Practicing Self-Love

Photo Credit: LookHuman.com (my favorite resource for workout tops!)

Photo Credit: LookHuman.com (my favorite resource for workout tops!)

Learning that the Ancient Greeks had 6 different words for 6 different types of love was revolutionary to my impressionable undergraduate mind. What’s powerful about 6 different types of love, is that it helps illustrate the true breadth of love in our lives.

As a Humanities 101 refresher, the Ancient Greeks divided love into these 6 types:

  • Eros for sexual passion  
  • Philia for deep friendship
  • Ludus for playful love
  • Agape for love for everyone
  • Pragma for longstanding love
  • Philautia for love for the self

All are excellent, healthy types of love that we should all be lucky enough to have in our lives. Today, I want to focus on philautia. I find that this type of love requires dedicated practice and though it can be difficult, will ultimately have the most profound impact on our daily happiness and wellbeing.

Though philautia can certainly take a turn towards narcissism (or, if your mind is in the gutter, autoeroticism), the positive side of self-love is actually the home base for the rest of the five types of love. Without love for ourselves, we have a very hard time giving love to others. If you require a more trustworthy resource, Aristotle once said, “all friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself.” So there you have it – our journey to be better friends, better partners, and better citizens of the world, begins with our love for ourselves.

Have you ever spent a minute thinking about how you talk to yourself? Let me tell you, it’s already making or breaking your day, and you may not even be aware of it.

One of the places I see an immediate and noticeable impact of self-love vs. self-loathing is when I run. Yesterday, I was supposed to run 6 miles and work some full-effort hill runs into the mix. I had barely made it through mile 1 before the negative tape started to play.

“Why are my legs so heavy today? Where is my strength? What is wrong with me?” quickly morphed into, “I’m so slow. I can’t do this. I can’t run hills. I can’t run any further. I have to go home.” 6 miles is my comfort zone. That’s not a hard run for me. I made it 4.5 miles. My self-loathing directly prevented me from being able to accomplish a task I do regularly.

So how could my run have gone differently with active self-love? On my distance training days, I take a minute to meditate on my intentions before I head out for my run. I remind myself that I ate well, am fully hydrated, and am strong and capable. I celebrate each mile that passes and I congratulate myself for getting out and giving it my best. I assign a mantra for the run. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “All you have to do is keep going.” Sometimes it’s, “Look at you! You’re amazing!” (Which a lovely woman named Jackie gets full credit for. She yells it at her students in group fitness classes and it is the single most motivating statement anyone has ever yelled at me. I am grateful for those words at least 6 times a week.)

For me, and I suspect many of us, self-love takes daily practice. Sometimes it takes minute by minute practice. And you know what? That’s ok. Awareness is the first amazing step in making a powerful change.

Here are some ways I practice self-love. Please feel free to incorporate this into your daily practice. Please also let me know if you have a self-love practice that works well for you.

  1. Be Curious: When a negative thought worms its way into my head I take a second to think about the meaning of that thought. If I look in the mirror and think, “Man, I feel chunky today,” chances are I actually mean, “I wish I had eaten a better dinner last night. I splurged in a way that was emotional rather than actual enjoyment and I wish I had made different choices.” This way you can accept the root of the problem and move on.
  2. Embrace Imperfection: Everyone has good days and bad days. Everyone makes great decisions and poor decisions. Everyone messes up sometimes. We need to make mistakes to learn and grow. Escape a success/failure dichotomy by embracing imperfections as a way to build a better you.
  3. Build Time for Yourself: We are all overcommitted. Hell, I’m unemployed and overcommitted. But we cannot and will not give our best selves to others if we have no time to cultivate our best self. Find what rejuvenates you and make time for it. Get your nails done. Go for a run. Read a book. Pet your cat. Bake brownies. Do whatever makes you feel great with the intention of nurturing yourself in that Me Time.
  4. Acknowledge Success: I exercised today. GO ME! I ate a really healthy lunch and I feel so good about my choices. GO ME! I didn’t snap at Susie in accounting even though I really wanted to. GO ME! I said yes to something that scares me. GO ME! I got out of bed and went to work. GO ME! All successes, big and small, are worth acknowledging. I feel better immediately when I acknowledge my success.
  5. Be Your Biggest Fan: Whether it’s putting a mantra on your bathroom mirror, or maybe a wallpaper on your phone (mine is a cartoon cat that says, “You are KILLING IT today!”), it’s important to say loving words to yourself. You are a rock star. It’s true, and I might not even know you, but I still think that’s true.

Now say it with me: I am a rock star. I am killing it today. Look at me! I’m amazing!

Hell yes, you are.