by Gabriella Pinto-Coehlo
Ah, Valentine’s Day. The holiday that people either love or love to hate. A holiday rooted in both Roman and Christian traditions, we now celebrate with greeting cards, chocolates, and flowers lovingly gifted to our significant others.
A tongue-and-cheek response to this holiday is the re-labeling of February 14th as Single’s Awareness Day, aptly abbreviated S.A.D. Whether you are single or not, most of us are missing a wonderful opportunity to do something for ourselves this time of year - cultivate self-love.
Our culture has primed us to believe that self-love is indulgent, perhaps arrogant, and certainly unnecessary. Of course, everything can be taken to an extreme - a little too much self-love can result in an inflated ego, but for most of us, this isn’t the case. I would even argue that most people who appear to have inflated egos have just the opposite - a deep-rooted feeling of inadequacy masked by the illusion of smoothly overdone self-assurance. But, the reality is, our societal beliefs that self-love is selfish has lead to an epidemic of self-loathing and low self-esteem. Many of us with low self-esteem seek external validation for a little boost, only to find compliments and praise uncomfortable and undeserved. And in an image-conscious world, we often seek self-love from external factors like our bodies, our careers, and our paychecks. Unsurprisingly, any boosts in self-esteem from these are minimal and fleeting.
Truth is, authentic and lasting self-worth comes from within. The only way that you can cultivate an enduring sense of self-love is through something else enduring - your own internal capacities, your heart and soul. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
So, in this season of commercialism targeted toward doting on others, why not offer yourself a little self-love? Consider trying these exercises:
· Change your focus to the positive. Every day, write down a list of all of your positive qualities. Force yourself to come up with at least one new quality each day, no matter how challenging this may seem. At the end of your “free write,” choose your favorite three to five qualities and write down examples of how you have exhibited these characteristics. Even doing this for a month will do remarkable things with how you view yourself - shifting your lens from the negative to the positive.
· Turn negativity on its head. Write down any negative beliefs you hold about yourself in a journal. Tackle this list one day at a time. At the top of a journal entry, write one belief, then draw two columns: one that demonstrates evidence to the contrary in the past and present, and one that demonstrates contrary evidence in the future. The first column is logical - write down anything about you in the past or present that disproves your negative core belief. The second column allows you the opportunity to identify actions you can take in the future to continue disproving your negative beliefs. Notice how you might feel a little lighter as you realize that your core beliefs are a distortion of reality.
· Hold yourself accountable for self-care. Keep a daily journal with a list of all you did in that day, and label each activity or task as one of the following: achievements, fun, or relaxation. Notice what you tend to be heavy on and what you are neglecting. This exercise shifts your mindset to realize that fun and relaxation are not luxurious or frivolous, but in fact a valuable use of your time and energy.
Consider doing at least one of these exercises everyday for a month, and then check in with how your self-esteem has shifted. There is no better time to change our habits than now.