How to Practice Self-Love When You Don't Know Where To Start
Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist
“Love yourself first and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself in order to get anything done in this world." – Lucille Ball
“Self-love” and “self-care” are terms you've likely heard before, especially if you've read some of our previous posts! They’re terms that get used a lot in the personal development space, and for good reason – loving yourself, and developing practices of caring for yourself, are the foundation for every aspect of your health and well-being: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and relational. In other words, self-love and self-care are pretty darn important!
When speaking with my clients about self-love/self-care, I often hear them say, “Corinne, I understand the importance of self-love and I want to love myself...but, how do I do it? Where do I start?” These are great questions! If self-love is unfamiliar, how do you know what it looks like and where do you begin? First, it's important to understand that self-love is more than a feeling you have about yourself; it’s an intentional choice to act lovingly towards yourself, as well as the desire to strive for overall well-being. From this understanding of self-love, you can begin to put specific practices into place to love yourself wholeheartedly. Below are some tips to help guide you in your journey towards greater self-love:
1. Develop your self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to turn inwards and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Loving yourself involves knowing what’s happening for you on the inside, so that you can identify (and voice) your needs and, ultimately, make changes that reflect your worth. Ask yourself:
- Do I notice any patterns in my thoughts? Do the same thoughts come up again and again across situations (e.g., “I’m a failure”, “I’m not good enough”, etc.)?
- Are certain thoughts connected to particular feelings? For example, do I tend to feel unmotivated each time I think, “I’m a failure”?
- How do my thoughts and feelings impact my actions? For example, when I think “I’m a failure” and start to feel unmotivated, what do I typically do? How do I typically behave/respond?
A useful tool for developing self-awareness around your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours is called a “thought record”, which is used in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Try it yourself: The website, Self-help.tools, contains thought record worksheets for your use, as well as instructions for completing your thought record.
2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is another way to develop your self-awareness, as it involves paying conscious attention to the present moment. More so (and this bit is important!), mindfulness invites you to pay attention without judgment. So, you aren’t judging whether your thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. are good or bad – you’re just noticing them, with interest and curiosity. Mindfulness, in itself, is an act of self-care with countless benefits for your mental and physical well-being, including: reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic pain, as well as improvements to memory, concentration, creativity, immune system, and overall mood and quality of life! By paying conscious attention to your present experience, you give yourself the opportunity to notice what feels good to you and what doesn’t. This is important for developing self-love since loving yourself involves making decisions to take care of yourself, and to do what is good for you. Note: doing what is good for you doesn’t mean being oblivious to the needs of others! See our previous post, “The Importance of Loving Yourself First” for more on this.
3. Create your self-care “non-negotiables”: Create a list of activities/practices that you know help you feel good and/or give you a mood-boost. For example, things like getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, setting standing dates with friends/family, having an hour each night to read or watch Netflix, getting out in nature once a day, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, having an hour each week to work on creative projects, etc. You get the idea! Now, go through the list and pick your top three non-negotiables. These are the activities that, no matter what – no matter how busy life gets, no matter how exhausted you feel, no matter how often your thoughts tell you you’re not worthy - you commit to doing for yourself regularly. Everything else on the list is a bonus to be enjoyed when you have less on your plate. Self-care is self-love in action!
4. Set clear mental and emotional boundaries: Boundaries are important for self-love because they encourage respect – respect from yourself, and from others. In relationships, healthy boundaries help you to identify what you’re responsible for and what you’re not; they make your limits clear. Healthy boundaries can help you to stay present in conflict without becoming defensive or escalated. Healthy boundaries can prevent you from taking responsibility for the problems of others. When you understand your own thoughts, values, and emotions, boundaries become easier to set, which is one of the reasons why developing self-awareness is so important! Boundaries aren’t about being mean to other people – they’re not meant to be punitive. Rather, healthy boundaries are essential for taking care of yourself so that you can be at your best; if you’re not at your best, your relationships won’t be either. Setting clear boundaries can be as simple as saying “yes” or “no” when you mean it. This doesn’t mean you’ll never do anything you don’t want to ever again – that’s just a part of life! Instead, it means being more intentional in your decisions about what you do and why you’re doing it; setting boundaries is about making choices purposefully, rather than feeling like you never had a choice at all. Try it yourself: Over the next week, every time you’re invited to do something – take on a new project, go to a party on Saturday night, accept responsibility for an outcome - practice saying “yes” and “no” to the invitation. Keep track of the reasons for your decision, as well as the way you felt about your decision afterwards. Feel free to use this boundaries setting worksheet to help you!
Love yourself fiercely; your life depends on it <3