6 Practical Exercises For Deepening Your Sense Of Self-Love

Learn how constructive self-criticism, boundaries, and time spent flying solo fit into your self-love routine.

February 14, 2018
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Loving yourself isn’t always the easiest task, especially if you’re going through a difficult point in your life. If you’ve recently gone through a break-up, layoff, financial difficulties, or other challenging life change, it can be hard to remember—or feel—your value.

We’re told that self-love is important, and indeed it is. But how do you get there? How do you find and cultivate a sense of self-worth?

1. Try journaling for self-love.

I might be biased because I love bullet journaling, diaries, planners, and all things related to stationery—but journaling is an amazing tool for promoting mental health.

Every morning I try to write out three things I love about myself. I make it a point to come up with new things every day. Yes, it seems cliche, but it’s super effective. Whenever I feel worthless or useless, I look back at those three things to remind myself that I have many great qualities. These can include physical attributes, accomplishments, aspects of your personality, good choices you’ve made, kind things you do, and more.

You can also use your journal to cultivate gratitude. Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons notes that cultivating gratitude can boost your emotional, physical, and social well-being. One study specifically suggests that consciously practicing gratitude can boost your self-esteem. Write out three things you’re grateful for each week, whether it’s your pets, your job, or an event you loved attending.

2. Practice enjoyable exercise.

We know that exercise can boost your mood—and it can be super fun—but exercise can also be a great way to practice self-love!

I’m not talking about exercising out of a desire to change how your body looks. I’m talking about exercising in an enjoyable, pleasurable way. As someone who hated exercise from a young age, I was startled to find that it can actually be enjoyable when I stop focusing on weight and competition. I once thought exercise needed to involve “pushing yourself” and feeling pain, but that’s not true. Exercise can be pleasurable.

For some people this might look like running, hitting the gym, or cycling. For others it might look like yoga, dancing around your room, or mindfully walking around your block.

Pleasurable exercise can remind you that your body is capable of amazing things; it can be strong, tough, and enduring. It can also bring you joy. I have chronic pain, and when I feel mad at my body for hurting all the time, I do some stretching and floor exercises to help me feel more connected to myself.

Unsure of where to start? Join a body-positive exercise class or look for exercises centered on self-love.

3. Change your thought patterns.

Would you be friends with someone who spoke to you the way you speak to yourself? Having a low sense of self-esteem often means you talk negatively about yourself. When you entertain these negative thoughts, it becomes harder to love yourself. It’s a vicious cycle.

The best way to break this cycle? Identify negative self-talk and cut it out. Notice the mean things you tend to think or say about yourself, and say something affirming instead. Here are some examples:

self-talk positive affirmations

Whenever those negative thoughts creep into your head, replace them with positive self-talk. When you think negative thoughts, nourish yourself with positive affirmations. This gets easier with practice, becoming a habit over time.

If you’re really struggling to work through these negative thoughts, consider therapy. A therapist can help you explore various ways of identifying harmful thought patterns and changing them.

4. Practice constructive self-criticism.

We’re often overly critical of ourselves and this isn’t good—but what happens when some of that criticism is warranted?

Loving yourself also means being conscious of the ways in which you can improve as a person. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes—but the best approach to this is to improve your behavior.

For example, you might have recently taken advantage of a friend’s kindness or been unkind or even cruel to them. Instead of thinking I’m an awful person and I don’t deserve nice things, acknowledge what you did and work on making it better. Can you apologize? Try to be kinder to them? Work on your anger issues?

The key is to avoid wallowing in self-hate. Instead, try focusing on how you can actively make amends for your behavior. You’re looking to improve, not self loathe! By working on your flaws, you can increasingly become someone you’re proud to be.

5. Spend time alone doing what you enjoy.

The extremely secure people I know tend to enjoy spending time alone. Even extreme extroverts who have a healthy sense of self-worth don’t mind their own company. In my experience, this is for one simple reason: Spending time alone teaches you to enjoy healthy solitude.

This may be difficult if you’re super busy, especially if you have multiple jobs or you’re a parent. In that case, try to consciously spend five minutes alone each day. This could be in the shower, during your commute to work, or outside during lunch. Depending on your time frame, you could:

  • Eat or drink mindfully
  • Meditate
  • Read a book
  • Write in your journal
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Work on a hobby
  • Do mind-sharpening exercises like crosswords or sudoku

Take this opportunity to savor your own company, reminding yourself that your presence and attention are beautiful things.

6. Spend time with people who increase your sense of self-love.

Just as a plant needs to be in the right environment to bloom, your sense of self-love can’t thrive when you’re around people who are unrelentingly critical of you. Dealing with your inner critic is hard enough—external critics often bring unnecessary pain.

Try to avoid the company of harsh and critical people to whatever extent you can. Of course, this isn’t always possible. Some people’s biggest critics are the individuals they live with, their family members, or those they work with. It isn’t always easy to get away from these individuals, but you can make time to be with your advocates—and yourself.

To the best of your ability, surround yourself with people who encourage you to love yourself. You deserve nothing less.

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