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When it comes to healthy and holistic living, we all know that learning to love ourselves is essential. After all, if we can’t show ourselves some love, how can we possibly extend it to or expect it from others?

Yet, for those of us who struggle with self-love, practicing mindfulness, gratitude, and self-care can feel hollow, abstract, and "fake." Take heart! Acting on just one small change every day (without overthinking it) can yield impressive benefits for your self-esteem.

As a psychologist, it’s my passion to help women love and care for their bodies well, through simple daily practices that anyone can learn. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching body image principles, I created Dr. Michaela to help women make the most of their lives by making real and lasting peace with their bodies.

My big secret? Fake it. Across multiples studies, research shows that those who take part in intentional, positive activities like expressing gratitude or practicing kindness, can increase their happiness over time, especially when they are motivated to feel happier. Keep reading for 3 simple practices to get you on your way to genuine self-love.

01. Say "thank you" when someone compliments you.

This is a great place to start because you don’t actually have to initiate anything. You’re just reacting. When someone compliments you or acknowledges something they appreciate about you, express thanks. It requires you to opt out of the time-honored convention of deflecting praise. When was the last time you graciously accepted someone's kindness without qualifying, minimizing, or flat-out denying its truth?

Some examples you can practice:

  • “That report you wrote was outstanding!” Thank you. I appreciate that you noticed. 
  • "Your hair looks so pretty today.” What a lovely compliment; thanks.

In becoming comfortable with saying “thank you”, you cultivate a sense of gratitude which lowers your likelihood of depression or envy and strengthens your social connections. Self-doubt stems from insecurity driven by failure or rejection, social anxiety, or perfectionism. While it can feel uncomfortable to receive kind words wholeheartedly, your mental and emotional health depend on it.

02. Schedule a 1-minute check-in.

Pausing in the middle of the day (or even an assignment) to focus completely on ourselves allows us to refocus in the midst of the chaos and stress of our daily lives. It also gives us a concrete opportunity to assess our vital stats: our current energy level, physical cues like heart rate or feeling flushed, and emotions like guilt or humiliation—which may otherwise go ignored for and turn into stronger feelings of anger, resentment, or burnout.

Practice this wherever and whenever you're feeling less than. The only rule is that you devote the full minute to checking in with yourself; no multitasking allowed.

Be still and focus on your breathing. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my energy level right now? Tired, exhausted, alert, engaged…? 
  • How does my body feel? Am I relaxed, tense, hungry, in pain…?
  • What emotion(s) am I feeling right now? Excitement, ambivalence, fear, relief, etc.?

Most of us spend the bulk of our days functioning on autopilot, rarely (if ever) pausing to take our pulse. By taking one minute out of your busy day to do this, you’ll sneak in practicing mindfulness, which reduces fatigue, improves concentration and memory, and alters your brain structure to weaken biological connections for fear and stress.

03. Meet a personal need.

The catch? It must be one of your needs. Coworkers, friends, partners, children…our lives are intertwined with a complex network of relationships, each presenting its own (often urgent) needs. And addressing those needs is good! But you also have to take a beat to take care of your needs.

In this case, a “need” can be as basic as you like. Interpret the word in the best way it applies to you, and you’ll soon find yourself flooded with ideas.

Some options to get you started:

  • When was the last time you ate? Are you hungry or thirsty?
  • When was the last time you moved your body? Will it help to stand or take a walk?
  • Do you need some quiet time alone? Or do you need some company?
  • Is there one thing you really need to get done today? Is there one thing you need to cancel or save until tomorrow?

Learning to meet your own needs is a valuable skill many of us often overlook. The more harness the power of self-care, the fitter you’ll be to care for the responsibilities and people that depend on you. So give yourself permission to choose one of your own needs and meet it ASAP.

For some, self-love may feel overindulgent or over-aspirational, but even the most skeptical among us rely on the significant health benefits of practicing it.

Photo Credit: Erin Woody Photography