only way to do that is to shed your fear of failure and start to learn from your mistakes. Clarity and peace of mind come when you know that things happen when they are supposed to—and not a moment sooner or later.
The next time you make a mistake or begin reflecting on disappointments in your life, think about what you learned and how that is helping you become the person you were meant to be.
There is no one better to fall in love with than yourself. You are the person who was with you from the very start, and you will be with you until the very end. So count the many ways you are special, and remind yourself every day why you matter. Reward yourself for being such a bomb person and don’t feel guilty when you choose to do something that makes you happy.
And if you fail to do these things on a consistent basis? Give yourself a break—you deserve it.