Sometimes being you is like being on a road trip with an annoying frenemy.
Someone who questions everything from the way you drive to the turnoffs you take to the way you hold the map.
You wish you could get rid of yourself and just enjoy the journey already, but every time you look sideways, there you are, bitching in the passenger seat and sporting disappointing hair.
Every roadside diner you walk into, every motel you check into, every scenic stop you try to enjoy, there you are with your mediocre hair and your never-ending list of judgments.
You know deep down that this road trip called life could be kind of OK — in fact it could probably even be a blast — if only you loved the person you were with. But the way things are, your journey fluctuates between being slightly frustrating and a living hell.
You want things to change. You only have one shot at this thing called life and you want it to be wonderful.
And it could be, if you learned to love the person in the passenger seat.
Here are four tips to help you fall in love with yourself and start enjoying your life today.
1. Make friends with a three year old
Whenever I look at photos of me at three, or 13 or even 23, I tend to feel something like extreme compassion for the person I was then.
There’s just something about looking back at ourselves in time that helps put things in perspective. I think it’s because you’re able to see that person in context — the kid who’d just had her life uprooted, the teenager under extreme exam pressure or the twenty-something in a toxic relationship.
Yet it’s a lot harder to look at yourself in the mirror and have the same feelings of empathy. For some reason, it’s just a lot harder to love ourselves right now.
But what if we always thought of ourselves “in context”?
Next time you find it hard to love yourself, see yourself at all ages, trying to do the best she could with the knowledge she had at the time.
Guess what? That’s still you. And you’re still doing the best you can. So go on — love yourself right now.
2. Compose a praise song
In South Africa, the country I’m from, various ethnic groups have a tradition called the praise song.
A crowd will sometimes erupt with a song in praise of someone being honored — a graduate, say, or a community leader — right in that person’s presence. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
The Encyclopedia Britannica explains it in rather a lovely way: Praise song, one of the most widely used poetic forms in Africa: a series of laudatory epithets applied to gods, men, animals, plants, and towns that capture the essence of the object being praised.
Also according to the Encyclopedia Britannica: The Sotho of Lesotho required all boys undergoing initiation to compose praises for themselves that set forth the ideals of action or manhood.
Can you imagine composing a praise song to yourself? For most of us, this would feel like the ultimate form of narcissism.
But here’s the deal — if you’re reading this, you’re probably into self-development. People like us want to be the best version of ourselves. If we’re not careful, we can constantly strive to be better while never recognizing what we’ve already achieved.
I know I’m guilty of this. Just this week it suddenly occurred to me that a few years ago, I’d barely cooked in my life, living instead off takeaways and toast. Nowadays I cook nutritious meals from scratch most days of the week — and they’re delicious too, if I may say so myself. I hadn’t even acknowledged this about myself. I was too busy beating myself up again for all the areas where I fall short.
In order to love ourselves where we are right now, it’s important to look back and see how much work we’ve put in, and how far we’ve come.
So praise yourself. Remind yourself of your ideals of “action and womanhood”. Remind yourself of your essence.
Tell yourself how far you’ve come. List all the positive change you’ve made in your life in the past few years, and do it often.
Because you know what? It’s hard not to love someone who works hard every day to be the best she can be.
3. Know your list (off by heart)
If someone wakes you up in the middle of the night and asks you what your good qualities are, you need to be able to rattle some off, girl!
And if you can effortlessly list things that are “wrong” with you but draw a blank at things you excel at, now’s the time to make that list. Don’t be shy to ask friends for ideas either.
A while ago, as part of a course I was doing, I had to ask friends what they admired about me and whether there were things I’d done in my life that they wish they’d done.
The answers were illuminating. Some of the things others notice about me, I wouldn’t have thought of at all, like the fact that I’d lived and worked in five different countries, or that I’m able to share helpful things by doing meticulous research.
I can guarantee you that your name is on someone’s list too— of people they admire, talents they wish they had or efforts that don’t come easily to them.
If you ask, you’ll be able to look at yourself in a completely different light.
Now add some of your own stuff. Because you’re the person who sees everything — the times you choose the hard thing over the easy one or the right thing over the cop out.
Next time you struggle to love yourself, kindly remind yourself of all the wonderful qualities that make you, you. After all, there’s only one of you in this whole world.
4. Don’t airbrush the warts
Yes, your talents and “good” qualities are wonderful. But you know what — so are your less-than-perfect traits.
Most of us were raised to be Nice Girls. So we pretend we’re sweet as pumpkin pie.
But deep down, we know that we’re not like this at all. Sometimes we feel envious of good friends, sometimes we act out of sheer selfishness —hell, science even shows that most humans have murderous thoughts from time to time!
A Nice Girl never admits a murderous thought. She hides the darker parts of herself from everyone, including herself.
But when we embrace every part of our being — warts and all — we can’t have any nasty surprises in the middle of the night that leads the Nice Girl to draw the blanket over her head, will herself to go back to sleep — and end up hating herself in the morning.
Not taking a good look at our full self means we can’t accept ourselves at all.
Fairy tales are full of such one-sided characters pitted against each other — the Nice Girl vs the Witch of a Stepmother. Real life isn’t like that.
Accepting every part of yourself is like getting to know yourself as both Cinderella — kind, brave and selfless — and her stepmother — cold, calculating and cruel.
Because in truth you’re not a Nice Girls or a Witchy Stepmother — you’re a Human Woman, with all the glorious messiness that entails.
Once we accept every part of ourselves — warts and all — instead of hiding bits that scare us, it becomes easier to see that qualities are just qualities — not necessarily “good” or “bad”. How we choose to use those qualities is what counts.
When we know ourselves as fully human, we can start to love ourselves unconditionally.
5. Go a little cray-cray
Only crazy people speak to themselves, right?
Imagine if you were married to someone but never took the time to say “I love you”. It wouldn’t feel like a healthy relationship, would it?
When you start on this self-love journey, it can be incredibly helpful to tell yourself that you love you.
That’s right — I’m talking full on look-yourself-in-the-mirror-style speaking to yourself.
“I love you”. Say it. Look at yourself and say it out loud. Once more, with feeling.
When you feel yourself getting back into negative self-talk, remind yourself over and over: “I love and accept you.”
We all crave love and acceptance. And who better to remind yourself that you’re loved and accepted than the person you live with 24/7 — you?
Yes, speaking to yourself will feel bonkers at first. But once you get to know the power of self-love, telling yourself “I love and accept you” will soon become second nature.
Put yourself in the driver’s seat (all of you)
Picture yourself fully loving and accepting yourself — exactly the way you are right now.
Imagine the peace of mind that comes with knowing that, as the saying goes — ‘wherever you go, there you are’ — and it filling you with a sense of peace and security, rather than a desperate hope that you could be the only person on earth to somehow escape this reality.
You absolutely can learn to love yourself. You’ve already come a long way with this self-acceptance thing and you can go the distance if you accept every part of yourself, without the need to label it good, bad or ugly.
You can fall madly in love with yourself if you keep reminding yourself of your wonderful qualities, and keep looking back to remind yourself of how far you’ve already come.
You can fall more deeply in love with yourself if you treat yourself with empathy, learning to looking at yourself in context — you at all ages, doing the best she could at the time (just like you are now).
You can stay in love with yourself when you regularly tell yourself, “I love and accept you”, just as you’d do with a significant other.
You’re in it for the long haul. And you know how to make things easy on yourself — by loving yourself unconditionally, every day.