Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How to Practice Self-Love

Hello, beautiful! Today, I want to talk to you about something that, like many of you, I struggle with every day: self-love.

Since I feel passionately that it is fundamentally important for all women to love themselves, inside and out, I want to share my tips for loving yourself a little bit more right now. However, before I get into those tips, I have a bit of a story to share with you about my journey toward a path of healing and self-love.

Warning: it's kind of a long one! However, I think it's important that I share this with you so you understand where I'm coming from when I share my struggles (and my tips!) for loving yourself today.

So, without further ado, let's get started: here's the story of how I went from an awkward, boy-crazy middle schooler to a self-love maven...well, more like work-in-progress ;)

My Self-Love Story...

This narrative, about self-love and the opposite sex, has been fermenting inside me for awhile now, but it's just now starting to bubble out. I'm sharing it with you not only to cleanse myself from the negative energy that's been brewing inside me along with this story, but also so that you can take something from it that might help you reclaim some of your own self-love.

As young women, I think we're trained to struggle with both our inner and outer beauty from a young age. When I was growing up, I was definitely never the most confident kid on the playground. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I was told I was the "smart girl." While this helped my intelligence shine through in the classroom, it negatively impacted how I perceived others viewing me and, more importantly, how I viewed myself - especially when I started to become interested in dating.

For awhile, I relied on the boys I liked to make me feel beautiful, confident and in love with myself. In middle school I developed a quick succession of crushes, who I fell hard for fast - even though many of them had never spoken to me in real life, and never really knew I existed. Basically, whenever these guys liked me back - which was almost never - I felt good about myself; whenever they didn't, I cried for a week before moving onto the next one.

This problem really came to a head in high school, when one of my best friends (who I've now realized has been quite a toxic person at certain points in my life) told me I was "intimidating" to boys. That was the first time I ever considered toning down my passions for a guy I was interested in.

That spring, me and that same friend "fought" over an older guy who was on tech crew for the school play I had a supporting role in. I found myself making unhealthy comparisons to that friend, who was generally considered the most conventionally "pretty" of our friend group. Those comparisons have been damaging to our friendship in the long term - even now, it's still a sore spot for me whenever she fishes for compliments or asks someone to give their advice on an outfit she's wearing. Looking back, no guy was worth that amount of trouble - especially not this particular guy - but I still attribute that moment in time to the moment I affixed my self-worth to the people I dated.

In the end, that guy became my first boyfriend and, in a way, my first "victory" over my pretty and popular friend. The good news was that in that moment, I realized I didn't have to be anything but myself to "convince" someone to like me. The bad news was that he solidified that my self-worth still depended on what guys thought of my appearance, not on who I was as a person.

When he called me beautiful, I felt valuable and fulfilled as a person in a way I really hadn't before. That relationship made me feel older and more mature somehow: after all, in middle school, guys said they liked you; in high school, guys said you were beautiful. What I hadn't really come to understand yet, however, was what you had to trade to move into these more "mature" relationships.

In middle school, relationships were just these elevated friendships with a different label on them (which, as an adult, I've found are the best kind of romantic attachments!), but in high school, they suddenly became much more complicated. Because on top of discovering our romantic feelings for the opposite sex (or whoever you might be attracted to), we also began to discover our bodies, our sexuality and all the complex, frustrating emotions that came along with those discoveries.

The thought of sex as leverage in a relationship never really entered my mind until I found out, from an acquaintance at a high school football game, that my then-boyfriend had been spreading rumors about our sexual relationship. We hadn't even "done" anything, but he was telling the entire soccer team that we were already having sex. Of course, to a teenage boy, this might not seem like such a big deal - maybe even more like an accomplishment or a popularity point than anything else - but to girls, who are disproportionately subject to social constructs like slut-shaming, this type of rumor can ruin a previously-untarnished reputation.

People already thought I was a slut for dating someone two years older than me (in adulthood, this may not seem like such a big deal - but in high school, those two years meant a lot, to my parents and my peers alike), but as a freshman in high school, the sex rumor sent that characterization through the roof.

I was angry. I was disappointed. I was hurt. My ex had so clearly betrayed my trust and belittled me - worst of all, without even knowing it.

And yet all I remember from the moment I found out about that rumor was crying. Not confronting him; not having the courage to break myself out of that destructive relationship. Just crying - and then, not too long after, forgiving him for what he had done, convincing myself that my sadness was somehow "my fault": the byproduct of a silly and complicated misunderstanding. He had damaged my trust of him beyond repair - and yet, because I attached my self-worth to him, I simply didn't have the strength to let go of what I saw as the source of my inner confidence and strength.

Just to be clear about how I feel now looking back, "misunderstandings" don't cause destructive rumors to fly, reputations to dissolve and slut shaming to run rampant. Whether or not the initial rumor was caused by a misunderstanding, it was certainly no misunderstanding that my then-boyfriend did nothing to correct the hurtful rumor.

Instead, the rumor ran its full course, dying out as most rumors do. By the time I graduated high school, I don't think anyone but me still remembered the "slutty" picture that had been painted of me that day - yet that negative characterization still lingers somewhere within me, continuing to wage war against my self-confidence even today.

I wish I could say I ended the relationship then and there, but it wasn't until two years later, in the spring of my junior year of high school - just before I started dating Ryan, actually - that I finally gathered up the strength to break it off. I blamed our long-distance relationship (he'd gone away to college by that point), but in reality, I think the relationship had just been draining my happiness, confidence and self-love for way too long. After all, when you believe that no one else could love you but the person standing in front of you, you're compelled to make desperate choices that don't necessarily reflect your true values.

Two years out of that relationship, I now realize the importance of loving yourself before loving anyone else. I was alone for a full month before I got together with Ryan - which may not seem like long for some, but to me, this was the longest I had ever been alone since middle school. During that month, I explored my passions, my interests, and my personality to an extent I'd never had the opportunity to do before.

For so long, I'd been so consumed by chasing after boys that I'd never even thought about what I could accomplish if I put my free time to good use. Yet, it was during that month that I took the first step in what has turned out to be a monumental life change for me, something that I still feel passionate about today: I started my first blog.

Ever since, blogging (not boys) has been my lifeline during difficult moments in my life. For example, my last blog, Love, Haley, was an important resource for me as I was just discovering my history of anxiety and depression. Instead of making me codependent on Ryan to improve my self-esteem, it actually forced me to channel my negative emotions into something positive and beautiful.

I'm not going to act like everything is perfect or wonderful 100% of the time now. In fact, I wouldn't say that a single day goes by without me having doubts or feelings of self-consciousness about the way I act or the way I look. My anxiety still gets to me; I still have moments of self-deprecation and self-loathing - but I try to battle through them with self-love as my ultimate weapon.

Because of this, my relationship with Ryan is healthier and stronger than any anxious attachment I ever had before I met him <3 And yes, while I still wake up every day thinking how lucky I am to have him, I also wake up every day, look at myself in the mirror and tell myself "I love you" out loud.

+ How You Can Strive For Self-Love, Too!

Hopefully, you all noticed that above, I used the phrase "strive for self-love" instead of "learn to love yourself" or "love yourself NOW." I just wanted to clear this up so that I don't get negative feedback on the title of this post, "Ways to Love Yourself Right Now.

Truthfully, while the title I chose for this post conveys what I hoped it would convey - which is that it's easy to start loving yourself - it doesn't do nearly enough justice to how slow and not-at-all-radical the process of converting to self-love truly is. 

So, here's the real truth behind learning to love yourself "right now": self-love is a process, and it doesn't happen instantaneously. Instead, it's a practice you slowly adopt, little by little, over time. 

Sadly, I also don't think that pure, unadulterated self-love can ever truly exist. Unfortunately, we all grew up in a society that values our looks, that attaches our value to the amount of fat on our hips and tells us we need beauty, popularity and a man at our side to truly achieve the American Dream. When we're consciously and unconsciously surrounded by these negative messages 24/7, it's impossible to expect that we will never have bad days. 

Put simply, there's always going to be a day that you log onto Instagram and see someone who seems more pretty/more happy/more skinny/more in love/more insert-adjective-here than you (that's why I've sworn off my personal Instagram for good - now, I 'Gram for blog business, and blog business only!), or a day that you look in the mirror and don't feel comfortable with what you see. 

That being said, I hope this post will teach you ways to transform not just the way you treat yourself, but also the way you view self-love in general. Instead of a promise never to deal with negative emotions or bad self-image ever again, I challenge you to look at self-love as a commitment to try. 

You don't have to look in the mirror and love every part of your body right away. You don't have to leave your otherwise-happy relationship because it's the "feminist" thing to do (*insert sarcasm font here* you know, just like loving yourself!) or go through a radical spiritual, physical or mental transformation, like starting therapy or getting a boob job or going to confession to profess all the ways you've done your body wrong. All you have to do is promise yourself that you're going to try to love yourself a little bit louder, a little bit more unconditionally, a little more deeply than you did the day before. 

Put that way, it doesn't seem so hard now, does it? :) So, now that you've decided to take the first plunge by committing yourself to self-love, you might be wondering, where do I start? 

The bad news is that the beginning of your self-love journey is always the hardest part - even though I've been working on it for some time now, I still consider myself new to the practice of self-love. On the other hand, the good news is that you're still at the beginning of your self-love journey: no one expects you to become an expert overnight, least of all me! 

However, if you know you're committed to self-love and want to try some easy ways to love yourself a little more deeply today, here are my 12 tips for spreading a little loving kindness to yourself right now:

1. Practice saying "I love you" to yourself in the mirror every morning.

I mentioned that this is something I started doing after I met Ryan. In reality, I only started adopting this practice very recently, after listening to a body-positive podcast by the fabulous Summer Innanen. Telling yourself "I love you" out loud is actually a very cunning way to sneak a little self-love into your day. Even if you don't believe yourself at first or feel a little silly saying "I love you" in the mirror out loud, you're actually working to "fake it 'til you make it" - in other words, convincing yourself that you love yourself, even when you might feel self-deprecation or doubt.

2. Set aside 15-20 minutes for self-care every night.

It might seem obvious, but sometimes, when we get so busy and caught up in our days at school, work and home - whether our night consists of checking blog e-mails on the couch or putting three young children to bed - we forget to practice the simple act of self-care. So, before you crawl into bed at night, no matter how tired you are, set aside a little bit of time to wind down whatever way you like to do. Whether it's enjoying a glass of rose and a hot bath or spending 15 minutes re-reading a favorite novel, customize your self-care routine to reflect all the ways that you like to relax and rejuvenate after a long day.

3. Establish a routine based on your priorities - and don't let anything stand in your way! 

Whew, that was a long one! But, the point I'm trying to make is this: once you identify what your priorities are, actually start prioritizing them. We all know that what we say we're going to do and what we actually do are two very different things - so, here's the first step toward making them one in the same: first, make a long list of everything you do in a day. Then, make a similar list - only, instead of writing everything you actually do in a day, jot down all the things you wish you did; the things you'd do on your perfect day. Finally, compare the lists and adjust your schedule accordingly. Obviously, be realistic - you still need to go to work even if it's not your favorite place in the world. However, if you realize you dread going to work THAT much, maybe it's a sign you need to make a lifestyle change for your own health and happiness!

4. Ask yourself what changes you'd make if you loved yourself more - and do one of them RIGHT NOW!

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Oh, I'll take a hot yoga class once I lose ten pounds" or "Oh, I'll flirt with that hot guy as soon as I get over my ex"? Well, how would you feel if you just did that thing NOW, instead of postponing it until you meet some abstract and ridiculous criteria? Though it might feel a little bit uncomfortable at first, shedding your inhibitions and taking a leap of faith will show you that you don't have to wait to become the best possible version of yourself - you're already there!

5. Practice gratitude every. Single. Day.

I could spend forever ranting about the research studies that have been done about the practice of gratitude and how it's linked to our health and happiness, yada yada yada...BUT that wouldn't be interesting for anyone, least of all me! We've all seen those studies, and we all know it's good for us - yet whether secretly or not-so-secretly, I think we're all kind of afraid to start because we're worried we won't have anything good to write about. Honestly, though - as soon as you start to think outside yourself and realize all the wonderful things the world has to offer, you'll start to focus more on experiencing the joys that life has to offer, rather than ruminating on your worst qualities or the thickness of your thighs. Much like a successful relationship or the opportunity of a lifetime, you'll attract the most self-love into your life when you forget about self-love altogether, and simply focus on enjoying life.

6. Start a 2017 Vision Board on Pinterest.

People love to say "You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyonce" - but the difference between me and Beyonce is that Beyonce doesn't waste two hours a day staring at her flab in the mirror! She gets sh*t done instead. So, if you don't like the way you look, speak, act, think, are, then one of the best things I think you can do is refocus your energy and drive elsewhere. One way to inspire yourself to hop into action is to start a 2017 Vision Board on Pinterest (and follow me @haleymarieblog so I can encourage you!). Literally just pin whatever sets your heart on fire - whatever you can't stop thinking about doing, seeing, dreaming, achieving. Don't worry about whether that trip to Barcelona is out of reach, or if you really are capable of starting your own YouTube channel; just pin it. Then, once you do, consider it already done - as if simply by pinning that picture, the Universe is already working its magic on your dreams! 

7. Stop putting things off just because they scare you.

Ending my first serious relationship. Committing to a college. Declaring a double-major. Signing up for sorority rush. That's a brief (and incomplete) list of all the things I've procrastinated on in my life, simply because I was afraid of the outcome. For the longest time, I was scared to make a binding decision on where I went to college, ending my relationship, or paying to go through rush because I was absolutely terrified that I would regret my decision. The problem was, I assumed I didn't know what was best for myself because I didn't believe in myself. However, as soon as I worked up the courage to do it, I realized that I was SO much more capable and decisive than I gave myself credit for! Simply making the decision (and sticking with it) made me feel a thousand times more confident - and I promise you will feel the same way, as soon as you make like Nike and JUST DO IT!

8. Dress the part.

Okay, so I know a large part of what I just said told you to focus on how you feel, rather than how you look - but forget all of that! (Not really, but still.) My point is that the way you look does matter for your self-confidence. If you're hiding behind baggy clothes all the time, neglecting your appearance (as in not showering or putting on makeup because "What's the point?"),  or dressing in a way that reflects how you want others to see you (rather than wearing what you really like), then the way you look is a sign of poor self-confidence. Whether consciously or subconsciously, when you look at yourself in the mirror wearing clothes that don't suit your body or personality, you notice, and it makes you feel bad about yourself. So, wear things that make you feel good in the body you're in right now. For example: love crop tops on Taylor Swift, but think your stomach is "too flabby" to pull it off? Go to Forever 21 and buy one anyways! Love bright colors, but constantly wear gray so you can "blend in" to the crowd? Go put on your pinkest lipstick and OWN IT! When you feel good in what you're wearing, others will notice, too - and, in turn, that will build your self-confidence without you even realizing.  

9. Take care of your physical body.

As cliche as it sounds, your body is a temple. When you eat right, treat yourself in moderation and exercise regularly, you're sending that temple a sign of respect. When you think about it that way, it comes as no surprise that people who starve, purge or binge often have underlying issues with confidence and self-esteem. If you don't like your body, you won't treat your body right - it's that simple. So, rather than worrying about loving the way your body looks, work backwards and focus on treating your body right first. 

10. Fake it 'til you make it. 

If you've seen Amy Cuddy's TED Talk "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are," you know they importance of faking it 'til you make it, and how quickly striking a power pose can elevate your mood. When you don't feel confident in yourself, it can be difficult to push past difficult feelings about who you are, what you look like or your achievements. However, sometimes, putting on some lipgloss, putting your hands on your hips and faking a smile is all it takes to start feeling better now. Even if it doesn't help right away or you feel silly at first, you'll quickly find that the more you practice feeling confident, the more confident you'll actually start to feel.

11. Ask yourself what a (loving) friend, partner or family member would say.

As someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I know how easy it can be to fall into negative thinking traps about your body, your personality, that random mistake you made last week - you name it; I've probably worried about it! Unfortunately, chronic worrying consumes a lot of energy, energy that could easy be conserved with a little self-confidence. One trick I've learned for boosting confidence and minimizing worry is to combat your worries by asking yourself what a loving friend, partner or family member would say about them. For example, if you told your best friend or significant other "I feel fat today," they might respond by saying "Stop it; you're not fat - you're beautiful!" Learning to reframe your worries really helps you shift your perspective, because after seeing how much your friends and family love and respect you, it starts to feel silly putting yourself down all the time!

12. Literally, make a list of reasons why you love yourself.

Want to really learn how to love yourself right now? Find a blank notebook, small enough to fit in your backpack, purse or desk. Then, start filling it with reasons why you love yourself (or, if you're having a hard time thinking of any, reasons why you could love yourself or reasons why others love you). Don't worry if the reasons are "good" enough - just write! Carry that notebook with you wherever you go, so you can add more reasons as you think of them and refer back to them whenever you feel insecure. Most importantly, never consider your list complete no matter how long it gets. There is always a new reason to love yourself every single day!

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