Practicing Self-Love

I’ve been asked by BlogHer staff to answer the following question in a blog post.

“How do you practice self-acceptance and find unconditional love for yourself? How does practicing love first help you attract more love and happiness in your life?”

Wow. Tough question. And incredibly timely, given that for the last year I’ve been thinking pretty hard about just how to make this happen in my life. For me, the answer begins with gratitude. Several years ago I noticed that my body was beginning to age more than I thought it would in my 30s. And as I approached 40, I began to realize that it was only going to happen more rapidly in the coming years. As an antidote to dreams of plastic surgery or over-the-top strength training, I began to mentally catalogue the things my body was still capable of and, once I started, I was astonished at the list. All of those things I take for granted like digesting food and pumping blood and repairing cuts and bruises worked just fine. I am lucky not to be an insomniac and, while I have a pretty bad case of dandruff, my hair isn’t falling out and my joints work the way they’re supposed to. I began to realize that the list of things my body accomplishes on a daily basis, mostly without my interference, is truly miraculous.

With this “plentiful” mindset, I began looking at other parts of my life. I thought about the good friends I have and the close family members I love and who love me. I acknowledged that these people see something in me that makes them want to be around me and thought about what those things might be. With some small feelings of guilt, I listed a few of them – sense of humor, open-minded, generous – and was surprised to notice that it felt good to think about traits I possess that other people like. And, within a few days, I began to see my behavior patterns change to emphasize those traits. As soon as I labeled that glass as ‘half full,’ I could only see it that way. It is like that pencil drawing of the old woman/young woman; once you see one of the women, you have a difficult time seeing the other one. Your brain has accepted one image and it doesn’t want to see the other one.

Abundance is like that. You can’t simultaneously hold two opposing thoughts in your head. Something is either black or white, it can’t be both at the same time. Once I trained my brain to notice the things I do that come from love and kindness and generosity, I was more likely to reinforce the belief that I am loving and kind and generous. And I was more likely to act in those ways as well.

This is not to say that I don’t get down from time to time or berate myself for doing or saying something particularly stupid. I absolutely do. The difference now is that I am in the habit of counterbalancing those negative thoughts with realistic assessments of all of the things I do that are smart or caring. Human beings are wired to put more weight in the negative. It is an evolutionary way for us to avoid dangerous situations and learn from our mistakes. Thankfully, now that we don’t live in a world where we’re likely to be eaten by dinosaurs or saber-toothed tigers, we can also train ourselves to consciously add pounds to the positive. I firmly believe that this is one of the most important kinds of weight training we can do.

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11 replies
  1. Nicole Pyles
    Nicole Pyles says:

    I just love your honesty on this…my mom and I have been talking about this lately, about how your body changes as you age…and I love what she said, that as long as you love yourself, have someone else that you have an open, honest relationship with, excercise, eat healthy, and take care of your spirit, then it won't be as tough when your body changes when you get older. This post said just that! Keep telling yourself the good things, and that is just enough!

  2. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    I love this, Kari! It's all about where your focus is, and that attracts more of whatever you're looking for/at. A wonderful, insightful piece here – as always.

    BlogHer doesn't allow comments without signing up, which they made difficult enough, I decided not to. Sorry.

  3. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    Dear Kari,
    The wisdom of your posting makes me wish that everyone I know and love and cherish could read it and say, "Yes! We are wondrous beings."

    Living in gratitude did all this for you. It is a word I will embrace. Thank you.


  4. Astra
    Astra says:

    Thank you Kari; this was a post I needed to read today to remind myself. It's my challenge too to practice a little more self-acceptance and your perspective will help as I'm about to go to my 48th annual physical with my doctor!!!

  5. Alicia D
    Alicia D says:

    love the photo of the young woman old woman (takes me back to my intro psych classes in undergrad!!) and i love how you point out that you can't see both at once. Great experiential way to drive the point home!

  6. Sarah Baughman
    Sarah Baughman says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Kari…I firmly believe that self-love is at the root of all positive interaction, but it's hard to cultivate. I like your suggestion for "brain training" and "counterbalancing those negative thoughts with realistic assessments of all of the things I do that are smart or caring."

  7. Sandi
    Sandi says:

    Beautiful, inspiring post on being grateful. Sometimes it's really hard to see gratitude, when life is crashing down, but your words made it seem reachable.

  8. graceonline
    graceonline says:

    Thank you for sharing what you've learned about self-love. How can we possibly love others well if we love not ourselves well? Beautiful post.


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