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“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” —Lucille Ball
It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. And while sure, it sounds great … It can feel about as likely as finding a unicorn wrapped in a rainbow with a million dollars stuffed in its mouth on your doorstep (for most of us). I know it did for decades for me.
When I was in my 20s, the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was love; a long-term loving relationship, to be specific. I’d never had one, and thought that meant something was seriously wrong with me. I had a gut-sinking fear it wasn’t actually possible for me. So when people told me “You really need to love yourself first, you know, and then everything falls into place with relationships,” it drove me crazy.
I was generally so far away from feelings of even friendliness toward myself the idea of loving myself felt like adding insult to injury. Here I was, struggling to figure all this impossible relationship stuff out, and now I have to figure out how to “love myself” too?
It was too much.
I thought there had to be an easier way to prepare myself for a loving relationship. In fact, I prayed that there was, because loving myself didn’t even feel in the realm of possibility.
I struggled for the first 30 years of my life with finding love, seeing it as something “out there” that I needed to bust my butt going after; working for; wrangling; convincing my way into. Which, suffice it to say, left me mostly frustrated and single. But through some committed effort and a growing level of trust in the process, over time, that self-critic that used to maniacally drive my life stopped taking the wheel as often.
And as I first got friendlier with myself, then gradually started to feel the love for myself (that self-love that used to seem like a pipe dream), wouldn’t you know it, I met the most amazing partner.
So if you’re ready to send your self-critic to the backseat and bring some self-love into the driver’s seat of your life—and maybe just break your dating life wide open in the process—here are a few ideas to help:
You can’t really dabble in self-love. You’ve gotta go all-in. Show the Universe you mean business, and it will meet you (at least) halfway.
Come in through the back door.
Aim for friendliness with yourself before worrying about this whole self-love thing. Drop the pressure by starting with bite-sized steps—like when you spill coffee on yourself and hear your inner critic reflexively call you a moron, press pause, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you’re human and accidents happen.
Rinse and repeat with these phrases every morning after waking up and last thing before you close your eyes: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be peaceful and at ease. (Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness is a fantastic resource.)
Make a 100% ban on self-trash talk.
Any time you hear your inner a**hole yammer in your ear that “You’re not doing it right”, press pause; take a breath; and say to yourself: “Even though I just (messed up in some way), I love and accept myself completely. “ Let those self-critical neural pathways atrophy and strengthen the self-love route.
Fake it ‘til you feel it.
Most of us have been disconnected from our inherently lovable true Selves for a long time, so it might take some time for that heart to melt and open back up into its original warm and trusting state. Don’t worry about that. Keep thawing things out with your loving attention and intention toward yourself.
Keep a self-appreciation list.
In addition to the daily gratitude list you may already be keeping, write down three things at the end of the day that you’re proud, grateful, or appreciative of yourself for. Really soak in that appreciation.
Ask yourself “What do I need right now?”
Get in the habit of tuning in to yourself. Any time you’re feeling a little lacking, ask yourself what you need, and do whatever you need to do to nurture yourself in that way.
Be physically affectionate with yourself.
The human brain doesn’t know the difference between being touched by another person or yourself. Practice touching yourself with kindness. Give yourself a sweet little massage as you put lotion on. Imagine drops of water in the shower being drops of love showering down on you. Give your knees a little kiss while in Child’s Pose in yoga or as you crawl into bed.
Receive compliments for real.
Slow down and literally feel kind words soak into your being. Genuinely receiving compliments helps expand your comfort zone for feeling good.
Speak lovingly to your younger self.
What did that young person need that they didn’t get? Especially in moments when you’re feeling lonely, sad, or anxious, give yourself a little squeeze and say some soothing words to yourself: “It’s OK. I’m here with you. We’ll handle this together.” (*Don’t worry if this feels hokey at first. Give this practice a chance and watch what happens.)
Say “I love you” to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning.
Might seem a little woo-woo initially, but a powerful practice over time.
Feed yourself nourishingly.
Making loving choices around food is a lovely way to grow the self-love muscle.
Take it one step at a time.
Your self-critical habits took a lifetime to accrue. Don’t expect an overnight shift to “Hurrah, I completely adore myself!” mode. Self-love is a dial, not a switch.
Read Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance.
Do it (you won’t be sorry).
Trust the process.
Keep chipping away at those old self-critical thoughts and beliefs and their power will fade over time.
And when you get nice and filled up with self-love, that love has no choice but to overflow into the world around you…and that’s when the real dating magic gets flowing.
So keep practicing lightening up on yourself and see what sparks start to fly. Wishing you love from inside and out.