Give Yourself Some Love

Give Yourself Some Love

Yesterday we celebrated Valentine’s Day, our once-a-year formal opportunity to demonstrate love to the significant people we share our lives with. So, in this week’s post I’d like to focus on the importance of showing some love for yourself, and before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m advocating narcissism or suggesting self-idolatry, let me spell it out – I’m talking about self-compassion.

Learning how to practise self-compassion is one of life’s most valuable skills, and since there are many viewpoints and theories on this subject, here’s my attempt at a definition:

Self-compassion is when we accept our weaknesses, flaws and insecurities and choose to respond by showing patience, understanding and kindness for ourselves’.

“Piece of cake!” you may think, but it’s a lot, lot harder than it sounds. To have any remote chance of making this a habit that sticks, you should remember that the words above that matter most are accept & choose. Keep an eye out for these.

First, a question: If self-compassion is helpful, why is it that most humans don’t exhibit this thought pattern by default? I believe it’s because in so many areas of our lives we are taught that self-worth is conditional. Schools value people on correct answers and exam grades. In our social lives, we value ourselves based on popularity. In personal relationships, we perceive our value in terms of attractiveness or appeal. And in our workplace, we are valued for our business or professional successes. We are surrounded by subtle and not-so-subtle messages about what we must be, and do, to be of value. We are not generally taught that we still have value when we fail – so when we don’t succeed, we believe we deserve to feel hurt and pain. And we beat ourselves up, all over again.     

Set out this way, this statement looks crazy. But much of our mental activity is ingrained and it takes real conscious effort and willpower to overturn our instincts and start practicing self-compassion.

Step 1 – Accept your flaws.
Weaknesses, shortcomings, flaws – whatever you call them, we all have them. It’s just part of natural human variation. So accept them. Self-compassion doesn’t involve believing you can never do anything to improve aspects of yourself, and it doesn’t mean inflating your weaknesses into a definition of who you are. It simply means you accept how you are and choose to focus on your strengths (and those weaknesses you can do something about). Did you notice the words accept & choose?

Step 2 – Deal with ‘now’.
Remember that the past cannot be changed, and the future is not yet written. Don’t become overly focused on past decisions and don’t make assumptions about the future which will only limit you. Accept that everyone goes through challenges and any difficulties you are experiencing are likely to be temporary. The bit you can choose to control is called NOW.  Did you spot accept & choose?

Step 3 – Don’t beat yourself up.
Everyone has an inner voice that focuses on negative thoughts and emotions, fostering our sense of insecurity, inadequacy or shame. Simply ignoring this self-critical voice won’t work. Instead, try accepting the criticism, but reframe it in a more positive way. Think about how you would choose to pass on these observations to a friend in a similar situation and use this blueprint to replace negative self-talk with encouragement. Again, accept & choose.

Step 4: Build a ‘win or learn’ mindset.
You’d be surprised how many breakthroughs, discoveries and inventions were the result of a mistake or error. So stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Accept that everyone makes them from time to time and choose to look upon them as an opportunity to learn. After all, you’ve just eliminated something that doesn’t work which is a valuable piece of knowledge. First accept, then choose.

Step 5: Don’t care what others think.
I’m not saying you should needlessly antagonise or offend others. But you should let go of your need for other people’s validation since much of our negative thinking comes from how others perceive us and self-directed anger often stems from social pressure. When you choose not to base your happiness on outside influences you are accepting a final, huge act of self-kindness. First choose, then accept.

I hope these ideas have been helpful. Some people find that the concept of self-compassion is totally empowering and marvel that embracing our weaknesses can actually make us stronger.

I’d like to end this Valentine’s week blog with a wish that you take good care of yourself. You may already know how much your physical well-being can impact your psyche. If you can find a way to free your mind, reduce stress and get some feel-good hormones circulating in your blood-stream, then your performance in all areas of your life and work will improve. This can take any form you like, from walking with a dog, or without a dog, going to the gym or making time for comforting rituals like a warm bath, thoughtful contemplation or even your favourite healthy meal.

Accept. And Choose.