The critical mass of messaging about self-love that’s circulating right now has conditioned a number of us to believe that it’s a state of being waiting to be achieved. That, maybe, if we just try really hard and do the right workout and commit to a daily meditation and eat well and force ourselves to love the parts of our body we sometimes wish were different, we’ll arrive at the destination of self-love. And once we get there, we’ll finally be happy and feel at ease with who we really are.
While I am absolutely a proponent of committing to any practice or ritual that facilitates feeling good and thriving, I can’t help but remain skeptical of an approach that’s so…intentional. Might we be missing key component of the entire concept when we believe tips for self-love are lead us to a concluding point of something to be gained or earned rather than remembered or practiced? And, furthermore, is there a danger to only recognizing the presence of self-love through the lens of joy and bliss?
I, myself, have struggled with these questions over the years. I’ve also experimented a lot—testing all kinds of tips for self-love to see which strategies cultivate authentic compassion for my authentic identity, not my aspirational one. The strategies that have ultimately been the most effective and have invited the most ease and steadiness into my life are also the strategies I consider to be the least intuitive. In fact, they challenge the ways many of us have been conditioned to think about self-love in the first place. So rounded up below are three of my favorite unexpected tips for self-love to help you cultivate more acceptance for who you are now.
1. Embrace your inner critic
Whenever I hear the more judgmental side of myself speak up, my first instinct is to resist and ignore it. While that may well be a natural response, it’s not necessarily the most skillful course of action to take. When studying compassion-focused practices with my meditation teacher Kimberly Carson, I learned how to make space for the inner critic and observe negative self talk like I observe breath flowing in and out.
Just like the waves of the inhale and exhale rise and fall, so does the commentary of the inner critic. Think about it: When you have a negative thought about yourself, do you choose to have the negative thought first? Right before the negative commentary rolls through, do you think, “Now seems like a wonderful time to beat myself up and consider all the ways I’m falling short.” No way, right? It comes and goes, all on its own.
Research also shows that becoming aware of the inner critic and embracing it can even help us feel more connected to each other because suffering is part of the human condition. So, embracing the inner critic instead of rejecting it or asking questions like “Why me?” can help us all feel less isolated and interrupt patterns of disconnection. The overall effect of this impact can be profoundly positive.
2. Snuggle up to tough emotions
Welcoming in difficult emotions—like anger, fear, and anxiety—is also critically important for being able to respond to more challenging aspects of life without compromising a sense of self-love or acceptance. We already know our inner critic tends to get louder as we push it further away, and a similar course takes shape with intense emotions as we reject or deny them. As a result, our risk of getting swept up in a wave of reactivity increases.
Staying present even when it’s not easy is a gesture of kindness to ourselves.
So how do we stay steady and loving when big emotional currents wash through? First, we don’t try to control the movement of the wave. Rather, we welcome it in, watch it, and, as best as we can, stay present. Staying present even when it’s not easy is a gesture of kindness to ourselves that also enables us to gather certain pieces of valuable information. For example, when I feel my anxiety is triggered, I experience it and embrace it as wisdom energy communicating something in my life to change or modify.
Like with anxiety, I’ve found that fear and anger carry wisdom messages for me, too. Fear is just here to keep us safe: When it shows up, it feels like a signal that I’m right where I need to be. Anger, on the other hand, points to what we value and what matters to us most. Every time I feel rage or irritation on a more subtle level, I’m reminded about what I love and want to protect.
3. Rest in presence
Self-love isn’t often embraced as a concept that exists within us already and that we’re already whole. Instead, many of us believe self-love is something that must be earned. That it’s something coming around the corner. Or that it will arrive tomorrow when we get promoted. Or when we’re finally able to get pregnant. Or we find the right partner. Or we save enough money to pay off our student loans or go on that fabulous vacation. You get the idea.
Self-love isn’t often embraced as a concept that exists within us already and that we’re already whole. Instead, many of us believe self-love is something that must be earned.
To combat this mind-set, the next time your mind starts to play the game of “I’ll be at ease with who I am when…,” ask yourself one of the following powerful questions: “Have you ever experienced love in the future? Have you ever experienced feelings of ease and contentment and love for yourself while anticipating some future version of you?” These questions are meant to be rhetorical and to ground you, because, well, of course we don’t experience love in the future. The only time we can tap into those feelings is right now, in the present moment.
The best part about presence is that it’s always here. It requires nothing. Simply being present and aware is a gesture of love for yourself because it asks you to be radically open and receptive to every part of you. Not just the parts of you that are easy to accept, but the tougher features, like your inner critic and the part of you that gets angry.
So the next time you feel you’d benefit from some fresh tips for self-love, or you start to feel like you’re doing it all wrong, just pause. Breathe. As best as you can, meet whatever shows up with kindness. And remind yourself that everything you need is already here. It’s already present. All within you.
Kait Hurley is a movement and meditation teacher and entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. She runs kaithurley.com, an online training program that delivers do-anywhere workout and meditation classes. Combining yoga, strength training, and heart-pumping aerobic work with meditation, Kait encourages you every step of the way and meets you where you are, both physically and mentally.
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