Once I was at a wedding, celebrating love, talking with Brandon Dottin (@poweryogaguy) about love and about masculinity. He was telling me of a seminar he had attended recently where individuals were asked to go around in a circle saying, “I am worthy of love.” Brandon noticed that the men, himself included, had difficulty saying this phrase. I laughed with him about how perverse modern masculinity had become, but inside my heart was cold and still. I knew that if he asked me to say that sentence out loud, in front of strangers, I would have had a lot of trouble. Thankfully the conversation veered in a different direction but the thought stuck with me. Days later, alone in my bathroom, looking in the mirror and saying my daily affirmations I still had trouble saying it out loud. Learning to love ourselves can be challenging. Over the years I’ve picked up a few simple, actionable tactics that have improved my relationship with myself.
Create the Possibility of a Loving Relationship with Yourself – by naming a plant after you! Before this conversation with Brandon I never asked myself if I was worthy of love. I knew people loved me, wasn’t always sure why, but never asked if I deserved it (spoiler alert – I do, and so do you). I knew that if I ever wanted to embrace my worth as a truth I would have to at least create the possibility of me being worthy and see how it felt. So I started with a plant. I actually got this idea from an instagram post and it has worked wonders as a practice towards self-love. The idea was to name one of your plants after yourself so that every time you nurtured and cared for that plant you could conceptualize caring for yourself. When you spoke to the plant lovingly (you DO talk to your plants, right!?) you would be speaking kind words to yourself. As the plant flourished and grew you could take pride in its growth, and by extension in your growth. Like a child playing house this practice allowed me to “try on” what it would feel like to be the kind of person who loves themself. It turns out, it feels great! Once I knew how it would feel it was time to take things out of the playground and into the “real” world.
Make it Easy for You to Love You – by putting self care in the third person. When it comes to caring for others I consider myself a superstar. If I know there is a need that I can help fulfill I’ll do whatever I have to. If I’ve got an hour in between classes and I can either eat lunch or exercise my dog, we’re heading to the park. If my partner needs to be at the airport at the crack of dawn I’ll lose an hour or two of sleep without thinking twice. If someone tells me they’re only in town for a day and it happens to be on my one day off of the week, well, it’s just one hour right? No problem. I am proud of my willingness and capability to help others. But in every example, it’s me who gets pushed to the side. Even when I promise myself I’ll leave a day open just for me, it’s never a big deal to break that promise because I know I’’ll get over it. If anyone is unaware, this strategy does not work. So I started thinking of myself and my self-care actives as if they were someone else. Instead of putting “Eat Lunch” on my to-do list I write “Take Nick to Lunch.” Instead of writing “Workout” I create an appointment with Nick (one of my most challenging clients). Instead of blocking out time just for me I write “Take Nick Birding.” With this tactic I am able to use my people-pleasing skills to my advantage. I’m not asking myself to make an intimidating, paradigm-shifting change. I’m just changing some phrasing. And the amazing thing is it works! These activities go from negotiable, semi-important tasks to imperative, helpful, self-affirming actions. I am able to treat myself with the same value and respect as I would treat anyone else. But what I do is only part of who I am. My rich internal monologue still resists and insists I’m kind of the worst. So how do we practice loving self-talk?
Learn to Speak Lovingly to Yourself – by pretending you are a friend. This last suggestion is one with which my athletes will be very familiar. No one who has studied under me would call me excessively kind. When something is good, I will say so. When something is not good I will not hesitate to say that as well. I am not mean, but I’m also not a confectioner. I’m not going to sugar-coat it.
I believe that by identifying and acknowledging a problem I create an avenue to solve that problem or change that situation. Saying, “this could stand some improvement” sounds harsh but is actually an act of kindness. Pretending it isn’t an issue would be the real betrayal. When people train with me I do not allow them to talk negatively about themselves. I don’t allow people to say “I can’t,” I only allow people to say “I’m having trouble.” Similarly I don’t allow people to say “I suck at this.” I do allow people to say “I want to get better at this” or “this needs improvement.” What is fascinating to me is that while I have had this self-talk conversation dozens, possibly hundreds of times, I have never once had to admonish an athlete for saying something negative about their friend or the person lifting next to them. Even if we may sometimes think, “Wow, they are a terrible lifter,” we would never say that out loud. We speak to our friends with encouragement, we focus easily (perhaps even excessively) on the positive. It can be hard to notice negative self talk without someone else to help you hear the negativity, so I became my own sounding board. When I talk about myself I say “My friend Nick…” Suddenly my willingness to say something negative is gone. Instead of “I suck at finishing my pull” I say “My friend Nick… needs to work on finishing his pull.” Once again we are using our natural disinclination for cruelty to our advantage. By talking about ourselves as if we were someone else we make it easier for us to speak kindly.
Perhaps it is easier to love other people because we know so little about them. Perhaps our revulsions at ourselves comes from knowing every word of our interior monologue. Perhaps the difficulty in loving ourselves is the result of being bombarded by capitalist pro-consumption marketing from the moment we are old enough to behold a screen. I don’t think it really matters why one is easy to love and other is not. All that matters is that we try.
Learning to love yourself is hard. It’s not going to happen miraculously one day or just because you read an article, however compelling. Who we are is a result of what we do. By using what comes naturally to us (love of others) we create space to become the person we want to be (love of self). Try just one, or try all three, but either way try. You are worth it— you are worthy of love— just like me.