Ever had a terrible boss? I have. The guy would scream and shout and each day he found new ways to criticise me. He made me miserable and made work life hell.
Now imagine that terrible boss is you talking to yourself.
We talk to ourselves the worst, break our own promises and beat ourselves up more than anyone else on the planet, then wonder why we feel like shit.
Research by the National Science Foundation found we have between 12,000–15,000 thoughts a day and 80% of those are negative. Some quick mathematics shows 80% of an average of 13,500 thoughts means we have nearly 11,000 negative thoughts every single day.
Even if you want to argue over the study's validity and cut their results by 50% as a margin of error, you’re still looking at over 5,000 negative thoughts daily.
In short, we are negative generating machines.
Aaron T Beck, the American psychotherapist who is known as the father of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy talked about how "negative automatic thoughts” (NATs) that pop into our consciousness without prompt or trigger. He proposed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a way to control it, but the point here is you're wired to think negatively. That's the default setting.
We are a product of evolution. Incessant worrying kept us alive as a species, but it sure doesn’t help with our today's happiness.
You need to actively counteract negative thoughts to prevent them from consuming you.
A negative mind will never produce a positive life.
The best counterweight to negativity is to love yourself. This doesn’t mean believing you’re God’s gift, it means fostering patience, kindness, and compassion for oneself.
You can’t treat yourself the worst and expect the best.
Therefore, here are six ways to love yourself that you might not have considered, but, they deliver.
“Forgiveness always sounds sickly sweet and pathetic until you witness for yourself its boundless and freeing power.” – Geoff Thompson
Forgiveness isn’t letting someone off the hook, it’s letting yourself off the hook from anger and bitterness.
Letting go of hate, anger and fantasies of revenge you may harbour for someone else frees you from their spell. Moreover, it frees you from your old, limited definitions of yourself.
Forgiveness is taking the big bag of shit off your back and refusing to carry it around anymore — it’s a bag somebody else put there, it’s not your responsibility. This includes, most importantly, forgiving yourself.
It’s not weak to forgive, it’s strength, it’s wisdom, it’s self-care and most importantly, it’s self-love.
2. Do hard things
“If you do what’s easy, your life will be hard. However, if you do what’s hard, your life will be easy. “ – Les Brown
To be happy, you have to respect who you are.
If you avoid doing hard things, whether that be exercise, controlling your palette, difficult conversations, taking financial risks, going on dates or physical confrontation, you’re going to dislike yourself. Perhaps loathe yourself.
Your brain pays attention to everything you say and do and believes you.
Each time you avoid something difficult it re-enforces the fact you’re in some way lacking. You cannot hide from your own judgement.
The only way out is through – through the action of doing hard things. You need to prove to yourself who you are and what you are capable of doing.
Action will develop your sense of self-esteem than any self-help book. If that isn’t loving yourself, I don’t know what is.
3. Believe in something bigger than yourself
“I was taught that you must believe in something bigger than yourself in order to get something bigger than yourself.” — James Prince
A friend of mine had a battle with alcoholism but was wise enough to become teetotal before his marriage imploded.
However, he struggled for a long time simply because he refused to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). He was an atheist and didn’t want to entertain AA’s ideas of “surrendering to a higher power.”
He was dogmatic in his belief of not believing in something.
What he didn’t realise is that “something” doesn’t have to be God or religion, it’s having faith things will work out. It’s reframing struggle in the context of something more than who you are.
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Einstein
Refusing to view a world beyond your own shadow means you'll struggle alone with a rational head.
If you don’t believe in the “friendly” universe, you’re automatically believing in a hostile one, and life will be much harder. Self-love is letting go of the ego and having faith in something bigger than yourself. You’re responsible for other people’s happiness also. This pressure is a privilege. Take it on board to feel connected to something more. It’s your duty to love yourself.
As Jordan Peterson said, you’re not a single entity but a node in a network of hundreds, maybe thousands. Your life isn’t just about you.
4. Embrace the grey
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘The Gulag Archipelago’
Happiness flies out the window when absolutes walk through the door. Thinking in black and white means you’ll be at odds with the real world all too often. It will have you judging, being outraged and disappointed in others. You will give yourself no room to be at peace with the world.
Seeing the fallibility in others means looking for the grey, and not letting other people's mistakes enrage you. Stop taking things personally.
We all live by a moral code and we all violate that code once, twice, or every weekend. Go easy on yourself too, understand the human condition.
Life is messy and it has no place for absolutes. To err is human, to forgive is divine. Let yourself be human.
5. Take on responsibility
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Neale Donald Walsch talks about how most people believe they have to be something before they can do something. But, in his book Conversations with God, he suggests we have this the wrong way around.
We need to do something first to then become it — Do something loving then you will be a loving person, do something brave and you will be brave.
This concept of “action first” is a tenant of self-help. As discussed, action changes your mindset most effectively.
Take on responsibility to show yourself what you’re capable of being.
People say they aren't ready for children until they have children. They were always ready.
Taking on responsibilities pay back dividends. You are taking your life and pouring it into those around you. It will bring you closer to other people and will give you meaning. It’s the ultimate self-love in a can. Open it.
Creativity connects you to something deeper. You might be writing a story, painting a picture, building a fire pit — whatever the case, when we create, we experience progress in real-time, we have autonomy over what we make and how we make it. We also get to see the fruits of our labour. It ticks all the boxes for satisfaction.
Life can be tough, but creating space for creativity soothes the soul. Keep your creative flame alive, the energy you give is returned tenfold.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
The quality of your life is based on the quality of your thoughts. Understand how the brain’s reward mechanisms work and lean into them. There is your emancipation.
Self-love is the core of love, that’s where it begins, that’s where it grows, that is from where it is spread. Cultivate it.