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In 1967, The Beatles crooned “Love is All You Need”, which became a mantra for the hippy trippy times of cultural revolution. While most of us like to project love into relationships, self love exercises are just as important.
In addition to the fight for civil rights, the “alternative” philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism became popular in the mid-20th century with their messages of love and peace, and the practices of meditation and yoga.
The peace and love of the 1960s dissolved in the heat of the 1970s and the conservatism of the 1980’s. However, the message of love, tolerance and acceptance remained and manifested itself if psychology, particularly in the notion of ‘Self Love’.
We should look at why the ideas of peace and love were so powerful for a generation, and how self love exercises can make a difference in today's disconnected world.
What You Will Learn
Self Love Exercises Can Make Big Things Happen
The idea of building up a loving mental state prevalent today, and it is taught by counselors, life coaches, and psychiatrists. If you visit any bookstore (yes, there are still brick and mortar bookstores in the world), you will discover that the self-help section is vast, filled with tomes on loving yourself.
However, to start this journey, you don’t necessarily need a library of books on the topic.
Rather, the steps to take on this new path are varied, depending upon your own preferences, needs and wants. Beginning with any of the below suggestions, you can make this new practice simple and accessible.
What is Self Love?
What exactly is Self Love?
It is defined as “a high regard for one’s own happiness and well-being, taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing them to please others”. It is also a rallying cry for not accepting less than what you deserve.
An important aspect of self love is that it is perceived as a positive human necessity rather than a moral flaw or characteristic. Negative interpretations of self love include vanity, selfishness, narcissism and debauchery. These notions are not considered relevant to this discussion, as they are usually deemed personality disorders, whereas Self Love is an affirmative state of mind.
Although it is a state of mind, self love can do so much more that makes you feel good. Self love can help you to recognize and to stop recurring dysfunctional relationship patterns, to make better decisions (ones in line with your best interests), to alleviate depression, to improve work conditions, to change the image you project and to cope with the universal problems of being human.
Make Time for Healthy Practice
Embracing your own interests, hobbies and likes is empowering no matter the relationship status. The most apt saying for this subject is that the only person who is going to take care of you is you, so let’s get started with some exercises!
Again, as noted previously, choosing one or two exercises depends upon what works best for you. Please don’t feel pressured to follow all of the ideas and don’t feel frustrated if the practice takes time. Remember that you are cultivating self love not self criticism.
8 Self Love Exercises to Elevate Your Mood
Here are eight ways to practice self love, and get your mind into a healthy place:
1. Do Some Self Talk
On that note, the first piece of advice is to notice how you talk to yourself. Don’t feel shy or embarrassed; we all do it! But how we do this is of great significance. Negative self talk reinforces feelings of worthlessness and increases anxiety. To a certain degree, you probably believe what you tell yourself, that you are stupid, lazy, fat or ugly.
Such toxicity will harm the psyche, tricking yourself into believing that you don’t deserve that promotion or a loving partner. It can become a crutch to justify self-limiting behavior and perpetuates bad patterns, neither of which will improve your mood or your life.
While humans do tend to be hard on ourselves, constant self-criticism is different and more harmful than “knowing thyself”. Taking responsibility for an unfortunate situation and taking the opportunity to learn something valid does not need to involve harsh self-criticism.
Therefore, if you notice that you tend to excoriate yourself when there is a misunderstanding or a mishap, please acknowledge it and then stop yourself from completing the thought. Take that pessimistic interpretation and rephrase it, turning it into a supportive and nourishing positive statement. In this manner, “I am so stupid” becomes “I made a mistake and that is ok, because I learned that I have great supportive friends.”
Another aspect of this exercise is to forgive yourself. Consistently punishing yourself for an incorrect deed or a harsh word is not emotionally or mentally healthy. Learn to accept your humanness, and the accompanying imperfections. Despite Instagram and plastic surgery, there is absolutely no perfect human being on this planet. Give yourself the empathy and compassion you reserve for others.
Fear of failure also keeps many people not only from achieving greatness but also stuck in dull routines. Once you accept yourself and your wonderful unique nature, you will see that there really isn’t failure, especially if you learn a lesson, grown as a person and/or recognize the silver lining.
2. Affirmations Are Easy
Affirmations are another means to elevate mood and to encourage self-love. What are affirmations? They are positive phrases and statements that replace negative or challenging thoughts. Extremely simply to do, affirmations allow you to create your own statements in order to address a specific situation or concern.
Of course, underlying conditions and triggers will still exist, but practicing affirmations allows someone suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or low self-esteem to relieve immediate physical and mental symptoms, and there is science to prove it.
Several medical studies have produced evidence indicating that certain neural pathways are increased with the affirmation practice. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex becomes more active and helps to analyze and deconstruct potentially threatening information.
Empirical studies have shown that affirmation has positive benefits to overall health. Affirmations can decrease stress; improve academic performance; lower worry and fear; make people change their lifestyles for the better; make people perceive threatening messages with less resistance; and improve physical behavior.
In addition to these pleasant perks, affirmations increase overall resilience, encourage optimism, and heal the body. Said three to five times daily, affirmations foster happy feelings, thoughts and attitudes. When creating your own affirmations, focus on the present and use short concise “I” statements.
Some affirmations for self-love include:
- I love myself.
- I am confident in all that I do.
- I am doing the best that I can.
- I believe in myself.
- I accept myself.
- I am smart/capable/beautiful.
- I am present in this moment.
- I am a good and kind person.
- I take care of myself.
- I am a unique and interesting person.
- I am empathic to those around me.
- I deserve the best.
- I am focused on my own well-being.
- I am in touch with my inner being.
- I am grateful.
3. Try The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, is an alternative treatment for emotional distress and physical pain. It is a therapeutic psychological tool that is often referred to as “tapping”. It focuses on the meridian points (energy hot spots used in Traditional Chinese Medicine) in the body to restore energy balance. Restoration of energy balance relieves symptoms of negative experiences and the associated emotions.
EFT works by using the fingertips to tap and/or apply pressure to the meridian points, reducing stress and anxiety. It is best to Google EFT and find a chart of the meridians in the body, in addition to the specific areas that need to be tapped, for example the eye brow, chin, and collarbone.
EFT works best when you identify the main issue or fear. If you are trying to cultivate self love and to elevate your mood, analyze the root cause of the stress, anxiety, or negative thought, the obstacles hindering you from your goal.
One of the fundamental principles of EFT is that you acknowledge the issues and accept yourself despite the problem. The intensity of the problem is reflected in the intensity of the applied finger pressure.
You will be asked to establish a phrase to accompany the tapping. An example is “Even though I have this (fear/problem/issue), I deeply and completely accept myself”. This phrase forms the foundation for many derivatives, depending upon the specific situation.
4. Practice Self Care
Individuals who practice self love also practice self care on a daily basis. This can take the form of nutrition, exercise, proper sleep, and healthy social interactions. Pamper yourself with a massage or a good book.
Taking time to develop your own interests or to take a class or to research a potential hobby in which you have always been interested are additional self care options. Although it may be perceived as selfish or even extravagant, by learning to put yourself first, you are well on the road to self love.
5. Make Mindfulness a Part of Your Life
Although mindfulness is another contemporary buzz word, it too originated in Buddhist philosophy.
Mindfulness is the concept of being aware of the present moment. Rather than contemplating past events or future possibilities, or being distracted by worries and preoccupations, mindfulness calls attention to things happening in the here and now, to purposefully focus upon emotions, thoughts, surroundings, and body sensations.
Self love is enhanced when you are aware of what you think, feel and want. By acknowledging these emotions and acting upon them, you boost self-confidence and learn to act in your own self-interest rather than the demands and judgments of others.
It allows you to act on what you need rather than what you want, a subtle but important difference. Emphasizing need over want stops automatic behavior patterns, which can cause trouble and keep you stuck in unpleasant situations. Being truly present strengthens decision making, clears the mind and reinforces living intentionally.
Meditation, even for fifteen to twenty minutes a day, can help you achieve mindfulness. There are different meditation techniques, some with mantras and others with breathing, so find one that appeals to you. This can be a great journey of self-discovery, self-love and stress reduction.
6. Set Some Healthy Boundaries
We all have that one friend who is a bit blunt and direct in their speech or who tries to eat your food off of your plate. Then there are the individuals who simply don’t respect physical, mental or emotional boundaries, people that will try to take advantage of you and your time.
From toxic work environments to narcissistic relationships, there is currently a culture of pleasing, especially for those in vulnerable positions. Rather than tolerating the bullying and abuse, by setting boundaries, you have already reclaimed your power.
‘No’ is not a bad word, and therefore, it is not a bad thing to say. By learning to say that magic word, you are embracing people, activities and work projects that energize and fulfill you, rather than depleting and destroying you.
This is especially true if you are female, since women are often taught to be pleasing, considerate and selfless. Adjectives such as “bossy”, “shrill” and “angry” are affixed to women who stand up for themselves. Don’t fear these words; they are merely a means of control. Stay true to the boundaries and know your limits, and you will be truly loving yourself.
7. Protecting Yourself Matters
Although this is related to the above discussion on boundaries, protecting yourself against toxic people or psychic vampires is essential. Ideally, you should try to dismiss or avoid these people, cutting them out of your life. However, work and living situations might not allow that. Nonetheless, being around people that constantly drain and insult you takes a toll on your well-being.
Even the infamous “frenemy” is someone to be ignored and unfriended. Anyone who takes away your spotlight or criticizes your uniqueness needs to go. We are ingrained with the notion of giving people a second chance or allowing our loneliness to drive decisions, but this can lead to unhealthy relationships that damage your core being.
It can be difficult to detect narcissists and psychic vampires, but once you do, walk away. If you realize that there are frenemies hiding in the ranks of your social circle, distance yourself. Be with people who build you up and support you, not those who thrill in your misfortune.
8. Being Grateful Can Improve Your Mood
All of these exercises are interrelated, but even though there is some overlap, each can be done alone or in conjunction with others. Practicing gratitude, like mindfulness, takes the focus off of what is “wrong” with you and redirects it to what is “amazing” about you. Rather than brooding about what you don’t have or that others have it better, you can appreciate your own talents, accomplishments and dreams.
In Eastern philosophy, “energy flows where the attention goes”. This demonstrates that you can become more attuned to your body and blockages in the meridians, and once you start discovering your generally awesome attributes, it will keep evolving. Your outlook about yourself and others will change, and you might even become an optimist!
A piece of sage advice regarding this particular exercise – do not base your gratitude or self-worth on the physical body. Even in this superficial popular culture, it is important to accept the inevitable changes of time, but also to truly know that we are all more than meat suits on a skeleton. We are actually spiritual soulful beings.
Practicing gratitude can be incorporated into affirmations, EFT and/or meditation. Simply repeating the affirmation “I am grateful” will cause a mood shift. Mindfulness and gratitude work well together too, so finding a mantra for this sentiment can be a great way to enhance your daily practice,and ultimately, your daily life.
Self Love Exercises Put You on the Right Path
On the road to self love, no matter which route you may take, please note that the destination is not one that is without emotions. Emotions are an extensive part of being human, and rather than shunning or repressing them, acknowledge and understand them.
Buddhist nun Pema Chodron states that we should sit with the emotions and surrender to them, whether they are conventionally perceived as “good” or “bad”. Once you sit with the emotion, you can release it. There is no reason to cling to it or to define yourself by it. You can love yourself and your entire range of emotions.
Although self love may be interpreted as a popular catchphrase, there is a great deal of sound science and philosophy behind it. In the short term, not only can it reduce stress and anxiety, but it can elevate your mood. In the long term, it will increase your self-worth, improve your well-being, encourage a positive outlook, and literally change your life.
Setting boundaries, practicing gratitude, uplifting self-talk and making good decisions will create a world of difference, and it all starts with small steps as outlined above. Please feel free to give yourself a hug – you deserve it!
Nicholas Say was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has been interested in global belief systems from a young age. This area of study led him to research many Eastern philosophical systems, including Vedic and Buddhist ideas and practices. Today he thinks that humanity needs to find ways to be happy with being, as opposed to possessing and doing. His views fall roughly in-line with the late philosopher Alan Watts, who he venerates as great teacher.