How To Love Yourself

wisdom card affirmationsA few years ago, my friend RHW gave me the secret to the Universe: Love yourself. It was profound and true. And I didn’t believe it for a minute.

“How can you love yourself if you don’t love yourself?” I asked, incredulously.

“Every morning when you get up, look in the mirror and say ‘I love you,’” RHW advised. “Try it now. Look in the mirror and say ‘I love you.’”

“Not gonna happen today,” I replied quickly and with hard conviction. “Not even remotely.” I was almost offended. It was ridiculous. Look in the mirror and say I love you? No, I decided. Love comes from the outside. Our parents love us, our siblings, our children, our friends, our partners–and when any one of this set loves us, that’s when we feel love.

Did I love myself? I couldn’t really get my mind around the idea of it, to be honest. I could easily identify with the practices of generating compassion for others, loving others, giving to others, even putting others first. But I couldn’t get my mind around this concept of looking in the mirror and speaking those words. It smacked of vanity and narcissism.

“How does someone love themselves if they don’t love themselves?”

My friend didn’t over-explain: Affirmations.

That word alone (A-F-F-I-R-M-A-T-I-O-N) immediately conjured up Al Franken’s famous SNL skit: Stewart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations. Remember the geeky character with the plaid pants and lisp? He looks into a giant dressing mirror and says, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And dog gone it, people like me!”

And I would have never returned to the idea if it hadn’t been for a little box of Wisdom Cards sitting out on a table in my yoga studio along with past copies of Yoga Journal. As I was waiting for class, I began to mindlessly flip through the brightly colored cards. On one side, “I speak and think positively” (flip side: “I listen to what I say. If I hear myself using negative or limiting words, I change them”). Or “I love being me” (flip side: “I no longer judge or criticize myself. I am free to love who I am”).

The fact that these cards were sitting there in my yoga studio gave them credence.  I didn’t recognize the name at the time, but the cards had been put out by the grand dame of self-help herself, Louise L. Hay, the 89-year-old author of the 1984 classic, “You Can Heal Your Life.”

At home, I found Louise Hay on YouTube and listened to her lecture “How to Love Yourself”  and knew I had found Franken’s comedy inspiration.

“It’s love thy neighbor as thyself,” Louise Hay approaches the topic. “And the thing most people seem to forget is that it’s as thyself. It isn’t really just love thy neighbor. And remember when I talk loving yourself, I’m not talking about vanity or arrogance—that is not love. That is fear. I’m talking about just really respecting and cherishing the incredible miracle that you are.”

Was it hokey to me? Absolutely. But still the words rang true and I added Louise Hay’s lectures to my playlist of morning meditations and eventually my afternoon playlist of lectures and music that I often listen to while I work (white noise).

Eventually, I bought a little white dry erase board to try some daily affirmations of my own even though it felt completely silly at first.

Turns out it wasn’t silly at all. Research is mounting and research already says negative thoughts release chemicals that cause stress and sadness. There is even such a thing as automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs, according to Dr. Daniel Amen, author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” Some examples of these thoughts include:

  • You never listen to me.
  • You don’t like me.
  • This situation is not going to work out. I know something bad will happen.
  • I feel as though you don’t care about me.
  • I should have done much better. I’m a failure.
  • It’s your fault.

“Negative thoughts cause you to feel internal discomfort or pain and they often cause you to behave in ways that alienate from other people,” writes Dr. Amen. And not surprisingly, the flip side, moment-to-moment hopeful thoughts “influence positive behaviors and lead people to feel good about themselves and be more effective in their day-to-day lives. Hopeful thoughts also are involved in helping people connect with others.”

To change these patterns at a cellular level “requires a person to heal their moment-to-moment thought patterns.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of positive thinking include:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

If you don’t believe anything will work out for you, your brain automatically filters positive aspects out of situations, you insist on blaming yourself when something bad happens, or you believe you’re a total failure unless everything is perfect, you can still rewire your brain. (In fact, you’d probably see a lot of upside.)

Here’s how the Mayo Clinic suggests you begin: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.

I was sharing that bit of Mayo Clinic intelligence with my friend RHW the other day (I mean forget reading happy cards in the yoga studio, the Mayo Clinic cures cancer). “I could have told you that,” he said. “Oh wait, I did.”

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