Ever since I started this blog (back in 2009!), almost every year around my birthday, I’ve been republishing and revising a version of the below post about the lessons I’m learning about building a positive body image, coping effectively, and living a fulfilling, meaningful life. I hope this post inspires you to reflect on the lessons you’re learning, too, and to extend a bit more kindness your own way, particularly in these uncertain times.
1. Be you. In all your amazing and unique glory. Trying to be like others or pretending you like something you actually don’t doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried. It feels awkward and itchy. And then there’s the matter of life being too short. Find out who you are. Explore your likes and dislikes. Explore what makes you happy. Explore what feeds you, what gets you up in the early hours of the day.
2. Eat what your heart, mind, and body desire. As Anna says, use “the feel good rule.” Figure out what nourishes and energizes you versus following diet advice that feels restrictive and leads to unhealthy habits.
3. Do what makes you feel comfortable. Check in with yourself first, instead of focusing on what others say — unless, of course, you’re entrenched in self-destructive behavior. Then please seek and ask for support.
4. Learn to become more decisive. Tune into yourself. Even if it concerns something seemingly small, like what you want to eat for dinner. For instance, I can take 10 minutes to read a menu and then another 5 to ask the server about how they like the food and whether I can make a few substitutions.
Deep down, you do know what you want. You just might be used to a) letting others take the reins b) silencing yourself or c) feeling afraid to voice your opinion. Again, take the time to figure out what you want.
5. It’s fine to eat chocolate every day. Doing so doesn’t make you a bad person, a diet failure, a glutton or a person doomed to an unhealthy and horrible life.
6. Build a relationship with yourself. An attentive, understanding, compassionate relationship. It’s your foundation for everything. Everything. Ask yourself regularly: Would I say, suggest, or do that to my best friend? (Here are some ideas for relationship-builders.)
7. Journaling is a powerful way to get to know ourselves and cope with life. I discover what I’m thinking and feeling through writing. It slows down my racing thoughts and quiets the buzz of my brain. It reminds me of what’s important. It helps me reconnect to the real me. Writing is powerful even if you jot down a few thoughts once a week. Here’s more on keeping a notebook. And here are some interesting questions to contemplate on paper.
8. Self-care is vital. It’s powerful. It’s key to our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. You can help others sooo much more effectively and compassionately once you’ve helped yourself. And remember that you can define self-care any way you like. And remember you don’t have to earn the right to take care of yourself either.
9. Don’t wait to do anything you want to do until you lose weight. Do. It. Now. Why wait?
10. Discover, or re-discover movement. I used to hate exercise. Hate it. I also had all these stories about how I wasn’t an athlete, and how much I sucked at anything physical. I associated movement and exercise with weight loss, thinking that people work out to “stay in shape.” No wonder I didn’t want to do it.
Revise how you see moving your body. Relinquish the shoulds and shaming suggestions. Do it on your terms. Find the joy in movement. Discover what makes you and your body happy. Maybe that’s hiking or hula-hooping. Maybe it’s swimming, strength training or yoga. Create your own definition of movement, which helps you lead a fuller, richer life.
11. Be honest with yourself. Always tell yourself the truth. This is not easy. Some days, this means acknowledging you’re in pain, you don’t like how things are going, and you might need to make changes. But this is critical in building a powerful relationship with yourself and in building a beautiful life.
12. Sleep is not over-rated. It is a basic and essential human need.
13. A diet is not a magical elixir that leads to everything you want. Usually, it just blurs your wants and needs and makes you hungry and miserable.
14. Your body isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s likely the pants, the exercise, the lack of self-care, the loose boundary, the schedule that needs to be reworked. We are so quick to blame our bodies for everything. But digging deeper is more helpful.
15. Remember you. are. not. a. number. You are not the number on the scale or the size inside your jeans or dress.
16. Don’t deny yourself the power of your voice. Your feelings, thoughts, opinions, wants, wishes, dreams, desires are important. Use your voice. Speak up, and stand up for yourself. You don’t need to earn the right to speak or to matter. You already do, and you already have.
17. Don’t waste time on bashing your body with your friends. Instead, talk about your struggles and your dreams, and about what empowers and inspires you. Avoid commiserating around your not-good-enough waist or thighs or the calorie count in those cupcakes.
18. Even when we’re not ready to accept ourselves entirely, we can own a small part. What small part can you own today? Right now?
19. While it’s so hard, don’t let how you feel about your body stop you from savoring life and doing things that bring you joy. Do what makes you happy. Take care of yourself anyway, whether you think you deserve it or not. Take small steps. If you need, see a therapist. Or dig into a book, or try an e-course. Again, we’re all keenly aware that life is way too short.
20. None of us, ever, needs to apologize for his or her body. Ever. You have all the permission in the world to wear what you want to wear, to do what you want to do, to go where you want to go, and to love yourself at any and every shape, size and weight.
21. Figure out what you love to do and do more of it. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of filling your days with the things that make you happy, that inspire and empower you, that spark and satiate your curiosity. There are so many amazing things out there. How interesting and fun to figure out what they are and then enjoy them.
22. Aging—the sagging skin, lines on your face—means you’re still here. Aging is complicated. I know that many of us may look in the mirror and be surprised at the reflection staring back. But as I wrote in this post, which was inspired by Jen Louden’s beautiful piece, aging means we’re still here: We’re still here to hug our loved ones, to feel the warmth of the sun, to live out our passions, to laugh, to sing in the shower, to explore new adventures.
23. Be patient and understanding with yourself. This, of course, is hard, especially when you make a mistake or make a bad decision. But take it one step at a time. One tiny kind gesture at a time. Meet your mean thoughts with compassion. And remember, the more you practice, the more natural self-compassion will become.
24. Be open. Be curious. I love this quote from French artist Henri Matisse: “We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.” Curiosity is a great alternative to judgment and criticism.
When we’re upset, we can get curious and explore why. When we’re exhausted, we can ask ourselves if we need more sleep, more rest, a weekend away, or if our schedules are just too full. When we make a mistake, we can get curious about what led to it and what we can learn. In other words, we can get curious about what we need and what doesn’t work without berating ourselves or wishing we were different.
25. You are never alone. Whether you’re struggling with liking your body, wrapping your mind around a stressful situation, grieving the loss of a relationship or a loved one, you’re not alone. Someone else in your part of the world or another part of the world is sitting down, just like you, wondering, worrying, feeling frustrated, scared, upset, unsure. In this very moment.
Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to someone—a loved, colleague, therapist. Find support groups. Read blogs and books about the very things you’re struggling with. When my father passed away, I turned to books on grief and memoirs written by authors who’d also lost their parents. It helped to see my pain reflected in someone else’s words.
26. All our feelings—negative and positive—are valid. I used to get so mad at myself for being anxious or sad. I also rarely liked to feel these painful feelings. When I wasn’t angry with myself, I’d just pretend they didn’t exist. Either way, I wouldn’t acknowledge or accept them. Which meant I didn’t acknowledge or accept parts of myself.
But all our feelings and experiences are valid. That pain is valid. We can find healthy ways to cope with our feelings. That’s important. But first and foremost we must listen to these feelings. And we must say, it’s OK. It’s OK to feel the way you do.
27. You will surprise yourself. We all have a list—in our minds, of course—of the things we simply can’t do. We can’t handle a difficult situation. We can’t do a pull-up. We can’t share an ugly part of ourselves with our spouse. We can’t say no. We can’t ________ (fill in any shaky, anxiety-provoking situation).
You will surprise yourself, because you can. Maybe it won’t be graceful. It probably won’t be graceful. But you will do it. And you will learn something valuable about yourself and about life. Don’t give up on yourself so quickly. Give yourself the space to try.
I love this quote from The Wizard of Oz: “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
28. Almost everything is a skill that we can learn and practice. And practice. At any time, at any age, we can learn to be kinder to ourselves. We can learn to say no to people, activities, and commitments that don’t nourish us. We can learn to cope well when times get tough. We can learn to navigate negative thoughts and ask for what we need.
And ultimately, we don’t have to stay stuck. By seeking out helpful resources—books, blogs, websites, therapy, support groups, e-courses—we can build healthier relationships with ourselves and with others. Often these important insights are within us. The resources simply act as a compass, a GPS to help us get to the goldmine.
What lessons have you learned about body image, well-being, or life? What did you think was true years ago but turned out to be anything but?