There’s no class in high school which teaches us how to love and accept ourselves. They teach us maths (do you seldom if ever use that algebra you learned? Yep, me neither!), biology, history, etc. but somehow the school system misses the point and doesn’t teach us the most basic things we need in life. How not only to fit in and survive, but also to be happy and thrive. The art of nurturing self-love and self-acceptance is one of those neglected things.
I know there’s a lot spoken about the self-love nowadays but most people (especially women) still don’t practice it. Because it’s pretty hard and most of us were not taught the skills how to do that. It’s not enough to decide one day to accept yourself unconditionally, and then expect it to be all roses. It is hard work.
Getting lost in “Comparison-land”
Magazines, movies, television, advertising and especially social media bombard us with images and messages that we’re not good enough the way we are. OK, they don’t actually say it directly, but that’s the underlying message. Look at those abs on that fitness model! Have you seen that actress’s butt?? Oh that girl from your school looks so happy in her honeymoon pictures! And you’re here by yourself (or with your cat), feeling miserable and cold because summer’s over, and there’s no one to warm you up, or at least make you a cup of tea.
We all tend to get caught up in this “Comparison-land”. I used to compare myself to others, to the point where I would feel miserable and discouraged from doing anything, because all around me I thought I saw people who were so much more accomplished, beautiful and successful than me. But I learned how to escape “Comparison-land” and I’m going to share with you how to in just a moment.
As a weight loss coach, I often hear from my clients and readers how they feel small after comparing themselves with others, and that it’s really hard to avoid this pressure. Motivational posters with fitness models shared on Facebook, countless Instagram accounts featuring hot shredded girls, magazines with lithe cellulite-free models and, of course, Victoria’s Secret angels. The cumulative effect of all this is so powerful and pervasive. I often used to get trapped, and would catch myself yearning to look shredded or extra lean. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, if you really want to look like that, and if you can stay healthy on your journey to that kind of body, and afterwards as you fight to maintain it.
But here’s why it gets me. I used to be really sick and overweight, and I managed to find a way to transform my body and health. It took a few years but I got myself healthy, full of energy and at a healthy weight. Now I exercise regularly, eat healthily, sleep at least 7-8 hours a day. I drink lots of water, meditate regularly and so on. I am healthy and fit.
However, these images used to mess with my mind even after I’d become healthy and had already achieved my ideal weight.
If I’d decided to go for that extra-lean body, like something on the cover of a fitness magazine, I would have had to eat less than my body asks for, depriving my body of essential nutrients, and spend more time in the gym than I actually enjoy.
Basically, I would have had to sacrifice my well-being in order to conform to an unrealistic standard being imposed on me from outside. I asked myself “why?”, when I was already healthy, full of energy and at a healthy weight.
So I looked deeper and asked myself, what did the imagery actually mean? What did it represent to me? Why did it still have power over me, even though I knew that it was artificial, and achieving it was probably not healthy for my body?
Understanding the real motivation
According to the speaker and author Amir Zoghi, there are five things that motivate all human behaviours: recognition, acceptance, approval, appreciation and security. But I believe that there’s something else, which lies deeper, and from which those five things all stem.
We want to be recognized or appreciated not just for the sake of recognition or appreciation. We actually want something that is one level deeper – to feel loved. We also want to be accepted and approved because we’re afraid we won’t be loved. And when we’re loved, we feel safe and secure. So the number one driving force for all human behaviour is the need to feel loved!
OK, so now that we see it, why don’t we focus on the root cause? As I said, it’s not always easy. How can we get more love? By asking other people to love us more? Definitely not! We all know that doesn’t work. No, the first thing we must get right is to love ourselves.
I’ve come a long way on the self-love journey, but I must say that it’s an ongoing practice that will probably last a whole lifetime. Don’t feel bad if you can’t unconditionally accept yourself, 100% of the time. We all have doubts about ourselves, regrets and insecurities. That’s part of being human.
So if you want to get out of this crazy “Comparison-land”, you need to learn how to love yourself first. A radical idea, I know. And unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
The first step is to be willing to love yourself unconditionally, even if it seems so far out of reach right now. Just stay willing.
Then find four or five things in yourself that you’re grateful for. For example, you can be grateful for having a sense of smell, so you can smell the flowers, delicious ripe fruit and the skin of your loved one; having a sense of sight, so you can witness the beauty of this world; you can be grateful for your heart pumping your blood 24/7, year after year, keeping you alive. Life is pretty magical, isn’t it, when you really see it? Even though at moments it might feel horrible, those moments always pass. Just stay willing.
A complementary way to attract more love is to give more love. Show love to your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, kids, parents, friends, colleagues, relatives, the old lady in the mall. And most importantly – don’t expect anything back. Just the act of showing more love makes us happier. But we might ruin it if we expected anything in return. When you give love with expectations, it’s no longer unconditional and it’s really just a form of manipulation.
There’s only one person to compare yourself to
If you ever feel that you’re not good enough the way you are, know that it’s OK to have those thoughts, it’s normal. Even the most successful people feel this way sometimes. We humans are wired to feel slightly dissatisfied and compare ourselves to others. It has served us well in the evolutionary process, and inspired us aim higher to achieve exceptional progress.
So accept that we all tend to get lost in “Comparison-land” sometimes. But the thing is – you don’t have to act on it. All you have to do is focus on being the healthiest version of you. If you’re overweight, sure – get to a healthy weight. But please don’t starve, restrict yourself unnaturally, or do anything crazy or torturous. Understand that what you actually want is to be healthy, to be able to express yourself fully, and most importantly – to be loved.
Don’t compare yourself to other people, because that’s just pointless. You never know what they’re going through, and they might not be happy themselves (even if their perfect smiley pictures on Facebook try to say otherwise). Only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday, and aim to become the best version of you.