Lizzo raps about being her own soulmate, pop songs are less romantic and more about loving yourself (see: “Love Myself” or “I Love Me,” which are both major jams), and heroines are saving themselves instead of waiting for a prince (Legally Blonde, Hidden Figures, freaking Wonder Woman… need I say more?)–self-love is no new concept. Maybe you’ve tried writing a love letter to yourself, keeping an affirmation folder of compliments or achievements, or regularly giving yourself some TLC with a face mask and a glass of your favorite wine. We know we’re supposed to love ourselves, and are told to learn and practice self-love. But in a world that simultaneously picks apart women’s appearances and pits us against each other, self-love is not always as easy as deciding to love yourself.
In reality, it doesn’t mean staring in the mirror and magically seeing Beyoncé instead of the flaws you typically pick apart, or saying “I love you” to your reflection (without truly believing it). Loving yourself comes down to actions: what do you do every minute of every day to prove to yourself that you’re lovable, deserving, and worthy? Is your job, relationships, and the things you say a direct reflection of who you really are? Here are 10 real, tangible actions you can take to love yourself more this year:
1. Get to know yourself
Yes, you’ve been with yourself every second since the day you were born, but how well do you really know who you are? Do you know what you love, what makes you happy, and what you want out of life? It’s impossible to love yourself if you don’t know yourself, so take some time to think about what you believe in, value, and like, and identify your strengths (particularly the ones that have gone unnoticed). Getting to know yourself also means being honest with yourself; insecurities can cause illusions, or you might have some self-deception going on. But true love means honesty and responsibility in your other relationships, so work on self-awareness by no longer minimizing or making excuses so that you can fully accept your entire self.
2. Talk to yourself as a child
This one might be a little too “out there” for you, but hear me out. We have a constant inner dialogue that is either contributing to self-love or preventing it. As Michael Singer writes in The Untethered Soul, “There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind, you are the one who hears it.” In other words, the way you think, talk to yourself, and see the world is not necessarily who you are, which means it can be adjusted to be more self-loving. You can change the way you see yourself by changing your inner dialogue.
To speak to yourself kinder and feel more optimistic, try talking to yourself like a child. We’re often more forgiving, compassionate, and loving when we see ourselves as children, rather than as our adult selves. You can even carry a childhood picture in your wallet or put a baby picture in a spot you need some more self-love, like the bathroom counter (if the negative self-talk comes when looking in the mirror) or at your desk (if you tend to be self-critical with your work).
3. Forgive yourself
A common setback of self-love is holding onto things we’ve done in the past. Maybe it was an embarrassing moment that haunts you to this day, or maybe it was a serious mistake that you’re still letting define you. If you cheated in a relationship, got fired from a job, or can recall every single embarrassing moment since you were a kid, you might be holding onto evidence that you’re not lovable.
Instead, look at how you’ve changed since those past mistakes or embarrassing moments. Realize how even the worst moments have made you stronger, kinder, and better. Without a failed relationship, you wouldn’t be in your current one (or wouldn’t know what you wanted in a relationship), and without being fired, maybe you wouldn’t have found a new passion or be where you are today. Bottom line: see yourself as a growing human being, not as a compilation of your past mistakes.
4. Treat yourself like you treat loved ones
It sounds cliché, but the most important relationship in your life really is the one you have with yourself. So why don’t you nurture that relationship like you do with your best friend, mom, or significant other? Self-love might be as simple as loving yourself in your love language. Make a list of all the ways you treat the people you love: do you text them to check in? Do you surprise them, give them compliments, or wish them “goodnight” before you go to bed? However you treat the people you love should be the way you treat yourself too. Check in with yourself, give compliments, treat yourself regularly, or look in the mirror and say “goodnight” before bed. As silly as it may feel at first, we all give love a certain way, and self-love isn’t any different.
5. Say “no” when you mean no
Boundaries let other people know that you expect respect, but more importantly, they let you know that you deserve respect; saying “no” when you mean no means you’re putting your needs above others’. Perhaps it’s the coworker who asks for help when you’re already swamped, the neighbor who needs a favor when you’re exhausted, or getting guilted into a holiday event you don’t feel comfortable attending. Every time you say “yes” when you want to say “no” puts other’s opinions and needs above your own, which builds more evidence that you’re not the priority. A “true yes,” or a “yes” that’s in line with your best interest, will make you excited without doubt or worry. Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.
6. Care about nutrition
Maybe you don’t know a protein from a fat and care more about convenience or taste than nutrients, or maybe you have some ingrained food rules that make you stressed out if you eat a slice of pizza or piece of cake. No matter what your current relationship with food is like, the food you eat should be an act of self-love. You know that old school saying that you are what you eat? Well it is kind of true: food serves as information that tells our bodies what to do. It’s not about “good foods” you’re supposed to eat versus “bad foods” you’re not supposed to eat; it’s about loving your body enough to nourish it with whatever makes it feel its best. After all, health is the best gift you could ever give to yourself. With that being said, pleasure is a nutrient too, so also treat yourself to the foods you love without guilt, shame, or deprivation.
7. …and that goes for nutrition off the plate as well
Just like your body feels bad after eating junk food, there is such a thing as junk food for the brain, and it makes your mind (and body) feel bad after consuming too. The shows you binge, the podcasts you listen to, and the books you read feed you just as much as leafy greens and chickpeas. Make sure you’re choosing the most nourishing options: turn off the news, stop watching TV that feels like a waste of time, and read books that inspire you. PS that also goes for your Instagram feed: unfollow or mute anyone who doesn’t make you feel inspired, encouraged, or happy. Overall, be more conscious and choosy with every way you’re nourishing your body.
8. Play more
Take a play evaluation right now: when’s the last time you did anything just for fun? How do you spend your free time alone that isn’t bingeing Netflix? If it’s difficult (or impossible) for you to think of an answer, your very stressful adult life has likely taken precedence over a very important aspect of life: having fun. Lack of self-love or constant self-judgment might be just because you’re taking life too seriously. Incorporate regular “playtime” in your life by turning on music and dancing, doing something creative like coloring, or going to your local jungle gym and going on the monkey bars (bonus points that it doubles as a workout!). If you feel silly “playing,” that’s even more reason to.
9. Keep promises to yourself
People often think that once they lose weight, get a killer job, or find a solid relationship, then they’ll get healthy or feel happy. But self-love is not conditional; it’s a skill you achieve with practice. And how do you practice? You keep promises to yourself. Confidence just means that you trust your own word: when you say you’re going to do something, you do it. That means cooking dinner instead of getting takeout, waking up for that morning workout, and not going back to your ex (actually–we’ve all been there). Keep in mind that following through with what you plan on doing is worth more than just achieving what you want; it’s building confidence and self-trust, which translates into self-love.
10. Become more “you”
Not to get all philosophical on you, but I like to say that our purpose in life is just to become more of who we are. We spend so much of our lives trying to be accepted, prove ourselves to other people, and blend in, that sometimes we stop prioritizing our truest self. Many of us still have the middle-school mentality that if we’re loved by others, then we’ll love ourselves, so we try to fit in or seek acceptance. In reality, we only love ourselves when our actions align with who we really are.
Make a list of your qualities, likes, strengths, and passions (see: #1). Then, become more of that, unapologetically. Get rid of the activities or traits that don’t feel true to you, and fill up the empty space with more you-ness. For example, find out what makes you feel alive, and then do it more often, or pick out your truest personality traits (quirky? Compassionate? Hilarious?) and bring them into work life, relationships, and the time you spend alone. Every work goal, wellness intention, and daily schedule should support becoming more of who you really are.