When we hear people talk about love, how often do we think about our primary relationship, the one with ourselves — the one at the heart of everything else?
Pause for a moment to reflect on how you feel about yourself … Do you love yourself? And what does that even mean?
Sadly, for many of us, our default mode is self-critical, running just below the surface of our actions and interactions in the world — I could have done better, I should be more this or less that, I wish I hadn’t said that. Research indicates that 50 percent of us aren’t self-compassionate; in fact, we’re routinely hard on ourselves.
People who are self-compassionate avoid harsh critiques and negative generalizations of themselves. They see their troubles as part of the human condition, rather than personal failings. According to pioneering self-compassion researcher, Kristin Neff, everyone’s experience is different, but women generally have a harder time becoming self-compassionate than men.
The time has come — especially for women — to turn the tables and break out of this self-doubt/not-enough pattern.
The world needs us.
The last two decades have seen an explosion of scientific exploration into mindfulness, yoga, and other contemplative practices, with advances in neuroscience and new tools to study how the brain works. The results are in! Researchers like Neff and others consistently find that regular engagement in these practices improves mood, increases motivation, boosts feelings of self-worth, and enhances overall mental health.
So how do we “come fully into ourselves,” as Eileen Fisher says? This is a big part of what LifeWork is about. Embodiment. Self-care. Mindfulness. Purpose. It’s getting curious about who we are inside and undertaking the commitment to nourish that inner relationship, through awareness, practice — and community. We’re freeing ourselves up from outdated habits of thinking and moving and being, creating new possibilities and opportunities to express our fullest potential.
A big part of this shift means making the mind-body connection. As groundbreaking choreographer Martha Graham famously said, “The body never lies.” We can’t move into an easeful, self-loving state with our nervous systems constantly stimulated and functioning on high alert — literally constricting blood vessels, accelerating heart rates, and triggering the release of “stress hormones.” Relaxing the nervous system is one of the most important things we can do on the journey of self-love.
The invitation of #TheLoveCampaign is to focus less on what we perceive to be wrong, lacking, and missing, and more on creating a positive, accepting, and encouraging connection with ourselves — faults and all. “Love yourself as if you deserve love more than anyone else,” says Geneen Roth, a best-selling author who has explored women’s relationships with their bodies and emotions for more than 30 years. Be intentional about cultivating that kindness and acceptance with yourself that we so naturally offer to friends and loved ones.
“What you practice grows stronger,” says Dr. Shauna Shapiro in her popular TedX talk. Her work — as a clinical psychologist who studies mindfulness — shows that we are biologically designed to recognize that kindness feels good and naturally compelled to create more of it. The key to cultivating these positive states is repetition — we need daily habits that nourish us instead of deplete us. Wendy Palmer, a leadership expert who works with mind-body patterns, teaches that it takes about 5,000 to 10,000 repetitions of a new behavior before it becomes a habit that we can naturally embody.
In reality, self-love and the acceptance of our perfect imperfectness is not a goal — it’s something to nurture within ourselves. And only we can do it. “We all long for security blankets,” says Colleen Saidman, yoga teacher and author, “but at some point our rooting has to come from a source other than external comforts.” Colleen teaches yoga classes designed to encourage self-acceptance, self-care, and self-love, and often speaks about her journey into self-love and emotional freedom — challenges and all.
Here are a few ways to practice the art of self-love.
Breathe. Infuse your day-to-day with a calming reminder to your nervous system that everything is A-OK. Take a few minutes (morning is a great time to set the tone for what lies ahead) to simply pause and take a conscious breath — or two, or three. We invite you to use the LifeWork 1-Minute Pause to create space and quiet to simply sit and breathe.
Get Mindful. Mindfulness is an intentional practice of paying attention to the present moment with kindness and curiosity. It trains us to shift out of reactivity and overwhelm into calm. Whether it’s through regular meditation or by weaving mindful moments into the day, over time, mindfulness practice naturally leads to self-compassion and self-acceptance.
Move. Movement connects the brain and body. It enlivens and energizes — and can be one of the best shortcuts from the busy mind to the here-and-now of the body. Word on the street is that “sitting is the new smoking.” Moving is also easy to do — try this 1-minute refresh — jiggle your feet under the table, stand up and walk around, find opportunities for freestyle dancing. The only goal is to feel good.
Write. Keeping a journal is a powerful way to deepen your relationship with yourself. There are no rules … write down what’s inside you, your thoughts, memories, emotions. Ask yourself questions and listen to your responses with caring and curiosity. This get-started journaling exercise is specifically designed to help you create healthy, new life habits — perfect for your journey on the path of self-love.
However you do it, we invite you to make self-love your primary relationship. This subtle shift will ripple out into all of your life and relationships — and we’d love to hear from you along the way.