You Won’t Boost Your Self-Improvement if You Don’t Develop This Basic Practice
It’s not a sappy self-help cop-out, but rather a highly effective tool of high-performing people
I’ll start off this piece of writing with something that may sound controversial: If you have never seen a therapist or counselor before, you should at least consider it.
You don’t need a mental illness in order to benefit immensely from therapy. Everyone has issues that make their journey challenging. Talking to a third party who has no emotional stake in your life helps provide a point of view that’s difficult to get from friends or family members.
One of the most helpful things that you can learn from going to therapy is how to love yourself. I cannot overstate the value of this. It may be the key to continued self-improvement and a consistently better attitude.
What Is Self Love? What Isn’t?
When I say “self love” I’m not talking about simply looking in a mirror and whispering affirmations to yourself. I’m not talking about being complacent.
But I did purposely use the word love — as opposed to mere respect or care. Love is strong, unconditional, and consistent despite challenges. Loving yourself is more than respecting or believing in yourself. It is being in the position of caring deeply about yourself, valuing yourself apart from your accomplishments and possessions, and wanting the best for yourself.
Loving yourself isn’t that different from loving someone else. A healthy love for someone consists of wanting what’s best for them, respecting their individuality, and treating them with kindness and respect.
It doesn’t mean being overly lenient with them. It doesn’t mean always being happy with their choices. You can love someone, but still be disappointed in what they’ve done. But if they sincerely want to do better, you stick with them. Self-love is the same way.
Loving yourself is about accepting yourself as you are right now, getting clear about how you want to be in the future, and committing to being kind to yourself along the way. Not lenient and complacent, but kind. There is a world of difference.
In practical terms, practicing self-love is about two things: being aware of how you talk to yourself and adjusting that self-talk to be more understanding and encouraging.
We all have self-talk going on in our heads. For some of us, it’s literally an inner monologue. For others, it’s not exactly full sentences, but just thoughts about ourselves — maybe just words or phrases. Most of them are either evaluations of ourselves, or worries about things to come. And according to most research, over 70% this self-talk is negative.
Self-love, then, is as simple as reversing the trend of negative self-talk. Once it becomes less negative, your mood and behavior will follow. But easier said than done, right?
The Child Exercise: Flip Your Own Self-Talk Script
One of the most helpful exercises for cultivating self-love I was exposed to was pretty ingenious. You essentially flip your own self-talk script by forcing yourself to use it on someone who clearly shouldn’t hear it: a child version of yourself.
Take your most scathing negative thought about yourself and imagining saying it to a 5 year-old version of yourself. Really close your eyes and think about it. Imagine how that young child would feel hearing it. It should make you re-think how harsh you are with yourself. After all, like the child version of yourself, you’re just trying to learn and get better. Being verbally abusive to yourself isn’t going to help you do that.
What the exercise helped me discover is that in most cases, we are much more hurtful to ourselves than we are to others. It’s just that almost all of the pain we inflict on ourselves is internal and automatic. We get used to it; it becomes the background noise that we live with. But it affects our mood and behavior.
Loving yourself is about identifying all of that negative and hurtful background noise in your self-talk, and slowly replacing it with more encouraging stuff. It can happen gradually. But it should be something you stay aware of.
So in the end, self-love isn’t about saying you don’t need to change or grow; in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s about acknowledging that you want to change or grow because you’re worth the effort it takes to do it. You’re worth investing in. You’re worth the time and the work. And most importantly, it’s about knowing yourself well enough to give yourself a break when you need it, and being firm with yourself when you know you can do better.