Self-love is a term that’s often misunderstood to mean narcissism or self-centeredness, but it’s anything but that. People who are narcissistic or self-centered never take into account anyone else’s needs or feelings, while self-love can actually help deepen your relationships and improve overall well-being. So many of us struggle to show love to ourselves, and some of us constantly berate ourselves and put ourselves down. You wouldn’t want to live with a roommate or friend who talked to you that way, so why do it to yourself?
It might sound easier said than done, but it’s not — by practicing these self-love exercises, you’ll learn to develop self-appreciation, compassion and a greater sense of self-worth, which can help you in all aspects of your life.
01 — Banish The Inner Critic
The first step to developing self-love is to become aware of your inner critic. We all have one, but it often operates beneath the surface. Whenever your inner voice says something negative or puts you down —i.e., “That was stupid, I shouldn’t have said that,” or “I’m so fat” (or ugly, or whatever unkind thing you say to yourself) — write down those thoughts on a piece of paper and read them aloud. How horrible do you feel when you actually hear those words out loud? Cross out those thoughts, write down and read aloud replacement statements that reframe the situation in a positive light (i.e., “Everyone makes mistakes, “I am enough,” “I am taking steps to improve my health”).
02 — Learn To Set Boundaries
We often think we have to do what others want just because they ask. Think of the last time someone asked you to do something you didn’t want to do — was it hard to say no? Did you end up doing it anyway? For most of us, the answer is yes, even though we’re the ones who pay the price — our energy is precious, and giving it away to others doesn’t serve us at all.
In this exercise, you’ll write down three examples of boundaries that you are willing to set today, such as “I will leave work on time today no matter what comes up,” or, “I will say no to one person today.” Commit to implementing at least one of these statements today, and remember that no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, it will get better over time.
03 — Write a Love Letter to Yourself
It’s often easier to say something nice to someone else than to say something nice to yourself. This exercise helps you change this unhelpful pattern; write a love letter to yourself that you won’t show to anyone else; it’s just for you. Start the letter like you would any other letter, “Dear (your name),” and then write down five qualities you appreciate or love (or like) about yourself. Keep the letter in a safe place and review it on a regular basis.
04 — Do Something Nice For Yourself
Give yourself a special treat, such as a massage or another gift, “just because.” Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a reason — you are enough just by being you, and this exercise helps you acknowledge that fact.
05 — Plan a “Me” Day
Taking care of others and running around fulfilling obligations can take its toll. A “Me” day can help you recharge and learn to listen to your needs. Plan a day where you can just be with yourself and do whatever it is you want to do — even if that means doing nothing.
06 — Practice Self-Love Meditation
Most people aren’t used to actively directing love toward themselves, so this meditation may feel a bit inauthentic at first. Sit in a chair in a quiet place, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Then as you inhale, imagine a ray of light flowing in through the top of your head as you mentally say, “I love myself.” Pay attention to the feelings that arise when you say this, then exhale all negative emotions, self-talk and self-doubt out of your feet and into the ground, picturing them leaving your body as a gray or black cloud of energy. Repeat this process a few times. Give yourself five minutes every day to practice this meditation for a period of at least a month.
07 — Find Your People
We often think we have to maintain relationships with toxic or incompatible people because of social convention or just because we’ve always been friends with a certain person. There’s a common saying that you start to become like the people you hang around with, so if you realize that you’re feeling more negative feelings than positive ones when you’re with certain people, it’s time to re-examine those relationships and commit to finding people who uplift you and make you feel good.
08 — Try The Mirror Exercise
This can be a very confronting, yet powerful exercise, because as motivational author Louise Hay says, the mirror reflects back to us what we feel about ourselves and shows us our resistances. The next time you look in the mirror, pick out at least three things you like about yourself, whether that’s something related to your physical appearance, personality or achievements, and repeat these statements to yourself as you look in the mirror. Practice this exercise every day for 21 days — over time, this will help you change your relationship with yourself and you’ll develop more self-appreciation and self-love.
Self-love exercises can be challenging at first, but they are well worth the investment. Even just practicing two of these exercises every day can make a profound change in the way you feel about yourself and the way you live your life. Give it a try and see what happens!
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a master of social work degree in 2002. She writes in the fields of mental health and holistic wellness, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist and assistant director of a child and family services agency.