How to Love Yourself

I remember it like it was yesterday. My fairly-new girlfriend at the time looked me dead in the face, and said You are worthy of love.

I lost it.

There it was, from a person who barely even knew me - the thing I wanted to hear most of all in life.

I was one of those serial monogamists - bouncing from one relationship to another for pretty much all of my twenties. I didn't have crazy flings or ape-shit trysts. But I was really rarely single.

Then, at 30, those words. Face-to-face with what that string of relationships were really about. Feeling worthy of love. Feeling loved.

Here I am, almost five years later, living in Thailand (for now), and I've just now finally unwrapped it. I just now finally feel whole.

I've been single for the last year - the first such span since I started dating at 15, and it feels great. I don't feel empty or panicked or lonely. The secret - is that I've learned to actually love myself. For who I actually am.

This - is how.

This is not a read-this-article-and-eureka. It's, like everything, actions, consistently over time. But if you're like me, and you can use it, it really does work.

  1. Take inventory of yourself. What kind of a person are you? Ignore what you have or don't have. Ignore every single physical possession and every single physical attribute. How do you treat your friends? Your family? Your pets? Your kids? What are the things you're best at? What are your greatest weaknesses? What are the dreams you hold on to? What are the ones you've let go of? If you were telling a story, describing yourself in the third person, how would you describe yourself? Write it out. Take your time.

  2. Accept it. Exactly as you are, in this very moment. This is who you are. Nothing that you can do in this moment will change any piece of that. This, all of it, the strength and weakness, the kindness and bad moments are the cornucopia of you.

  3. Take a few actions that are what best you would do. If you're like most of us, there are ways we want to be better, people we wish we could become. I call mine "Best Me". Best Me is the me that I strive to be. He's a kind, patient, open-minded, passionate, give-a-shit kind of fellow, and I could write pages about him. But I don't. Instead, I try, every day, to do a couple extra things that Best Me would do, that normal me would probably skip. It's how progress happens, and it's a beautiful reminder that none of us are stuck with who we are today.

  4. Accept that you won't always be best you. It will happen. You're human. You will have bad moments, bad days, bad months. Accept these as a part of your big story. Nobody would read a book in which everything was happy all the time. There will be times you're not your best. Think about how you treat your close friends when they're having an off spell. Treat yourself with the same kindness and acceptance.

  5. Take a step back, and appreciate who you are. Not what you've accomplished or your career or if you've got a house or a car. Who you are. What you do when an old lady is having trouble crossing the street. What you do when you see something that's unjust. How you are with kids or dogs or in-laws. How you are to your friends.

These things, these actions more than anything you will ever own, define you. And I'm willing to bet, in the big picture, you're actually a pretty decent human being. That is what counts.

Then, when you're ready, ask the big question.

Looking at yourself, at how you interact with old people and kids and the grocery store clerk, ask yourself objectively:

If this was someone I knew, would I love them?

If your answer's no, then you've probably got some work to do. That's ok. I've written about this elsewhere, but this isn't some insurmountable obstacle. Just take little actions that make you proud of who you are. Hold the door. Leave an extra-big tip. Volunteer. Talk to a stranger you'd normally avoid.

Keep this up, day after day, and soon you'll find your answer shifting around to yes.

If your answer's yes, then it's time to accept yourself for being pretty awesome. And to love yourself, every day, even in the moments you aren't.

There are many ways in. One that worked for me is to look dead-eye in the mirror, and say, Steven, I'm proud of you. You're a good human being. And mean it. Keep that up, day after day.

Notice the things you do out in the world. Allow yourself to be charmed. In doing this, a funny thing will happen: you'll actually start taking even more little actions to be kind, to be generous, to be a person you love just to feel that appreciation. This is a good thing. You're noticing what everyone else has for a while.

You are worthy of love.

Keep it going, day after day. And then one day, you'll notice, rather to your surprise, that the ground feels more steady. That somewhere, and you won't be able to say exactly when, you hit the spot where you really dig the person you are, appreciate what you are in the world. And on that day, you'll know there won't be any going back. That there's no way you're going to take that support, that deep grounding away from yourself.

You have learned how to love yourself.