5 Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself
There is one single ingredient that leads to deep peace and happiness.
Self-love. Relating to yourself in a positive way. Having gentle, encouraging self-talk. Being generous with yourself first and foremost. Cutting yourself some slack. Making choices with your well-being in mind.
This was an EPIC struggle for me. I learned about self-love when I first started therapy and I thought it was the biggest load of bullshit I’d ever heard.
I thought that harsh internal self-talk was the bedrock of my self-discipline, the quality that I credited with every success I had in life. If I wasn’t a brutal task-master to myself, how would I get out of bed in the morning? How would I not just instantly quit the job I hated?
For a solid month my therapist discussed it ad nauseam. Like a math problem several grade-levels beyond my skill, I simply didn’t get it no matter how hard I tried. Eventually, she challenged me to try loving myself for just one week. If everything fell apart I could go back to my harsh internal relationship.
It seemed like a reasonable ask. How much undoable damage could I do to myself in a week? I braced myself and took the dive. I used the mantra, “What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself right now?” as my guiding light and buckled up for the imminent collapse of my world.
Spoiler: Loving myself didn’t make my world didn’t fall apart. My alarm clock went off in the morning. I let myself hit the snooze one time more than usual, but then I decided that keeping the paychecks coming in was ultimately more loving than sleeping in. I saw a cute outfit in a store window that I didn’t have the cash for, but I went in and bought something small for myself anyway.
I found my inner dialogue naturally changed. I talked to myself sweetly, like a doting mother to a young daughter. I still got things done, but I used gentle persuasion rather than harsh demands. I kept my commitments (or at least the important ones) and otherwise gave myself as much slack as I possibly could.
At the end of the week, the damage was that I went a little bit over my budget, still had some items remaining on my to-do list at work, and felt more happiness, security, and peace than I’d ever felt in my adult life.
Many of us maintain a toxic inner dialogue that saps all joy from us. Self-talk like “I suck…” “I’m such a failure…” “If I wasn’t so lazy I’d…” is not a natural occurrence. It’s there because of Western cultural conditioning, as transmitted through our parents and other adults in our childhood.
Most of us grew up with phrases like, “Shame on you,” or, “What’s wrong with you?” or “You should know better,” or, “If only you’d…” These phrases stung, but we were only children and we relied on our caregivers to survive. This was probably all we knew so we assumed it was normal.
As we grow up these painful patterns of speech became internalized. We relied on self-hating internal talk to get ourselves up in the morning, perform well in our societal tasks, fulfill our obligations, and “be better.”
When this conditioning is combined with the cultural emphasis on virtues like humility, willpower, productivity, and hard work, this abusive voice in our heads is suddenly turned into a virtue. Instead of the tendency naturally fading with time and experience, it becomes cultivated and magnified.
This isn’t a natural, universally human phenomenon. Tibetan culture, for example, doesn’t have a concept of self-hate. When asked about his thoughts on self-hate, the Dalai Lama replied, “what’s that?” The concept had to be explained to him before he could comment further. Harsh self-talk is a mostly Western phenomenon.
After enough time you can become convinced that if you don’t keep verbally abusing yourself, your life will fall apart. You might think that if you love yourself, you’ll eat nothing but twinkies, tell your boss what you really think of them, and will soon end up in a cardboard box on the street.
The tragedy in this is that self-love is the absolute foundation for real personal growth. It is key to becoming the person you want to be. You can attend all the classes, workshops, and retreats you can cram into your schedule and have a personal practice that would make a monk proud. However, if you don’t approach all that from a place of deep compassion for yourself and everything you experience, you’re not going to really change.
Self-love is often dismissed, either overtly by society at large or covertly by a piece of internal conditioning, as incredibly narcissistic and selfish. But, the reality is that the more compassion you have for yourself the more you have to give to others. You can’t give what you don’t have.
If you truly love yourself, you will do whatever you need to do to thrive. You’ll eat well and exercise because you love your body and want it to be healthy. You’ll respect your idiot boss because you love yourself enough to do what you need to do to provide for your material needs.
Any decision can be made out of fear or out of love. You can go to a job that you hate because you are afraid of living in a van down by the river. Or you can love yourself enough to go to a job that you hate in order to provide for yourself, who you love. It’s the same behavior, but with different motivations.
It can be difficult to cultivate self-love, especially since most of us have had self-hating conditioning since childhood. But here are 5 small but powerful tricks to get you started.
1- If you find yourself in negative self-talk, notice how much it hurts. Mentally say “ouch.” This will help sensitize you to the pain of self-hate that most of us have just gotten used to.
2- Refer to yourself internally with a term of endearment, ideally with a gentle tone. Just changing the thought from, “Go to the gym!” to, “Sweetheart, it’s time to go to the gym,” can make a big difference in how you relate to yourself.
3- Try loving yourself in thought and deed for just 1 week. If your life falls apart you can go back to hating yourself.
4- Find a love song for yourself and listen to it often. The sappier the better.
5- If in doubt, ask yourself “What is the most loving thing I can do for myself right now?”
It can take a lot to stop the cycle of self-hate and start developing self-love depending on where you’re starting from. Hurtful conditioning has been with us for a long time and has been reinforced every day of our lives. For some, it’s the journey of a lifetime. For others, it’s a simple concept they can implement in an afternoon. Be patient and recognize it may take a long time to master.
Self-love is the least selfish thing you can do. This gentleness with yourself naturally leads to a deep generosity and empathy with others that rings with generosity.
Love is the universal healing balm. Anger, trauma, sadness, fear, despair... all can be healed with enough love. It can seem like it’s easier to love others than to love ourselves, to give than to receive. However, the deep, authentic, compassionate love that can change the world must have roots within ourselves. Take a revolutionary step and love yourself. Everything starts at home.
Loving this? Learn more!