We tend to think of accepting and loving ourselves as either unattainable and impossible for us, or something that’s one and done.
But according to New York City psychotherapist Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT, self-love is “more of a practice, like yoga or meditation.”
And that’s a great thing. Because it means we get to practice and enjoy the benefits every day.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are six expert-recommended, small, totally doable ways we can embrace ourselves on a regular basis.
Compliment yourself regularly. “We often focus on our errors or on what we don’t accomplish,” said Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, Calif., and author of the new book Aging Joyfully. Instead, she emphasized recognizing the big and small things we do well. “Neurobiologically, this hardwires positive patterns in the brain.”
Many people tell Manly that giving themselves compliments feels strange. But she tells them: Your “inner voice often says unkind things… So, self-compliments are simply the positive voice that can come into play to counter (and replace) negative self-talk.”
She shared these examples of genuine compliments you can give yourself:
- I’ve done a great job on that work project. That took a lot of effort.
- I’m coming so far in therapy. I didn’t know what a boundary was a month ago, and now I’m standing up for myself. That’s amazing.
- I’m learning to be kind and loving to myself. It feels great to care about myself.
Be curious. Any time we have a negative thought or feeling, we typically take a punitive, critical approach. We bash and judge ourselves. We implement consequences. Instead, be curious and empathic, said Kurtz, author of the book Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom.
A helpful place to start is to ask yourself questions, such as: Why am I thinking this thought right now? Where does it stem from? What does it mean? Where am I feeling this feeling? What message is this emotion trying to send? What do I really need right now?
Revise your appearance narrative. How often do you attack your appearance? Many of us do it regularly. Indeed, it can seem as automatic as breathing. When you find yourself evaluating your looks, Kurtz stressed the importance of shifting the focus and changing the story by standing in front of the mirror and making three kind comments.
She shared this example: “I love my eyes because they are a beautiful, rich brown color. My eyes are amazing because they help me make my way in the world. My eyes really sparkle when I smile.” Try to compliment a different body part every day for 2 weeks, she said.
Say no. Manly encouraged readers to decline anything that’s “too taxing, feels unhealthy, or is inappropriate.” “When a person is able to say ‘no’ kindly and respectfully, the inner self feels safe and grateful.”
How do you say no? It can seem really difficult, especially if you’re so used to saying yes to everything. However, you might simply say: “Thank you for thinking of me, but, unfortunately, I can’t make it,” or “Let me check my calendar and get back to you in a few days” (which buys you time, and helps you figure out if you really do want to do that thing). This Psych Central article has a list of excellent ways to express no.
Wake up with gratitude. This is another way to nourish supportive self-talk. Manly suggested expressing gratitude for three things about yourself every morning. This could be anything from your health to your eyesight to your ability to be compassionate, she said.
According to Kurtz, you might appreciate a talent or skill that makes you good at your job, or you might appreciate the way in which you parent, the type of friends you attract, or your sense of humor. You can jot these down in a “self-love journal,” she said. “[T]ry and contribute to the journal for 2 consecutive weeks and see what you discover.”
Be intentional with your social circle. Think about who you spend time with right now. Are they loving and supportive? Or do they tend to add to your stress and lead you to feel terrible yourself? Try to minimize the time you spend with individuals who don’t have your best interest at heart. According to Manly, when we set “strong boundaries around who we spend time with…the inner self feels cared for, safe, and honored.”
And try to connect to the compassionate, encouraging individuals in your life. This could be as small as chatting over the phone, scheduling regular lunch dates, or starting an email thread about how everyone is doing.
Loving and even just appreciating yourself may not come naturally to you. And that’s OK. Keep practicing. And if feels too difficult, don’t hesitate to give yourself the gift of therapy. You deserve to feel good about yourself and comfortable in your own skin.