Learning how to love yourself is one of the hardest skills to master. While many of us hold endless reserves of kindness and patience for other people, we don’t know how to turn those qualities inwards.
It’s normal to stumble in life. When friends do it, we’re first on the scene with comfort and support – but god forbid we should make a mistake ourselves. When it happens, out comes the negativity, the berating, the tide of self-recrimination.
The thing is, if you can figure out how to cut yourself some slack, your life will improve by a force of its own. The world is a happier place when you accept your place in it – and that same skill allows you to be even nicer to other people, too.
Here are a few simple ways you can learn to be kinder to yourself:
Be aware of your self-negativity
As human beings, we have a tendency to lend greater weight to the negative than the positive – five compliments can be worth one insult.
Research suggests this is because we have an inbuilt negativity bias, which allowed our ancestors to identify dangers in the wilderness.
Whilst this would have been useful against external predators, the threats of modern society now live within our minds; the energy generated to fend off sabre tooth tigers is instead absorbed internally, creating a cycle of negative thoughts.
With that said, the first step towards combating the negativity bias is identifying it. Once you recognise what your brain is doing, you can take active steps towards redressing the imbalance.
Being kind to ourselves is strikingly absent from mainstream cultural beliefs.
Treat yourself often
It’s really helpful to realise that we all suffer from a negative voice: it’s part of the human condition. And one way to take the edge off is by making a conscious effort to treat yourself.
Hara Estroff Marano writes in Psychology Today, “it is the frequency of small positive acts that matter most. It takes frequent small surprises to tip the scales towards happiness”.
Treat yourself to small surprises as you would treat a friend. Whether it’s splashing out on a new pair of shoes or kicking back with a bottle of Burgundy, treating yourself materially adds a boost of energy to your daily life.
As Uma Campbell writes in Goalcast, “doing something nice for yourself hits the internal reset button and motivates you to keep up the hard work”.
Instead of berating yourself endlessly over occasional failings, indulge in a little self-love to celebrate your frequent victories.
Plan your day in a meaningful way
That said, treating yourself doesn’t have to be material – it could simply be a case of putting aside some ‘you time’ for a dose of self-love.
Planning and working through a list of achievable goals for the week can be transformative to your daily routines. It not only boosts efficiency and prepares you mentally for upcoming obstacles, but resets the rhythm of the week and creates space for the little things that count.
Whether that’s going for a run, visiting Tuscany for the weekend or taking a hike in the mountains, working through your goals strategically allows you to reclaim your time for moments big and small.
Eat well, and with friends
Eating well is vital to our health and wellbeing, yet it sometimes takes a back seat to our long working hours.
For something so simple, a nourishing meal never fails to give us an instant energy boost; there are few things as cheerfully indulgent as a hearty spread.
Forming a pattern of regular mealtimes creates a sense of structure. “Mealtimes offer people the opportunity to stop, to stand still psychologically, to reflect on their day and days ahead, and to listen and interact with others,” according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Put aside an evening each week to cook up a feast, or catch up with friends over a meal at a restaurant. These small rituals ground you in the present moment, breaking up the pattern of negative thoughts and giving you a regular chance to unwind.
Mix things up with learning and travel
Forging new experiences plunges our brain into what psychologists name the “liminal space” – the spaces between. We enter the liminal space when our usual patterns of behaviour are disrupted or when we suffer a dramatic change in circumstances such as a death or a loss of job.
Yet we can harness the power of the liminal space to make way for major creative breakthroughs, too. Uprooting the old patterns of behaviour paves the way for real change to unfold – and we don’t have to wait until something major happens.
We can manifest those changes by simply introducing small adjustments to our daily lives, such as learning a skill or visiting a new country.
“Learning helps us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy… As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress,” says psychology expert Vanessa King.
Whether you fancy an impromptu trip to South Africa or turning your hand to pottery, trying a new activity plunges you into the liminal space, allowing you to break the mould and reshape it accordingly.
You can subtly transform your life and learn to love yourself by living curiously, and exploring the world with an open mind.
Reconnect with nature
There’s something uniquely refreshing about the natural world; there’s nothing quite like the company of rivers and trees to put things back into perspective.
Whilst this is something we all know instinctively, there is now ample scientific evidence confirming that nature is fundamental to human wellbeing.
Psychology academic Dr Miles Richardson states, “feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness and lower anxiety”.
Nature works its magic by grounding you in the present moment, releasing you from your anxieties and bringing you into a state of mindfulness.
As business psychologist Douglas LaBier writes in Psychology Today, “You’re observing the flow of your mental and emotional activity; but not being pulled into it. That conscious ‘now’ allows for greater inner calm, clearer judgement, and it enables more focused, creative responses to everyday life.”
Learn to love yourself for a happier life
While we generally agree on the importance of being kind to others, being kind to ourselves is strikingly absent from mainstream cultural beliefs.
Given the way human brains are hardwired, our greatest enemies and harshest critics are often ourselves. Even the most compassionate people treat themselves more harshly than they would ever dream of behaving towards anyone else.
Absorbed in the details of our smallest failings, we often lose sight our shared humanity, forgetting how common and familiar our problems truly are.
Recognising the tendency towards negativity and taking the first step towards self-love is a bold move against the grain that takes courage and resolve. By practising self-compassion in daily life, you can learn to love yourself in a way that brings about real and positive change.
As Yale academic Emma Seppala writes, “self-compassion is the root of learning, empowerment and inner strength”. Being kind and understanding to yourself is the root of an incredible strength.
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