Think about the people in your life that you don’t like. Maybe that’s your coworkers, your mother-in-law, or some of the other parents in your kid’s school group. Do you go out of your way to do nice things for those people? And not just once or twice, but literally every day? Of course, we don’t!
So why do we think not liking ourselves, or being unkind and approaching our needs from a place of judgment or criticism, will cause us to behave any differently? Why do we think berating ourselves, speaking to ourselves with disrespect or distaste, thinking negative thoughts about ourselves (whether that’s because of our appearance, abilities, etc) is going to result in anything other than mistreatment and abuse?
Picture yourself as a child. Would you show up and perform your best if those around you were constantly bullying you? Why is it then ok for us to bully ourselves as adults, and why do we think that’s an effective form of motivation for lasting behavior change? Now picture your own child: if they came home and told you that somebody told them they were terrible, ugly, or some other vicious thing, what would you do? You would most likely tell them they were beautiful and strong (and then you might write a strongly worded email to a teacher about what happened).
How do we start treating ourselves and our bodies like someone we love?
(And hopefully, learning to genuinely love ourselves in the process. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?!)
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “you can’t hate yourself healthy”, or some derivative of that. Which sounds nice, but how do we actually put that quote into action?
- Acknowledge that you don’t have to feel love/like for your body in order to treat your body with respect and kindness. Accept the negative thoughts as opinions, not as facts.
- Practice gratitude! We all have things we can be grateful for in our lives. List those out and write them down somewhere that you’ll see them! This is also a great activity for the whole family. Before sitting down for dinner, or as part of a nighttime routine, write down or verbalize at least one thing that you’re grateful for. Get the kids and your partner involved, and watch it change the attitude of your entire family!
- Make a list of positive attributes that you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your physical appearance. Some examples might be your sense of humor, your work ethic, your creativity, how you provide care and love for those around you, being a good friend/partner/parent/child, your resilience, etc. Keep that list somewhere close so you can review it when you’re having a particularly low body image or self-esteem moment!
- Keep the self-talk encouraging and compassionate, the same way you would talk to a friend or loved one! Most of us don’t even notice when our thoughts about ourselves turn negative, especially when it is an almost constant presence. The first step is to stop and notice the negative self-talk, and then we actively change the tone. It might help to have some crafted mantras to repeat when the negative thoughts become overwhelming and/or remind yourself of the things that you like about yourself and things that you’re grateful for.
- Do something small first thing in the morning in order to start your day on a positive note. For example, reviewing the list of things you’re grateful for when brushing your teeth (and maybe even adding to it), reminding yourself of your positive qualities, going for a brief 5-10 min walk, starting with a quick meditation or journaling practice, or eating something filling and nutritious to give you the energy to start your day!
- Find time for fun! Life is full of things we need to do, should do, have to do… and all too often, fun isn’t included in this list. That can lead to burnout and feelings of resentment. Every day might not be a barrel of monkeys, but that doesn’t mean you should always be sacrificing your fun. Find some time during the week where you can carve out a few minutes to do something for no other reason than it brings you joy!
- Reconnect with your body using a simple body scan meditation. Most of us are so wrapped up in our own dislike that we don’t stop to pay attention to how our body feels at any given moment. Get back in touch with how your entire body feels!
- Make sure any goals that you have are in a SMART format. Particularly focus on A- Attainable. When we set unrealistic or unachievable goals, we set ourselves up for even lower self-esteem when we inevitably fail to achieve our desired outcome.
- Put your own needs as an equal priority to those around you. When we constantly put others’ needs before our own, including those of our family, kids, partner, employers, etc, we are communicating to both them and us that we don’t see ourselves as valuable or as deserving of care.
- Ensure that any changes to your routine, including changes to diet or exercise habits, are coming from a positive place instead of one of punishment or shame.
- Include adequate rest and relaxation! So much of our lives demand our time and attention, and we’re often adding even more onto our plates. Things like side hustles, volunteer work, overtime, social commitments, not taking vacation time or breaks, etc.
- Surround yourself with people who model positive self-esteem and treat you with respect; people who encourage and support you in becoming the best version of yourself.
Change is Not Going to Happen Overnight
Doing all of the above may not be realistic right now, so pick and choose 2-3 different strategies that resonate and feel manageable, then build from there. Over time, these small changes in behavior and mindset can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves, including helping us learn to genuinely like, and even love, who we are. Added bonus of getting healthier, both physically and mentally, in the process!
To be clear, it’s ok if you don’t feel overwhelming, or even noticeable, love for yourself right now. You may even be struggling to find anything about yourself that you genuinely like, let alone love! Those negative feelings can only influence our actions if we let them. Experiencing an array of positive feelings about yourself isn’t a prerequisite to start treating your body like someone you love, but a desire to change is.
This week reach out to your Stronger U coach, write positive affirmations and display them on your mirror, or simply commit to catching yourself when those negative thoughts pop up. Small adjustments lead to big changes!