Self love.  For a solid year and a half, it seemed that every time I turned around, picked up a magazine, opened a book, looked at Instagram (which – let’s be honest –  was startlingly often), I was reading something about the importance of self love.  And at first it annoyed me, and even made me a little mad; why?  Because I honestly didn’t know what self love actually meant, and frankly it sounded a bit far out there.  “Yeah, yeah.  Love myself?  Isn’t that a little narcissistic?  Isn’t a little self indulgent to focus on me instead of my family or friends or career?”  Bafflingly, self love was a brand new concept to me – a 30 something year old woman with three kids.

But the messages wouldn’t go away.  And in fact, it started to feel like a cascade effect, as is want to happen when you ignore the messages around you: what starts out as a gentle lapping wave on your shore gets stronger, gathering more and more momentum until it’s like a giant, frothy wave crashing against you.  So I decided to pay more attention, and start learning about what self love really meant.

As I read, this heavenly door opened for me, inviting me in to see past my walls that I’d built so high, and to start peering over them to what might be on the other side.  And I saw this incredible world in which I could wake up happy and satisfied with my own company, rather than waiting for someone else to fill a perceived void.  And the more I read, the more I wanted, but frustratingly, now that I was all aboard the self love train, I couldn’t find out how.  I couldn’t find out how to begin this practice, and how to get to where I wanted to be.

18 months later, after much reading, learning, thinking, exploring, and loving, I felt like a new person.  New to the extent that I barely remember my old thought patterns and negative feelings towards myself, the harsh and omnipresent inner dialogue, the crippling self doubt that was keeping me professionally stagnant.  Barely remember the feelings of extreme fear of being alone, or masking how I felt deep down with a smile on my face for the outside world to see, perpetually worried that the real me would be “found out,” and uncovered to be the imposter that I felt I was.  I nurtured myself through such an incredible process to a place in which I felt so, soooo baseline happy, that I thought I’d map out what that process looked like, and share it in the style of a beginner’s guide to self love, ideally to  accompany someone on a similar voyage. 

  1. Surround Yourself with Positive Messages + People

This is an easy peasy way to get started.  Go through your social channels and anything that makes you feel like crap, get rid of.  No joke.  You will survive in a FaceBook-less world.  Any social stream you use to stay in touch with the world, jam it will goodness.  Exclusively.  Look for Meredith Marple, Mark Groves, Kristin Lohr, and Jen Sincero as a supreme self love starter pack.  Someone, anyone else posting anything that makes you feel annoyed, inadequate, jealous, left out, anxious, or just plain crummy?  Delete.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  Don’t even sweat the technique, just remove them from your digital landscape.  Replace them with social influencers and individuals who fill you up with light and love and the warmest of fuzzies.  Jam your consumption with endless positivity and good vibes only.  Trust me, this matters.

Now take that same strategy and apply it to your in-real-life life: pay close attention to how you feel after each interaction with different people and environments.  When you make plans with someone, or leave an interaction with a friend, how do you feel?  Energized and alive, or drained and irritated?  Your body will know, unequivocally, and then tell you if that was good or bad.  All you have to do is listen. We get so accustomed to spending time with people that we don’t like, or who make us doubt ourselves, just because they’re there.  One of the perks of being an adult is that you literally don’t have to be friends with people you don’t want to be.  You get to choose to always be kind, while also getting to choose to decline invitations or exchanges that leave you feeling less than awesome.  Your circle will get smaller, and simultaneously richer, and you will start to notice an intrinsic shift in your feelings.

2. Talk to Yourself the Way You’d Talk to a Best Friend…or To a Child

Stop for a minute and reflect on what kind of language you are using with yourself.  Then pause and reflect if you’d use this same language with your bestie, or a little one in your life.  The disparity may shock you.  It’s very very easy to get caught up in negative and highly damaging self talk; if there were a person in your life who spoke to you like in that manner, you’d run in the opposite direction.  Fast.  But somehow, many of us engage in incredibly hateful inner dialogue and don’t think anything of it.  In the absence of self love, we can often can get trapped in a pattern of speaking to ourselves in a way we’d never deign to speak to another human.  Ever.  So now we’ve got to break this pattern.

Full disclosure: this will make you feel like a crazy person for the first little while, but lean in, sister.  Look at yourself in the mirror, and really look at the you who is looking back.  Rather, look at the person in the mirror as if she’s a completely different person, and speak to her as though she is your best friend or daughter.  You might even find it helpful to write some of those things down, or consider leaving little love notes taped to your mirror / bedside table / fridge.  Maybe start a little box on your desk that you fill with love notes, reading through them when you need the kind words the most.  A lot of us, and I’d argue too many of us, didn’t get those messages growing up.  So we grow into adults who have no idea to speak kindly to ourselves, or to be our own cheerleader.  Though it may feel wacky at first, once you crack the old habit and welcome the new, you’ll start to feel like the person of value you truly are – just for being you.

3. Engage in Activities That Make You Feel Good.  Like…Really, Really Good.

Spend time doing the activities that you love.  Is your job sucking your will to live?  Maybe it’s time to consider a switch.  Is your house or apartment too big / too small and messing with the flow of your daily life?  Maybe it’s time to take a serious look at your living situation and see what you can do.  Do you hate the process of getting everyone ready for swimming lessons, only to force kids to get in the car, get in the pool, and fight the transition the whole damn time?  Maybe it’s time to press pause on that and just spend an extra night at home together instead.  Conversely, what is it that calls to you?  Have you ever wanted to try your hand at painting?  Writing?  Playing guitar?  Close your eyes and think back to what made you happiest as a kid…and do more of that.  Whatever has been holding you back from learning something new or reviving a hobby from the past, take the leap and re-prioritize your schedule to make room for the things that make you YOU.  We get one chance at life, and spoiler alert: it ends.  May as well spend your time on earth doing things that you actually like doing.

This might take some financial re-organization too, to invest in the things that are vs. those that are not worth your time.  Start small with a clear goal, and take the necessary steps to make that happen.  Then watch as your whole person starts to feel differently (and better) about how the precious hours in the day are being spent.

4. Embrace Your Body.  Each and Every Part of It.

A woman’s relationship with her body can be a complicated one, and quick on the heels of our chat about positive self talk, we’re going to nip body issues in the butt.  Literally and figuratively.  Get naked – yes, actually do this – and look at yourself in the mirror.  Notice your immediate reaction.  Celebrate all the parts of your body that you are crazy about.  Then look at the parts that maybe you’re not as happy about, and rather than critique them, make it a point of repeating to yourself “I love my belly (for example).  I love my belly,  I love my belly.”  Repeat for any part of your physical self that you’ve otherwise not treated with the greatest respect in the past years, each and every day, when you’re walking, driving, cooking, whatever-ing. 

Likewise, appreciate that life tends to be easier when our physical body is running smoothly, just like our car.  If you think of your body as the vehicle that gets you where you need to go, treat it like a classic Cadillac.  Fill it with the best possible fuel.  Take it out and exercise it regularly.  Show it off in clothes that make you feel like a million dollars; if that’s the same outfit everyday, congratulations!  You just found your signature look.  Enjoy the wonder of the combination of form and function that is you, and foster a hell of a lot of love for it.

5. Understand That This is a Process – Enjoy it, and Trust It.

I can’t understate this enough.  For some of us, the steps outlined here are breaking years if not decades worth of thought patterns.  You are just one human – a human with many responsibilities at once.  Understand that, just as with anything, you need to introduce yourself to change bit by bit, and to be gentle with yourself as you go.  Hold close to you the fact that this life is precious, and the only person who is guaranteed to accompany you from the very beginning to the very end is that same person looking back at you from the bathroom mirror; let’s make that relationship the best one you have.

The more you check in with yourself and cultivate a loving, caring relationship with you, the better all of your life will get: relationships at home, work, play, and beyond will all improve.  It will not be immediate, and that’s why you have to trust that it is a process, and that all you have to do is keep doing it. 

So keep doing it.  Keep loving the hell out of yourself and watch as your life becomes richer, and that girl in the mirror becomes happier than you knew to be possible.

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