Self-love is a skill, a habit, and a way of life. Loving yourself is easier said than done: training our minds to be kinder to ourselves counteracts years of engrained behavioral patterns. But as a result of loving ourselves, we are better able to love others. When I'm not consumed with hatred and criticism towards myself, I'm in a better place to be a good friend, a loving partner, and an active member of my community.
Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are a necessary part of a healthy and balanced life. Here are a few authentic ways to build self-esteem and grow a healthy self-love.
Keep a gratitude journal
People who keep a gratitude journal are happier, more energetic, and more optimistic about the future than their counterparts. When I heard that statistic a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to try a gratitude journal, too. I found that keeping a list of the things I was grateful for did make me happier. More importantly, it made it easier for me to see the good in things, including in myself.
Find an old journal, or create a note on your phone, where you write down three things each day that you're grateful for. You can start with one if you to. After a week or so, start including things about yourself every once in a while. For example:
I'm grateful that I worked so hard today, so I could spend time with my friends in the evening.
This practice will help you improve your overall happiness, and also lay the foundation for seeing the good in yourself.
Keep track of the good things you do
My boyfriend Ken suggested this to me a few months ago. I keep daily to-do lists and add my ‘daily gratitudes' to the end. When I struggled with my self-confidence, Ken would encourage me to tell him one good thing I did that day. After we did that a few times, he suggested that I add them to my checklists at the end of the day. I don't do this all the time, but if I'm having a period of insecurity, I find that seeing concrete things I did for others or for my community helps me see my worth.
Counter negative self-talk
A few years ago, I began actively countering the negative things I said and thought about myself. For a while, I had a habit of responding to any mistake by jokingly saying “I'm the worst.” Even though it was a joke, I could tell that it was part of an unhealthy negative self-image. So whenever I said or thought “I'm the worst,” I would counter in my head, “I'm a good person just trying my best.”
A lot of us see the worst in ourselves. We respond by exaggerating our imperfections, going from “I made an embarrassing mistake” to “I'm an embarrassment” in the blink of an eye. Instead of talking to yourself that way, treat yourself as you would a good friend. Encourage yourself and be kind. You deserve to be treated well, and that starts with the way you treat yourself.
Choose self-love affirmations
In order to counter my negative self-talk, I think of affirmations I can say instead. These might feel cheesy to you, but I encourage you to try them for a week or two. Affirmations have made a big difference in how I think about myself, and many others swear by them, too.
You can always write your own affirmations, but if you have a hard time getting started, here are a few you can try:
- I have worth and value.
- I am just trying my best.
- I deserve love and kindness.
- I am complete, if not completed.
- I hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.
Write out your affirmations and put them in places you encounter often
Your bathroom mirror is a good place for these notes, as is your bedside table, your notebook, or the wallpaper on your phone. The more often you see these phrases, the more normal they'll feel to you, and the easier you'll find it to apply them to yourself.
Treat your body with kindness
Eating well, being active, and sleeping enough are important parts of a healthy life. They also contribute to your self-image; when you treat yourself and your body with kindness, you reinforce the idea that you deserve care and respect.
Be patient and keep at it
Healthy self-image can't be built in a day. As much as we would love to flip a switch and stop obsessing over our faults, it takes a long time to undo the negative patterns of thought and behavior that we've built up. Just as one day of being kind to yourself won't address all your self-image problems, one tough day, or two, or five, won't ruin your attempts to love yourself better. Be patient with yourself as you adjust to the new practices and words that you're introducing to your life.
It gets easier. One day, loving yourself will feel as natural as self-criticism once did. Keep at it and don't give up; you deserve love and care. First and foremost, from yourself.