I once spent a whole year publicly committed to loving fearlessly. Every month I gave myself a challenge. I hugged strangers, performed acts of mushy, unabashed gratitude, left anonymous notes of encouragement in unexpected places. I blogged about my activities, and over the course of that year, others joined me. By the end, there were people loving more fearlessly all over the world.
I learned so much during that year, but the thing that surprised me most was how much easier it was for people to turn their love outward. They had no trouble writing love letters and performing random acts of kindness—until I asked them to redirect that loving attention to themselves. I was incredibly saddened to see how people struggled to show themselves the same sweetness and patience they so willingly showed to others.
But here’s what I know:
At the center of every truly important and meaningful thing we do, there is love. It connects us to each other and to our planet. It fuels our best work and our bravest art. In the final moments of our lives, how well we loved will be the measure of how well we lived. The world needs more love, and all love begins with self-love.
So why do we find it so hard to practice self-love? Here’s my list of three common barriers, and their surprisingly easy fixes.
1. We put ourselves last.
We have work to do, bills to pay, schedules to keep, and people to care for. We spend so much time being there for our friends and our families, our colleagues and our neighbors, that there is precious little time left for taking care of ourselves.
The Fix: Practice pleasure.
In her e-book, How to Change the World, Dr. Lissa Rankin outlines fifteen attributes of the successful visionary. Number three on her list is self-care. Her recommendation? Practice pleasure. I love that phrase, because the focus isn’t so much on what you do as it is on how you feel when you do it. Whatever brings you joy—from hiking mountain trails to visiting a used book store—savor the experience of it, let simple delight rearrange your insides.
2. We're too self-critical.
One of the hardest things to overcome when practicing self-love is the feeling that we don’t deserve our own esteem. Our human capacity for self-criticism has always been amazing, but now we can constantly compare our flawed selves to the sanitized social media versions of everybody else. We end up focused on what we lack, holding ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection and then feeing inadequate when, inevitably, we don’t measure up.
The Fix: Be outrageously grateful.
By necessity, physical acts of gratitude focus your mind and body on what you have, rather than on what you lack. It is impossible to stay in a place of self-flagellation while performing concrete, outward, unmistakable acts of heartfelt appreciation: writing a thank-you note with the tip you leave in a restaurant; sending an ardent, immediate gratitude text to your friend; calling someone you love to say, “My world is better with you in it.” In the act of being thankful, you are reminded of all you have to be thankful for.
3. We get stuck in a rut.
Feeling stuck is one of the worst feelings in the world, whether it’s a relationship gone stale, a job we’re no longer excited about, or just an overwhelming sense that we were meant for something more. That feeling of being motionless while all around us people are moving, doing, and accomplishing things zaps our energy and messes with our sense of self. It can lead to a feeling of helplessness, which is, of course, antithetical to getting unstuck.
The Fix: Organize something.
It doesn’t have to be a big project to reap big results; it’s a physical act that psychologically propels you forward. Whether it’s a closet, a file cabinet, or a junk drawer, getting organized feels good. Going through stuff, getting rid of what doesn’t work, fit, or suit you anymore, and then ordering what’s left? It’s like putting down a heavy load or solving a mystery. Clearing space and getting rid of clutter makes room for new things (and new opportunities) to come into your life.