Self-care is a buzz word these days, and people often equate it with yoga classes, regular vacations, and dark chocolate. But while this kind of care is necessary and lovely, it can’t be done all day, every day. For many of us, the most important aspect of self-care is retraining ourselves to be consistently self-loving through every failure, success, and mundane middle, without even thinking about it. It’s possible that you came through childhood and adolescence with healthy self-esteem, and you grew into adulthood knowing your true beauty and value. But if any of that has been hard, you may need some daily training in self-love until you become automatically kind to yourself. Here are a few practices that can be done any time anywhere to get you started.
(1) Talk to Yourself
Ok, I said you could do this anywhere and talking to yourself may be stretching it. But these days, you can just plug your headphones in, and everyone will think you’re talking on the phone. Trust me, I do this, and I’ve never been pulled over by the social etiquette police. Most people talk to themselves sometimes, but what I am suggesting here is a back-and-forth conversation. Begin by giving your vulnerable self the freedom to unleash it all. Talk about everything that’s bothering you, without censor. Let the dark feelings have their say for as long as needed. Meanwhile, the caring, loving self inside you listens without interruption. Often called the Higher Self, this is the voice that comes out naturally around the ones you most easily love, like your best friend or dog. When you’ve finished your vulnerable sharing, let that loving self speak whatever comes to your heart. If you’re stuck, you can use the old therapy tool of simple reflection. “I hear how hurt you are. I know this is such a hard time for you.” Keep encouraging, accepting, and reassuring until something starts to shift inside. It sounds super silly, and I promise you, it works! It’s like having a friend that’s always available. You may need to sneak off to the bathroom to have a “phone conversation” sometimes, but you can visit your own source of love and comfort any time.
(2) Give Yourself Gentle Touch
Have you ever given a big hug to a tearful friend? Or maybe you’ve lightly squeezed the shoulder of an upset child. Gentle touch is soothing to the nervous system and comforting to the spirit. And guess what? You don’t have to wait around for someone to notice you’re feeling down to receive this kindness. You can stroke the back of your hand or wrap your arms around your body any time you’re needing some extra love. Notice: did you immediately feel strange, uncomfortable, or dismissive when you read that suggestion? If so, you can (1) ignore this idea, as that is your prerogative and you know yourself best or (2) give it a try. When I’m going through a rough time, and I give my hand a little kiss, it’s like waking up out of a bad dream into a gentle embrace. I remember that there is always love here for me, no matter how bad it gets. It is weird at first, of course. But hey, weird is an OK price to pay for having comforting touch available whenever we need it.
(3) Play the Game of “Good Enough”
If you tend to be hard on yourself or maybe a teensy bit perfectionist, this practice is essential. It involves consciously setting an intention every day to let something go when it’s “good enough.” Maybe you’re writing an important email, and it’s already taken you a half hour to compose it, so you just say, “I feel done with this!” and press send. Or you’re cleaning up after your family and becoming tired and tense, and then you decide to just let the house be a little messy so you can relax. These are minor examples, but it’s best to start simple and with lower stakes. Eventually, you may start enjoying the freedom of “good enough” so much that you look for newer, more significant places to lower your standards. It becomes almost like a game—one that you are challenging yourself to win. If you need some accountability on this one, I recommend finding a friend you can report to daily about your “good enough” successes, or you can just record your easing up in a journal. At least once a day, there will be an opportunity for you to cut a few corners. Most importantly, don’t forget to congratulate yourself for doing so.
If you start trying out these practices, and you aren’t feeling the shift, here’s a little teaching on some common obstacles to change:
Wishing you the joy of loving yourself and your life as is,