How to Develop “Self-Love”

I am surrounded by people who run themselves ragged.

Sometimes, I am even one of them.

I and everyone else need the message that I’m writing about today.

One morning last week, as I was driving to school in the rain, I felt frenetically energetic. I was writing this message in my head. It is so important. It is life or death.

Be loving toward yourself.

 

There are so many reasons that this is important that I could go into a whole series of posts about it. But, here’s the main one:

You can neither serve others nor yourself unless you are able to be loving.

Let’s look at what it means to take care of something or someone. We use this term for work, we use it for friendship and romantic relationships, and we use it for the things on our to-do lists. But what does it really mean? What do we need in order to be able to take care of the things and the people in our lives?

We need care.

The existentialists that I’m reading in my coursework are concerned with the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human? In an article we read recently, human beings were contrasted with animals, rocks, and objects in that we are beings that are fundamentally concerned with what it means to be. We are constantly, whether intentionally or not, trying to make sense of our lives and the things that happen to us, and we are writing narratives in our heads about the meanings of these circumstances that we encounter.

If we aren’t doing that intentionally (and no one is, 100% of the time), we are doing it automatically: we take in what we see hear, smell, taste, and experience and we incorporate it into our vast and deeply-rooted perception of ourselves. This perception of ourselves shapes what we do, feel, believe, and think.

Therefore, as humans, we care about being human. Maybe not in the day-to-day, language-world that we live in, but in a deep “existential” sense. How we treat ourselves and how we interpret the world affect our way of being in everyday life: how we think and feel about ourselves MATTERS.

This philosophical idea means that we all naturally have the instinct to care, however far it is shoved down in the living out of our daily lives. Everything affects us, whether we wish it would or not. Every daily practice shapes the way we think, feel and write our own stories.

The primary person that we need to care for is ourselves. In caring for ourselves, we learn how to care. It’s difficult to care for ourselves when we’ve never learned how, or we’ve learned ways of being that actively work against this natural caring. It’s difficult when we never pause to think about our own needs.

Caring for ourselves, in practice, is self-care. Self-love.

I was watching an Instagram live last night by one of my favorite wellness coach inspirations who I don’t actually know in real life (the power of technology)*, and she said something really important. Someone had written her a hate message, saying that nobody could realistically be “healthy” like she is if they actually have a real, 9-5 job. Lauren’s response stuck with me, because it struck me as so actionable and so important. Her first point was this:

If you truly want to be healthy, you must learn to put your needs first.

Her concrete suggestion for this was what she called “take a beat.” When someone asks you if you want to do something, take a moment and think/feel to yourself, do I really want to do that?

When you come home after a long day, and all you want is a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate, take a moment and ask yourself, what am I really looking for right now? What do I really need? 

Even if the answer is that you don’t know, it’s worth asking. One day, you might know.

In order to do this, you must become convinced that:

You are important.

You know what you need better than anyone else does.

I’m currently taking an ethics class, in which we’re discussing Levinas and his idea that being truly ethical is to serve others. In order to serve others, we must be ready and waiting to hear what they need and to respond to their call. Responding rests on our responsibility, or our ability to respond.

Now I’m thinking that the ability to respond relies on our ability to be loving.

We cannot be loving if we are preoccupied.

We cannot be loving if we are anxious.

We cannot be loving if we are mean to ourselves.

We cannot be loving if we do not recognize that there are people around us with needs, because we are so absorbed in our own unmet ones.

We cannot be loving if we are agreeing to things willy-nilly and are not saving time for ourselves.

If we are worried, preoccupied, victimized, and unloving toward ourselves, we can only be obligated. It’s true that there are some things we just have to do. With a little awareness, we can decide which things are in that category and which things really aren’t. We can save room in our lives for the practice of loving, and that practice will make us more invested in our own lives and the lives of others.

Being loving is not a permanent state. We can’t expect to be our full, loving, careful selves all the time. Sometimes, we really will be anxious and preoccupied. We will have stressors come into our lives that make many things obligatory. We can still come back to loving ourselves through it all. That might look like patience. That might look like taking a tiny break. That might look like trying to imagine a life where nothing is troubling. That might look like sleeping and eating, drinking water: doing things to keep yourself alive.

Being loving is a practice. We practice every day, with every small decision that we make. When we “take a beat,” what we are really doing is learning how to really look deeply into ourselves and care about our own needs.

Being loving is where true, holistic health comes from. My wellness coach “friend” was right: we can’t do anything about our health if we aren’t willing to think seriously about our needs and take seriously the fulfillment of them. It’s a serious business, being loving, and it is hard.

I’ve come up with a couple more posts about this, which I’ll release later.

The important thing to realize is that being loving does not come with the fixing of all the problems or the addressing of all the life stuff.

Being loving comes first.

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*Lauren’s website is here, her Instagram is pretty great too.

 

 

How to Develop “Self-Love”

You Have Everything You Need

This past week, I’ve been thinking about how difficult I currently find it to dive into something without knowing what will happen. I feel like I have a million ideas that are stopped before they even have a chance to progress. And it’s entirely me that’s stopping them.

I also have persistent fears that I’m not going to be “successful” at whatever I’m trying to do. I fear that nobody will give me a chance to show who I am and how I contribute to the world. I fear that I’ll try and set foot (or my ideas) into the world and people won’t respond in a positive way.

I am a lucky one – I have no evidence for these fears, no rational argument for why I should be afraid. I even have compelling evidence that I shouldn’t fear leaping into the world with reckless abandon. Yet I do.

I was standing on the corner of two streets that I walk literally three times a week on my way to school and back. I was listening to music, and the song “Midnight City” by M83 came on. It’s not really a remarkable song, but it pulled me so hard I stopped walking – suddenly, I felt like I was back in Paris.

I noticed the color of the trees. I stood up straighter. I filled up with a magical feeling of strength and opportunity. I used to listen to that song all the time as I was strutting the streets of Paris, in a pair of black boots I wore completely through, heading to unknown new destinations and recently familiar ones. It filled me then, and now, with a sense of possibility and adventure. A sense that the world is my oyster.

Even more than that, I had the sense that I was safe in the world. It wasn’t that nothing could go wrong (many things did in Paris, and they do now), but it was a feeling that I could handle whatever went. Whatever happened.

Somehow, in the past few years, that feeling disappeared. What replaced it? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, doubt. An obsessive focus on the future and past but not on the present. I think I had those before, too. But I also had the other stuff.

Here’s what I wrote, June 1st 2013, as I was about to head back from my first adventure abroad, tired but feeling: successful, nostalgic, sad, optimistic, strong, free, hopeful.

“What I was most worried about bringing back was Paris Anne. I thought about whether or not Paris Anne could exist in a different environment, especially one that another Anne was so comfortable in. It’s absurd to think that spending 5 months in a foreign country would not change the way I look at what once was the only thing I really knew in the world- America. Redmond. Whitman. And I want to look at these things differently. I know I’ve changed, and I want to stay changed; the confidence, the new and improved language skills, the way I think about my social relationships…all of these feel different in Paris Anne, and I think I have grown more certain of who I am through my encounters with uncertainty.

But, in the midst of worrying about whether or not I would feel frustrated about no longer being in Paris, I realized that the self I’ve formed here is actually the only thing I will be able to bring back with me. I can’t bring back the city, the French ubiquity, the freedom, and I can’t bring back the same experiences. But my more evolved processes of thinking and learning and living will always be with me, and I can use them anywhere I want to. My new goal is to approach life at home like I approached life in Paris: return with the attitude that the best experiences of my life can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone.

So, my conclusion (in cliché form): even if you take the Anne out of Paris, you won’t be taking Paris out of the Anne.”

I think that moment on the street reminded me of something important, just at the right moment.

That thing was:

I can keep learning, I can keep growing, I can keep making sense of my experiences, but I also, always, already have everything that I need.

Certainty, predictability, more degrees, more education, experience that comes with age – all are helpful. All are comforting.

But in an uncomfortable time, I find that what I need most is what I already had. What I need most is a reminder that the world is a huge, beautiful, safe and exciting place. Opportunities are everywhere. Not being certain is what enables learning, discovery, and growth. And above all, I can’t wait for my version of “success” to happen to me – I have to try things even if I don’t feel ready, prepared, or certain, at all.

Because we never know what will happen when we dive into the world wholeheartedly and embrace the adventure.

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You Have Everything You Need

The Morning Pages

Every morning, I get up and write three pages.

I’ve been doing this for – maybe 6 weeks? I’ve lost count. And even if some mornings I forget or don’t have time, I keep coming back.

I started doing this because I was struggling with my inner creative spirit. I am an artist (and everyone is), and I wasn’t letting myself create.

More than that, I wasn’t letting myself out. There are many reasons why we don’t let ourselves out into the world. My personal reasons include fear, perfectionism, boredom, obligation, lack of time, lack of money, lack of energy, worry and uncertainty about “the point.”

One of the wonderful things about working with kids is relearning how to play.

All day every day:

  • I exchange jokes with them
  • I hear about something exciting
  • I listen to a long monologue about a favorite [game, sport, activity, food, restaurant, etc.]
  • I watch them learn new things
  • I see them explore and share what they’re passionate about

I have kids who are really into basketball, horses, guinea pigs, video games, books, baseball, art, and farming equipment. No matter what it is, they are really into it.

Where does all of that enthusiasm and passion and playful spirit go, as we get older? It seems like learning to be in society means learning how not to bore others with our interests, how to talk about things everybody likes, how to please the people around us. We get filters and walls and limits that we didn’t have as babies, kids, or teenagers. There’s an open minded beauty to a child’s explorations of the world, if they feel safe and welcome to explore it.

My morning pages are my space to be a child. Or maybe they’re my space to be an adult. I write down all my dreams and worries, what I’m looking forward to and what I’m dreading. When I’m finished, three pages later, I breathe a sigh of relief and let it go.

Part of my becoming process is learning how to tap into my inner child. As a kid, I used to spend hours on my favorite activities. I had an urgent need to keep doing them. I wrote stories – novels – I played with dolls, I created entire worlds in my head. And they were real and vivid and beautiful works of art.

We all did it. We all must do it again. We have an even greater capacity as adults to imagine, dream, plan, and create.

That’s what will make the world more beautiful, one person at a time.

The Morning Pages

The Secret of Happiness

I discovered the secret of true and deep and lasting happiness.

Aren’t we all looking for happiness? Aren’t there images everywhere, all around us, of ways that we could be happier? Don’t we, in almost all of our conversations, assume that happiness is the ideal state of being?

In my nutrition school last week, we had a lecture video by Gretchen Rubin, who researches habits and habit formation.

She gave us 7 keys to happiness. Here they are:

  1. Sleep 7+ hours every night.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Cultivate good smells. (my favorite)
  4. Organize possessions and declutter your space.
  5. Make your bed every morning.
  6. Establish and deepen relationships.
  7. Build self-knowledge.

These are phenomenal suggestions, some of which you and I probably already knew. I have invested significant amounts of time in all of these areas since beginning my year of intention, as I’m now calling it. And, they work. If all of us do just these seven things, I think we’d see a significant improvement in happiness.

This led me to a conclusion of my very own. The secret to happiness.

Here’s my equation:

Health > Happiness

The sign in the middle is a greater than sign, maybe. It might also be an arrow. We could read this as “health is greater than happiness,” or “health leads to happiness.”

What kind of health? All kinds of health. A healthy body, a healthy brain, a healthy spirit. In R.A. training in college we called the health areas “SMELPS” – Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, Lifestyle, Physical, and Social.

News flash:

These areas of health still matter in adulthood. Maybe more than ever.

Let me pose you a question:

Is there one thing that you know, if you did it right now, it would make you healthier? At this very moment?

Maybe it’s brushing your teeth. Maybe it’s having a glass of water. Maybe it’s reading a great book before bed. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite  music, burning a favorite candle, remembering your favorite childhood bedtime story.

Do one of these things in the next 24 hours. Do one thing that makes you healthier. Maybe more than that. If you do a thing anyway, without meaning to, pause and recognize it. Like: “hey, healthy thing. Thanks for making me feel better!”

Odds are, it’s also something that makes you happier.

Both happiness and health live in the inconsequential corners of our lives. They reside in the minutia of our mundane daily rhythms. Health and happiness are both achieved by making small, intentional choices about how we spend the next moment.

Neither are things we “achieve.” Neither are permanent, nor are they a given. They take diligence and work, but not the hard or tasking or monumental kind.

Health, and therefore happiness, take the kind of work that begins with mindful attention to what we need or want, and ends with following through to get it for ourselves. Moment by moment.

Happy moments add up to make happy lives.

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The Secret of Happiness

Be Who You Wanna Be!

One of the things that’s been most helpful to me in life, but especially in my health journey, is the idea of a growth mindset.

Here’s a little exercise: write down one “negative” thing that you believe to be true about yourself.

Mine was something along the lines of: “I’m not an athlete.”

In junior high, I was on the softball field, up to bat, and I hit a foul ball. The boys behind me said, “well, at least she hit it.” I laughed it off. But I learned, gradually, that I was bad at sports. Not a natural athlete. Not a runner. Not able to be active without feeling defeated and comparing myself to the “natural athletes” I thought I wasn’t. I failed all the P.E. “tests” on various sports rules – football, basketball, etc. I was picked last for teams. I focused entirely on my intellectual self, because my physical self was the source of such hard feelings.

Of course, if you think you’re bad at something, you aren’t going to want to do it in your free time. So, rather than getting “better” at sports, I just avoided them. This reinforced my identity as a non-sports person, and I became what I thought I was: bad at sportsNot athletic. Not active.

This was cemented for me a decade ago, and I didn’t really question it until this year. When my energy and physical well-being started improving in January and February, I started craving movement. I felt like I had so much energy to burn. I started Barre classes, running, and swing dance lessons. I would go home and take a walk. These new behaviors were both cause and consequence of a new attitude that I was forming: If I move, I will get better at moving.

Obvious, right? But it was not obvious until I challenged my own beliefs about exercise. I believed that exercise wasn’t “worth it” if I didn’t go hard, and when I felt like I couldn’t go hard I just wouldn’t go. I thought exercise was all about losing weight, and when that didn’t happen (see: thyroid problems), I stopped. I set a lot of goals and couldn’t fulfill them, partly because I was handicapped by my own attitude, my own identity as someone who doesn’t exercise. Who’s not a natural athlete.

Now, instead, I describe myself like this:

I enjoy movement. Moving makes me feel good. Moving gives me energy. No matter how much movement I do, it’s beneficial to my health. The goal of my movement is to have fun and feel strong and flexible.

Everyone is a “natural athlete.” It is natural for us to move! Humans did nothing but move for hundreds of years, and it was pretty healthy for them. Another thing I’ve learned is that you get better at whatever you want to practice. If I do yoga, I’ll get stronger and bendier. Running will make me better at running. If I do barre, I’ll get stronger and more stable. If I swing dance, I’ll get better at swing dancing. And, as long as I’m enjoying myself, I will keep moving! I don’t have to worry about when my next workout is, because I’ll know when I need to move next.

There are people who are “natural athletes” who have similar, fixed beliefs about themselves. In fact, everybody probably has fixed beliefs about themselves. Your belief about yourself could be in a totally different area than mine. The point is, psychologically, beliefs have a tremendous impact on behaviors. In fact, beliefs cause behaviors. But, behaviors also cause beliefs. Liberation from these fixed beliefs is totally possible, if we are able to challenge the attitude as we change the behavior.

And, when that happens, we can literally change our identities.

I think the world will be a happier place if everyone is exactly who they want to be, don’t you? 🙂

 

 

Be Who You Wanna Be!

5 Things You Need to Make a Lifestyle Change

Let me preface this by saying: everyone is different. These are 5 things I needed, and 5 things I’ve seen many other people need, but what you need may be different. Making changes requires a lot of reflection and it’s very specific to each individual, so trust yourself to figure out what you need!

reason : Why do you want or need to make a change?

In my case, I was finally tired of not feeling my best. I wasn’t quite sure how I could feel, but my doctor seemed convinced that I could feel better. I had a laundry list of symptoms that turned out to be the result of chronic autoimmune disease, so my motivation lay in alleviating those symptoms.

Once you’ve identified an area of your life that you want to improve, ask yourself this question, which I learned in the beginnings of my health coaching training:

What does your body need to heal itself?

The theory of non-western medicine is that people know their own bodies better than health professionals do. This is contrary to what we’re led to believe: if something’s wrong, doctors know how to fix it, right?

Wrong. Or, right, but only some of the time. The goal of health coaching is to empower people to listen to the data coming from their own bodies. Are you tired? Are you stressed? Do you have eczema? Allergies? Asthma? Do you need Adderall to focus or Nyquil to sleep? Your body is in a state of stress in all those cases. Making a change will be more successful with the identification of that stressor. There may be a lot – in that case, pick one to address. Generally, when one thing starts falling into place, it has a domino effect.

A goal : Change goals must be specific and measurable.

Lifestyle changes require a lot of willpower, and the brain has limited reserves of willpower. Therefore, willpower must be focused in an intentional way. For instance, instead of “eat better,” decide exactly how you want to eat better. Do you want to eat more veggies? “Include leafy greens in at least two meals per day for a week.” Drink more water? “Drink at least 60 oz per day of water for the next 30 days.” The gray areas are totally removed from these goals, and there is an opportunity to do more than your goal, increasing feelings of success.

Goals like this enable mini-successes which replenish willpower reserves. It’s easy to measure whether you’ve accomplished them, so it’s easier to stick to them. It’s also easier to buy into a change for just a week, or just thirty days, allowing small and incremental changes in lifestyle until they become habitual behaviors.

Support : Love and encouragement, from yourself and others, enables the achievement of goals!

Everyone needs different kinds of support. In my world, a good support system is comprised of people that are able to cheer me on when I’ve had a success, are interested in what I’m working on, and hold me accountable for my intentions. People who shut down, shame, or get competitive about lifestyle behaviors are not your lifestyle-change friends. It’s okay, they can be your fun friends, but you need others to provide all the unconditional encouragement that you need as you exert willpower to make a change!

Also, whatever change you’re making, odds are that someone else has made it already. Either this person is in your personal community, or they’re in some social media community somewhere. Instagram has many powerful sources of information and inspiration in the form of wellness bloggers, or registered dieticians and health coaches. Which brings me to….

Inspiration : Keep up your energy by staying inspired!

Embarking on a new goal can be fun. In my wellness journey thus far, I’ve loved learning new tricks in the kitchen, making new recipes, and absorbing new information about health and wellness. It isn’t always easy, which is why inspiration is so important. In those moments when it feels so boring, so frustrating, and so hard, there is usually a new dish that can rekindle some newfound creativity.

Even yesterday, as I contemplated beginning the Autoimmune Protocol for healing my thyroid, I went to the bookstore and bought a new cookbook full of recipes. It totally reinspired my meal planning and made me excited to start the week!

Perspective : The most famous line in the whole30 is a tough love line:

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It is followed by the admission that yes, it will be hard. Food, especially, is an emotional, social, cultural, personal issue that can be very triggering for people. Breaking habits is notoriously hard, because they’re habits, a.k.a. deeply entrenched, automatic behaviors. But, I think this quote is important to remember. Many people said, when I told them about the Whole30, “I could never give up (insert food here).” Having a growth mindset has been the most liberating thing for me. My attitude going into January was “yes, I can do it!” Once I did, it only made it easier to believe.

You can do it, too!

 

5 Things You Need to Make a Lifestyle Change

Summer Dreams

The weather is FINALLY hot, guys. The sun came out of hiding. Thank Zeus. Er, I’m sorry, Helios – let’s keep it going, buddy.

I am definitely a cold-weather person at heart. But let’s just say that the past FOUR DAYS of sun have been the LONGEST STRETCH of sunny weather since SEPTEMBER??? Sorry, I’ll stop yelling. It’s been a rough winter.

So anyway, this weather has gotten me thinking – hard – and when I’m supposed to be doing other things – about all the fun things I want to do this summer. Here are my summer dreams:

Become a wellness blogger. One amazing thing that has come out of the Whole30 is that I have discovered this community of people on the interwebs that are doing the whole food/healthy lifestyle thing in really down-to-earth ways. They’ve become my main sources of inspiration and information as I embark on this journey to figure out what the heck is inflaming my system. I have since become really interested in the idea that food and mental health are very connected, and that nutrition could be the key to reducing things like anxiety and boosting peoples’ moods. My goal for the summer is to explore wellness and see what I can give back to this amazing group of influencers!

Read. Lots. Now is the moment when I casually drop into my blog post that I am going to grad school in the Fall. Starting in September, I will be a student of humanistic psychology with the goal of becoming a therapist? Although I still harbor secret dreams of being a professor and researcher and writing a book. And I will be working as well. So, I want to get a head start on my reading for next year as well as dive into the stack of books I’ve had sitting next to my bed forrrrrrever. I can’t wait to be #learning again.

Plan the heck out of next year. Planning is something that I just will not have time to do, and it is also probably the most important thing that I do as a teacher (along with manage the class and stuff like that of course). When I start the year, I want my projects planned out for each level so that I know my major units and when things will be assigned and due. It’ll be easier than last year, because last year I was going in blind!

Do yoga and barre and run and dance and walk and hike and camp and swim and…One of the major, like indescribably major, benefits of getting my health things figured out is that I have way more energy than ever before. A combination of better thyroid performance and less chronic inflammation (no more asthma) makes it so much more fun to exercise! I really can’t believe that I was missing out on this feeling. Plus, with the weather, I just wanna get outside. It calms my mood and body system like no other thing does.

Ciao for now. Time to get back to work. TTY soon 🙂

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Summer Dreams