Recently the concepts of self-care and self-love seem to be getting a lot of attention. However, there appears to be a bit of confusion about what loving yourself really means and why it’s so important. The bigger mystery is how to actually go about it! Hopefully, this article will give you a little more perspective on the concept of loving yourself and actionable steps to do it yourself.
You may find this a bit surprising, but the concept of loving yourself actually isn’t new at all. It’s just being marketed much better! Way back before 400 B.C.E, Patañajli wrote the Yoga Sūtras which contained the 8 Limbs of Yoga, a road map per se on how to live your life more fully. Within this 8-fold path are the niyamas (the 2nd limb) which focus on loving and caring for yourself. The niyamas are a set of 5 specific practices that teach us to respect ourselves---mind, body and spirit. This is also what is being promoted today, it’s simply being rebranded in a way that is more in sync with current-day.
What is Loving Yourself?
What does loving yourself really mean? At first, I thought loving yourself meant just taking care of yourself: eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, meditate, take vitamins, get your annual medical exams----the list goes on! While taking care of yourself is part of the equation, it isn’t the main point. It wasn’t until I read Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to be Me, that I realized it was much more than that. She shared that self-love is “about loving the real you.” Loving the beautiful parts, the emotional parts, the silly parts, the irritating parts---all of you. Furthermore, “it’s about making a commitment to yourself that you will stick by yourself---even if no one else does.”
Why is Loving Yourself Important?
Why is self-love important? First of all, it makes you happy! Reflect on the times when you have felt good about yourself and then compare it to times when you didn’t feel so good about yourself. Big difference, right? Tying this back to the niyamas (the 2nd branch of yoga), contentment is one of the 5 practices. Contentment, santosha in Sanskrit, is being able to be content with yourself and your situation the way it is now. Of course, there may be things about ourselves or our lives that we’d like to improve---we are always changing and growing---but, being able to be content in the present time is the goal. Santosha invites us to have a mindset of abundance versus lack, love versus fear. When you are content and you love yourself, your heart opens more easily to allow you to love others, which in turn makes those around you happier too. Overall, this positive state helps you function at your best.
How do you fall in love with yourself?
- Make Yourself a Priority
Put yourself at the top of your “to-do” list and (here’s where it can get a little challenging) don’t feel guilty about it! We all have commitments and people that depend on us, but remember that we function better and more effectively when we feel good. In this positive state we can give more to others in return. So make the time to do the things that make you feel good about yourself. Everyone is different, so you need to decide for yourself what works for you. One of the practices within the niyamas is svādhyāya, or self-study. This is the practice of truly understanding who you are through inner reflection.
Through trial and error, and understanding what makes me function at my best, I need to exercise and meditate on a regular basis. So, I prioritize these activities by 1) meditating Monday through Friday prior to starting work and 2) every Monday I schedule my workout times for the week and input them into my calendar. Once they are booked I rarely miss a workout because I plan around it.
Action step: Now your turn! Decide on 1-3 things that are important to making you feel good and schedule them in your calendar. Manage all other activities around these times and, remember, don’t feel guilty about it!
2. Choose Love over Fear
Love and fear tend to be the two main forces that motivate us. Either we do something because we just love doing it or we do it because we are afraid someone will get mad at us or we will look bad or we may hurt someone’s feelings. Here’s a simple example:
Scenario: You have to go to the grocery store today. Your attitude is either:
Based in Love---you look forward to going shopping because you love to cook beautiful, healthy meals for your family. This is one way you like to express your love for them.
Based in Fear---you are dreading going to the store, because you don’t enjoy cooking and therefore, you feel you’re not that good at it. But you feel guilty if you don’t make home cooked meals for them so you do it anyway, but you’re grumpy about it and have a bad attitude.
Potential Solution to Choose Love over Fear: If cooking isn’t your forte and it just stresses you out, then don’t do it! It’s okay! Plus, when you have a bad attitude about doing something you don’t always perform at your best. Instead get creative. There are a lot of different ways you can get out of cooking for your family every night. As entrepreneur and motivational speaker Marie Forleo says “Everything is figureoutable!” Maybe bring home healthy prepared foods from your neighborhood grocer a few nights a week. Subscribe to one of those cooking mailers like Blue Apron, assign each member of your household a day to cook dinner---you might enjoy making dinner just one night a week! This is just one simple example of taking action based in love versus fear.
Action step: Look at your to-do list for today and determine which items you are doing out of fear. Either delete them from your list or modify them so that they feel better and so you can truly do them with love. How can you change the thing or change your mindset to make this more of a positive experience?
3. Commit to Your Self-Love Practice
Loving yourself may not come that easy and could take some time. Circling back to the niyamas, I draw upon another one of the practices within this branch of yoga, the tapas, which means to be diligent and committed to your practice. Tapas is also described as the fire in our bellies that keeps us motivated on our path. In this case, our path to loving ourselves. One simple, yet effective way to stay motivated is to surround yourself with positive affirmations. Here are a few to consider:
Self-love is not selfish; I cannot truly love another until I know how to love myself.
I am true to myself, and if my heart isn’t in it, I will take myself out of it.
I am free, I am powerful, I am good, I am love.
I am loveable.
I put myself at the top of my to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.
I believe in myself.
I am my most valuable asset.
I am worthy of love and joy.
I am proud of myself and all that I am accomplishing.
I choose love over fear.
I am enough.
I matter. I am allowed to say yes to myself and no to others.
Positivity is a choice. I choose to be positive.
What I give is what I receive.
I love myself!
Take Action: Write down 2-4 of these affirmations (or your own favorites) on a sticky note and place them around your home and office so you are reminded of your wonderfulness throughout the day.