It’s that time of year again – February, with its own special holiday to celebrate love. And whether or not you have a certain someone in your life who is your Valentine, let me suggest something a little different. This year, vow to be your own Valentine. Decide that no one is more deserving of your respect, kindness and enthusiastic support than you, and get creative about cultivating and expressing those qualities toward yourself.
In other words…love yourself. Completely, courageously and unconditionally.
If you think that sounds self-absorbed, sappy or just plain selfish, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I have had the privilege of working with countless talented, passionate, giving and highly motivated people over the years, and through that work a simple and stunning truth has been revealed to me:
Genuine self-love is the foundation of true success, generosity and fulfillment.
Take a minute to really let that sink in. Feel the truth of it in your heart of hearts, in your bones and in every cell of your body.
Genuine self-love is the foundation of true success, generosity and fulfillment.
It’s true. Yet many of us have been conditioned to view ourselves with skepticism or even suspicion. We don’t trust ourselves to make healthy choices, we fixate on our mistakes and shortcomings, and we keep striving to prove our worthiness in the workplace and in our families and communities. Self-doubt and self-criticism run rampant, often masquerading as “objectivity.” We’ve somehow come to believe that focusing on our perceived flaws and shortcomings is the adult, responsible thing to do. But if you step back and really think about it, you’ll see how utterly impossible it is to doubt or criticize yourself to success and fulfillment. It simply can’t be done.
We must learn instead to love ourselves to success and fulfillment. And contrary to popular belief, genuine self-love is neither selfish nor delusional; it is honest, expansive, kind and generous. Self-love is all about learning to recognize and celebrate our many talents, skills and passions. It is about soothing and supporting ourselves when we feel challenged. It is about daring to trust, honor and empower our deepest truths.
And the good news is, genuine self-love is an intention we can choose to consciously declare and nourish.
In the December 2011 issue of Living Well Magazine I shared with you one of my favorite practices for cultivating authentic self-love, which I call the Eyes of Love journal. This month, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to offer another simple way to begin translating the concept of self-love into your lived experience: self-soothing.
First let me say that we are never too old to soothe ourselves. That would be like saying we’re too old for kindness. Yet, somehow, we’ve come to believe that responsible adults shouldn’t need soothing. We think we have to be tough on ourselves, to “suck it up and get the job done” and whip ourselves into shape with stern reprimands when we fail to meet our objectives. The idea of soothing ourselves seems akin to treating ourselves like babies.
Well, guess what? Treating ourselves like babies – like precious beings of life and light that require tenderness and care – works like a charm. There are a number of reasons why this is true, but the one I want to draw attention to is this: what we focus on is what expands in our lives. When we take the time to recognize, honor and empower what is alive and sweet and passionate within us, we expand our aliveness, our sweetness and our passion. We begin to flourish, just as any life form flourishes when given the proper attention and care. Being kind to ourselves is like watering a parched plant rather than yelling at it to learn how to “take” the heat of the sun.
Of course there are times we need to be lovingly firm with ourselves – that’s a subject for another time. For now let’s explore the art of self-soothing as a way to cultivate genuine self-love.
The intention of self-soothing is to release judgment and offer a fresh perspective that is loving and supportive. Self-soothing is looking for the kernels of deep truth that affirm our highest qualities while acknowledging our tender places. It is about relaxing into acceptance of what is, without resistance, while maintaining a spirit of possibility.
It is about being your own best friend, one who loves and cherishes you. Your own special Valentine.
Here’s how it works. When things aren’t going the way you wanted or planned, and your mind begins telling stories about how dire things are and how poorly equipped you are to handle them – STOP. You may have worked up quite a head of steam with this story but, as soon as you become aware that you’re making yourself feel worse rather than better…just stop. Take some nice, relaxing breaths.
Simply decide, then and there, that you will not speak to yourself that way. Wrap your actual or metaphorical arms around yourself in a loving hug, and consciously look for a deeper truth about what’s going on – and about you - that is soothing, comforting or even inspiring.
Here are a few examples that might be helpful:
Your fearful or judgmental story: “I can’t believe I ate all that junk food last night; I feel terrible this morning. I just can’t seem to get it together with my eating habits. I’d better go back on that strict diet I tried last year but gave up on too soon.”
Your soothing reminder: “It’s actually good that I don’t feel good about what I ate. That’s my body’s way of telling me that it’s time to make some shifts. This time I’m going to look for a new approach.”
Your fearful or judgmental story: “I still haven’t received payment from my client for that invoice I sent two months ago. It figures, that was the biggest single invoice I’ve ever issued. I wonder if I overcharged? It doesn’t matter. They’re probably on the verge of bankruptcy and I’ll never see a penny.”
Your soothing reminder: “I need to call the client and remind them that payment is now past due. This is good practice for me, speaking up to request payment, since I want to feel comfortable dealing with larger amounts of money. It’s helping me become very clear about the value of my services.”
Your fearful or judgmental story: “It’s been almost three years since I realized I didn’t like the work I’m doing, and here I am, still at the same company and still miserable. Why can’t I get myself unstuck? Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to live a really fabulous life. I’m not a risk-taker.”
Your soothing reminder: “It’s far better to give myself time to get comfortable with taking a big step like leaving my job, rather than forcing myself to do it and just hoping it will all work out. It’s good not to overreact and jump ship just because I don’t like something. And today is a new day. I wonder how I can get myself more comfortable with the idea of creating work I truly love?”
Notice that self-soothing is not the same thing as justifying behavior we know isn’t serving us, or blaming others for our unhappiness. In the first example, self-justifying might have sounded something like, “Well, it’s no wonder I ate so much! Mary kept piling those nachos on my plate and she wouldn’t take no for an answer!” In the second example, it would have been easy to simply wallow in blame: “They’ve been difficult to deal with all along. I’m not surprised they don’t have the professional courtesy to pay on time!” In the third example, self-justification and blame might have taken a turn like this: “They pile so much work on me, I barely have time to get the basics of life handled, much less look for a new job!”
I’m not saying that the self-justifying statements are false; at a surface level they are, perhaps, true. It’s just that they’re not helpful. True or not, those kinds of thoughts do not empower us. And how can we love ourselves fully if we don’t empower ourselves to create lives we love?
That is why soothing is not “babying.” It is empowering. It liberates us from the kind of thinking that keeps us small and stuck, paving the way for possibility and inspiration. It softens us, and in that softening we open to new ways of thinking and acting. Fundamentally it feels good, and feeling good matters. Feeling good matters because you matter.
And isn’t that what a true Valentine would remind you? Of course! But don’t wait to hear that from someone else; say it to yourself and back it up with your thoughts and actions. Practice self-soothing every chance you get, and keep writing in that Eyes of Love journal. Before you know it, your heart will open and your spirit will soar and you will be in love with Life. Your life.
Happy Valentine’s Day!