For most of my life, I didn’t know I was allowed to love myself. When I finally accepted the crazy idea that it just might be ok, I still wasn’t sure where to start. It turns out, it’s a lot easier to love other people than to love myself.
So this year I’ve embarked on a quest — to learn how to practice love toward myself. The key word here is “practice.”
There are a few very practical ways that I’ve found. These are just a start. You can also do things like buy yourself a massage (slightly pricy) or buy yourself a yacht and a private island far away from humanity (slightly more pricy, but very effective).
These ideas are all free though.
You might read them and go, “Bro. That’s the most basic things I’ve ever heard of.” And maybe you’d be right.
But when was the last time you did them? When was the last time you did them with an intention of love and an open heart? That’s what I thought.
1. Write Yourself A Letter
Have you ever noticed how often our self-talk can be negative? We’re disappointed in ourselves, unkind to ourselves, impatient with ourselves. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take all those mean voices, round them up, and put them in time-out. Instead, take some time to tell yourself what you love about yourself. Talk about yourself the way you would a friend, or someone who inspires you.
I took a stab at this on my birthday this year. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:
“Dear Micah, I want you to know that I am proud of you. The strength of character that you exhibit every f—ing day is awe-inspiring. You are strong. You are brave. You are relentless… You have a hard time believing this, but I want you to know that it will be worth it. The person that you are becoming is strong and remarkable. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ve got today. You are enough for today.”
2. Make Yourself Some Good Food
Before I started learning to love myself, I’d make the saddest sandwiches ever for lunch. Bread, meat, and cheese slapped together without any creativity, imagination, or flair. Now I take time to cook actual food for myself, put it on a plate, garnish it, and sit to eat it. Eating clean, healthy food that your body loves is a great way to take care of yourself, but go beyond that — make it look good too. Put it on a real plate, and pour yourself a real drink to go with it. It will feel weird at first, but soon you’ll experience it as one of the most tangible ways to experience love. (Soon, you’ll find your yourself with extra love — and extra food — to share with the people around you too!)
3. Get Enough Sleep
While there’s a time for binge-watching Netflix, it can be a simple but profound act of love to go to bed early and let your body rest. We live in a world that often disrespects our creaturehood, wanting us to act like machines instead. We are praised for pushing ourselves to the limits. It’s hard to let yourself have time to rest — whether it’s a few hours of extra sleep at night, or a nap in the middle of the day. But by making that intentional choice, we are saying to ourselves, “I value, care for, and will protect you. You are allowed to have the rest you need to be well and stay well.” Sweet dreams, yo. I mean that.
4. Drink Some Water
This is literally the most basic thing ever, but it’s so easy to forget. I tend to fall into a rhythm of coffee all day and beer all night, and I never am actually taking care of my body. I’m basically saying to it – “Do more! Work harder! Party harder! Don’t think about what you need!” — instead of caring for its needs too. So as I learn to love myself, I find myself drinking more water. Sometimes I say to myself, “Here ya go, buddy. Have some water. Stay strong. Stay handsome. Keep doing your thing.”
5. Write Stuff On Your Mirror
If you’ve ever had the good fortune of having a girlfriend or a boyfriend, you might remember the part of the relationship where you wrote dumb romantic stuff on mirrors and windows just to make each other feel good. Here’s a secret: you can do that with yourself too. You might think, “Well, it won’t count if I’m the one who wrote it.” You might be wrong. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few suggestions of stuff you can write with a dry-erase marker on your mirror:
– You are awesome.
– Hi. I’m glad you’re here.
– You look great!
– That outfit really brings out the subtle complexities of your facial bone structure. Well done, my friend.
6. Make yourself a mix-tape
This is one my friend Stephen taught me on a cross-country road trip last winter. I found about half a dozen songs that talk about the kind of person that I want to be, the kind of life I plan to live, the kind of inspiration I hope to be. I made ‘em into a playlist in my iTunes, and for a few months I listened to them every morning when I first woke up.
Here’s a track to get you started:
7. Read Poetry to Yourself
This might feel like the most far-out one on the list, but it can also be the most profoundly moving. Keep your heart and your ears open for scraps of poetry that seem to want you; if you’re looking, they’ll find you. Write them on a piece of paper, copy them into your journal, or save them onto your phone. Then when you’re falling asleep at night, whisper to yourself these words of beauty and hope and life. My favorites this year are “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” and “Love After Love”.
To be wholehearted is a radically subversive act.
Begin here. Be gentle. Be patient with yourself. And don’t give up.
Someday soon, I’ll meet you in the place where love is no longer a scarce resource to be hoarded and traded, but a rich abundance to be lavished on ourselves and each other.
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