What is self love and why is self love important to practice daily?
Self love is defined as regard for one's own well-being and happiness. The concept seems simple enough, and yet it can be one of the most difficult things to put into practice. Check out our definition of self love below, and learn why it is crucial to incorporate.
Self Love: What Is It?
Before we explore why self love is important and practical ways to incorporate it, let’s pin down exactly what self love is. Self love, also referred to as self-compassion, is the ability to relate to oneself in a way that does not involve harshly judging or punishing oneself. Often, when feeling down about ourselves, we are quick to jump to quick fixes, like a new haircut, an online shopping spree, some new makeup, or even a new relationship; however, what many fail to realize is that, while this may create a short-term boost of confidence, self love does not stem from things. Rather, it stems from actions. This is because self love is not just a good feeling, in which case things may do just the trick. Instead, self love is an ongoing state of appreciation for oneself, which requires continuous action in order to grow.
Why Practice Self Love?
While some may dismiss self love as corny or “woo-woo,” scientific research has shown that individuals who practice more compassion toward themselves experience a variety of benefits, leading to an overall healthier, more productive, and happier life. Some of these benefits are as follows:
(1) Increased Happiness and Life Satisfaction: When you appreciate yourself, you can more easily appreciate life. Holding yourself at a high esteem leads to increased enjoyment and a more positive outlook toward the future.
(2) Higher Chance of Reaching Health Goals: Often, people have a hard time wrapping their heads around this one. “How would accepting myself lead me to exercise more? Wouldn’t accepting myself wholly mean trading in the whole exercise thing for Netflix and pizza?” Practicing self love does not mean not seeing room for improvement. It just means you care enough to value all parts of you. When you practice self love, you tend to value your health more and, as a result, are more likely to adopt healthy habits, helping you to reach those fitness goals (although we 100% support indulging in pizza).
(3) Improved Mental Health: In addition to increasing an individual’s level of optimism, self love has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. This is because, when an individual develops a more positive relationship with themself, they are less likely to get lost in negative thinking and feeling. Increased self love has even been shown to help individuals struggling with addiction.
(4) Increased Performance and Decreased Procrastination: When an individual has higher levels of self love, they tend to have fewer doubts about themselves, leading to decreased levels of performance anxiety, stress, and procrastination. This, in turn, allows them to approach a project with all of their energy rather than wasting some of it on thoughts of failure or by procrastinating.
(5) Better Able to Rebound from Adversity: You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control how you respond. People who practice self love typically bounce back faster than those who do not. In fact, a study published by Psychological Science confirms this theory, finding that individuals going through a divorce were able to bounce back just months after the separation when they spoke compassionately toward themselves versus those who spoke critically.
How To Increase Your Own Self Love
So what kind of actions can you take in order to build your level of self love? There are three crucial elements to developing a better relationship with yourself:
(1) Mindfulness: The first and most powerful step toward increasing self love is being mindful of the thoughts running through your mind and the feelings you are experiencing in your body at the time of a mistake or a self-comparison.
Next time you do something embarrassing or find yourself comparing yourself with someone else, stop and pay attention to the thoughts racing through your mind and the feelings arising in your body. Approach them as if you were a scientist discovering something for the first time, studying objectively without judgment. You can think about the following questions:
What is it that that voice is telling you?
What emotions are you feeling? Jealousy? Embarrassment? Deficiency? Unworthiness?
Where exactly are you feeling this emotion? Is it in your stomach? Is it in your chest? Is it a tenseness in your throat?
Whatever you do, do not identify with these thoughts and feelings. This may sound abstract, but the voice in your head (and the feelings that come with it) is not you. It is the ego, an evolutionary mechanism that (ironically) is trying to protect you (and, we might add, is miserably failing). If you identify with these thoughts and feelings - interpreting them as your own - doing this sort of exercise will only amplify them. For this reason, it is important that you look at them objectively, analyzing them as separate from you.
Also, more than anything, do not judge yourself for having these thoughts and feelings. Therapists often talk about how their clients don't come in because they're angry, but because they're angry about being angry. By not having an emotional response to an emotion, and rather accepting what is, you will be able to familiarize yourself with your thoughts and feelings while preventing yourself from falling further down the rabbit's hole.
(2) Compassion: Once you’ve identified this voice in your head and the feelings that come with it, think about the dialogue you are having with yourself. Ask yourself:
Would you ever speak to a friend that way?
Odds are you wouldn’t even talk to an enemy that way.
Recognize the voice in your head for what it is: something worried about you that is trying to protect you in the only way it knows how. Rather than get angry at it, recognize that, in the end, it is trying to serve you. Some people like to visualize it as a concerned, overprotective Italian mom just trying to protect its child. Some like to visualize it as a scared child. You can visualize it however works for you. But, whatever you visualize it as, approach it in the same way you would approach a crying child: with compassion. Gently quiet it, visualize cradling it or giving it a hug, reassure it that it will all be okay.
When you approach your ego with compassion - accepting your thoughts and allowing yourself to feel them without identifying with them - you will find that those feelings of deficiency and unworthiness begin to dissipate.
A great book on mindfulness and compassion is Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. For more of our favorite books, check out the 7 books at the top of our reading list.
(3) Humanity: Remember that mistakes are part of being human. Imperfection is what allows for connection. It's what makes us vulnerable and, as a result, able to relate to one another. You can’t avoid them. So embrace them. Laugh at them. Learn from them. And move on.
(4) Trading in Perfectionism for Self Care: From personal experience, I can tell you that there is a direct correlation between self care and self love. I, being a perfectionist, rarely treated myself to self care because I didn't think I was "worthy" of it yet. I only practiced self care if I had done something monumental that day or week. My thought process was, "When I'm ______ (rich, fit, healthy, happy, in a relationship, successful in my career, etc.)" I'll allow myself self care. And, let me tell you, that was a disaster. I was burned out, my life was completely unbalanced, I was never satisfied, I was unmotivated, and most nights ended in binge eating whatever desserts I could get my hands on.
Recently, I have taken the steps necessary to reframe my thinking and actions, making self care a regular part of my routine. Before, everything had an end goal: I got my nails done not because I was treating myself to a day of relaxation and beauty, but because, in my mind, my ideal self would always be groomed. I worked out not because I wanted to take care of my current body or blow off some steam, but because my ideal self had the perfect body.
Now, when I get my nails done, I do it because I acknowledge that I worked hard during the week and am treating myself. When I work out, I choose something that I will enjoy and do it because I want to take care of my body, not because I need a six pack.
Since implementing acts of self care into my routine, I can honestly say I have been so much kinder to myself. I enjoy the things I used to dislike, I appreciate the qualities that I do have more, and I (ironically) feel I am achieving better results, only furthering my levels of self love.
It's simple: When you treat yourself better, you think more highly of yourself.