Yeah. It’s true. There are times we don’t love ourselves, and a little bit of this can be a healthy catalyst for positive change. But when a constant feeling of self-loathing pervades our thoughts and actions for an extended period, and we come to believe with certainty that we have little to contribute, or that we don’t matter in the scheme of things, it’s a problem.
In fact, low self esteem is a silent epidemic. According to Google Autofill, millions of people have asked the astonishingly painful and intimate question. Type: “how can I learn”... and you will see “to love myself” among other high-ranking inquiries around such topics as coding, and languages. This is tragic—and if you are reading this now, it is likely a thought you’ve had at one time or another.
In this musing, let's take a poke at some of the reasons so many of us fail to love ourselves in health proportions, and what we can do to develop the mental and emotional fortitude, backed by hard evidence, that we are worthy of our own love, until we can full-heartedly believe it.
Decide Now to Take a Stand and Stick Up for Yourself
It starts with a decision: You are worthy—right now. Not some far-off day in the future—but right now. And to prove it to yourself, you will make it your business to produce the evidence to support that claim. Further—like any good friend—decide not to give up or abandon yourself for the rest of your life.
A firm decision is eighty percent of the battle. The decision can be made in an instant, but you will live the rest of your life honoring that decision—even when things seem hard. Here are some other things to practice to fortify your decision and make it real:
Practice Compassion and Give It Time to Work
Compassion is an ancient and timeless tradition that still applies today. The definition of compassion is the wish to eliminate suffering—starting with one’s own. Pain, shame, and loss are part of life—but suffering is optional.
Compassion is to a human like fertile soil, water and light are to a plant. Without compassion, love cannot flourish, and life is just a slow death. With compassion, your own love will grow and bear fruit naturally, and your life will be full.
These male and female plants were not thriving in the store-bought pots they outgrew. I placed them together in a larger pot, and gave them some coffee grounds and a south-facing window, where they both doubled in size in just a few weeks—and just look at what the lady plant is doing! Flowers are beginning to bud everywhere! In a plant-like way, she feels safe enough to divert her own nutrients and energy into flowers.
Seeds of compassion must be planted by you, cultivated by you, cared for and fed by you, sheltered, protected, an defended by you—the rest of your life.
Practice Letting Go
Letting go can feel so hard. But unlike other hard things that require us to build muscle, letting go is more about relaxing than flexing. Still, letting go must be practiced. If we’re not already in the habit of letting go, it can feel so unnatural at first. So much so, that we often prefer to carry the stories of our losses, slights and offenses our whole lives, rather than just moving on. I’ve had mantra for the last 30 years that has served me well: “No Sweat”.
The conscious and routine practice of letting small things go builds an automatic response that consume very little time and energy, freeing up those precious reserves for much larger problems that will inevitably confront us.
Purge Toxic People and Ideas
Remove toxic people and ideas from your environment and your mind—anything that degrades your physical, mental, or emotional constitution.
More than ever before, toxic ideas infiltrate your mind through the screen on your smart device. Many of these were not your ideas to begin with, but they sure as hell might be now. Start now to prune harmful or unfruitful ideas and thoughts from your environment and your mind.
Just Say No.
Eliminating toxic ideas from your mind is much harder than it sounds. It can take years. When the smartest minds on the planet, augmented by artificial intelligence learn what keeps you clicking, watching, or buying, your mind has been hijacked. You are no longer in control. The internet will keep feeding you more of what you click on or watch, whether is good for you or not. Those same companies and politics also profit from your unhappiness with yourself, and the products and services you require just to cope. Unsubscribe or unfriend from any site or anyone who does not make you stronger.
So much for virtual reality. If actual people in your life at home, school, or work don’t support your wellbeing or progress, spend less time with them. Stop making their neurosis or psychosis your own. If you are in an abusive or dangerous relationship, seek professional assistance and take action to get out safely. There is life after abuse. Take those steps now.
Seek Out and Engage in More Meaningful Problems
You cannot love yourself for long if the only problems in your life are your own petty problems. A man all wrapped up in himself makes a small package indeed. The more you dwell on your own wispy problems, and condemn yourself for them, the less time and energy you have to actually do something about substantial problems that can actually make a difference to you and others.
Shift your focus from inward feelings to outward results. Even if you are an introvert, focus your powers on improving some situation, process or result for someone else. It’s a fact that people who take care of external problems or other people are happier and more fulfilled than those focus and magnify their own feelings. If taking care of people is too much at first, then take care of an animal. If an animal is too much, then take care of a plant. The idea is to get outside of yourself and engage in something larger and more meaningful.
Make room in your schedule to grapple with and tackle problems bigger than yourself—problems that you can be proud to say you were a part of. If you can shunt your time and energy towards bigger, more satisfying projects, then at the end of the day, you’ll leave a wake of evidence that you indeed contributed to the greater good. That evidence goes straight toward your confidence. You are building a true track record for yourself, and it feels great.
Don’t Boil the Ocean
To establish your track record, you need some wins. Quick wins, and sustained wins. You also need some failures to teach you along the way. So embrace failure, but learn to fail early and fast by taking small risks and gathering feedback to learn what’s working, and what’s not.
To fail well, and win more often, break large, complex problems down into actionable chunks. If you don’t know what to major in, then talk to people about what they do, how they started, and how they got there. Or take a career exploration class. If you don’t know how to write a novel, then start by reading novels voraciously, analyzing what works and doesn’t work, and writing 2000 words a day in the style of those novelists you admire until you find your voice. If you don’t know how to find a life partner, then start by attending social events, introducing yourself and your interests, and learning to listen empathetically to others.
Once you’ve chunked up your project, then implement a form of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Plan your work. Do the plan. Check the results. Take Action to make the next cycle more effective. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Do Something for Someone Else—Anonymously
Compassion towards yourself is the place to start, but it doesn’t end there. Give yourself permission to care about something or someone else, and make serving others your inspiration. Whether it’s to eliminate friction, suffering, loneliness for another individual, or an entire market segment or demographic, caring about others will give you the best reason to wake up every morning.
Maybe you are not skilled to remove the cancer from another person’s body, but you can be there to help them feel less alone. Maybe you are not qualified to rescue another person’s failing business, but you can be there to help them through their life change. Maybe you’re not able to stop a loved one from being incarcerated, but you can write letters to help them feel connected in some way, in spite of their offenses.
The real force multiplier in working for other’s fulfillment is doing so anonymously. Of course there are social and economic reasons to give yourself credit for good work or good ideas, but credit has a way of finding its way back to its creator in the end. Make credit your secondary or tertiary goal. Building yourself requires patience. But experiencing deeply and repeatedly what you are capable of producing or delivering is far more valuable and empowering than the immediate and fleeting rush of applause. It builds true and lasting confidence. It’s a rolling snowball.
Choose Someone to Model
Humans—especially children—have a natural ability to absorb mannerisms from those they observe. We naturally stand like, sit like, move like, and talk like people we want to be like, or have goals similar to ours. We are masters at mimicry. Why not put this natural ability to use for ourselves?
To turbocharge everything you do, identify with someone who seems to be comfortable in their own skin, and winning at your game. Then let your natural mimic walk, talk, move a bit more like them. Even if this feels unnatural at first, acknowledge the discomfort, and adjust as necessary to make their posture, their voice, their movement, their speech and thought patterns your own. Posture and attitude generate self love as much as they reflect it.
Practice standing up straight, with your shoulders slightly back—and look people in the eye. Slow down, lower your voice, and speak your peace, when your peace needs saying. Smile—genuinely—when appropriate. If you’re going to love yourself, then assume the posture and attitude of someone who does.
Remember that people who have learned to love themselves are just like you at the core, but they have been at this longer, and found a formula works for them and their situation. They’ve planted their compassionate seed some time ago. If they are better at it today, it’s because they’ve practiced it longer. They habitually give themselves breaks, and learn to chuckle at their innocuous foibles. They make room in their schedules and divert energy to deal with the important things. They’ve built a track record whose wins outnumber their failures. They’ve given the process time to work in their favor—and they’re not done yet.