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How to Cultivate Self-Love

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

A young black woman in bright clothing hugging herself with eyes closed

Count the number of positive and negative things you’ve thought about yourself so far today. Are there more positive or negative thoughts? I have a feeling that for many of us, the answer is negative.

Why don’t we speak in a more loving way to ourselves?

From the time we are young, outside influences begin to shape how we view the world and ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, our family, friends, culture, coworkers, and everyone and everything around us is telling us how to feel about ourselves. If those messages are not positive, it’s easy for us to internalize a negative self-view.

Our internal dialogue is often filled with thoughts like, “I hate my body/voice/hair/, I’m too old/young/stupid/inexperienced, I’m not good enough, I’ll never do this, I give up,” etc. We frequently have thoughts like these filling up our minds, overwhelming any positive thoughts about ourselves.

However, you can choose to take action to love yourself and overcome your negative self-image.

Change Your Internal Story

Change the tone of your self talk by creating a new story. Think about something that you’ve accomplished in the past 30 days, whether it’s big or small. This is proof that you’re not a “failure.”

Think about what others tell you that you do well and what you get compliments on regularly. We all have our good points, even if we struggle to see them ourselves.

Look at your circle of friends, family, and coworkers. Are they a positive influence on your internal story? Surround yourself with people who lift you up and can help you change your thoughts about yourself from negative to positive.

You should also look critically at the media you consume. It’s so easy to get sucked into a critical mindset online and not only nit-pick flaws in yourself but in others too. Find online communities and content that are focused on building others up instead of tearing them down.

End the Expectation of Perfection

So often, we get down on on ourselves because we expect perfection and inevitably fall short. But as the famous quote goes, “To err is human.” None of us can ever be perfect, no matter how hard we try, and the relentless pursuit of perfection will hurt us in the end.

You will become stressed out by your inability to be perfect and cause harm to your health and those around you. In their book How Women Rise, authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith discuss how women often struggle more with perfectionism than men because higher expectations are placed on them. They feel they have less leeway for mistakes in the workplace.

To combat this, they suggest, “If you have perfectionist tendencies, you can best serve your long-term interests by learning to delegate, prioritize, and get comfortable with taking measured risks.”

What area of your life can you give yourself a break in and let go a little? Maybe you skip making the bed one day to sleep in a few extra minutes. Or is it really the end of the world if you have a typo in your email?

Giving yourself impossible expectations is setting yourself up for failure. If you expect perfection but necessarily don’t measure up, you’ll be left to stew in your negative thoughts of frustration and inadequacy.

So learn to let go and give yourself a little grace. We’re all human and mistakes happen. Beating yourself up won’t correct the mistake, it will only hurt you. Tell yourself it’s ok to mess up sometimes and move on.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Self-love is not only about what comes from within, but what comes from without. Part of self-love is protecting yourself from people and things that make you unhappy. As Brené Brown says, “Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay, and what’s not okay and why.”

Healthy boundaries help us keep successful and respectful relationships with those around us. But sometimes, we are too caught up in trying to please others and keep a relationship going to understand that it’s not making us happy.

It’s not easy to make a decision you know will upset someone else, but it’s okay to do what’s best for you and set a boundary that will help you reach happiness.

To set your boundaries:

  • Decide what you want and don’t want from people - prepare a written list

  • Decide how you will be constructive regarding enforcing them

  • Decide who & when you need to educate or inform

  • Know your tipping point or walking away point

  • Decide the type of warning you might give

  • Decide the time frame you may need to distance yourself from that person or situation

Do the Difficult Thing - Put Yourself First

The most loving thing you can do for yourself is to put yourself first. That doesn’t mean to be selfish or to constantly put yourself ahead of everyone else. It does mean you have to remember that you can’t help others if you’re in trouble yourself.

Make time to take care of you. Whether it’s a spa day, working on a hobby, or even something as simple as walking around the block when you are feeling overwhelmed, you deserve that time for yourself.

Think about it this way - If a crying child came to you and asked for a hug to feel better, would you say no? Of course not. So when you are that child, why do you say no to yourself when you have an emotional need? Be kind to yourself!

Take time every day to work on your well being. How can you learn something new every day? How are you taking care of your health each day? What can you do for your mental and emotional health each day? None of these need to take up a ton of your time, but they are important enough that you need to make sure it does have some of your time.

“Love yourself unconditionally, just as you love those closest to you despite their faults.” Les Brown

At the end of the day, you deserve love from yourself just as much as anyone else in your life does. I hope you will take at least a little time today to work on loving yourself. Move forward with a mindset of positive self-talk instead of bringing yourself down.

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