…you need to learn how to love yourself.

I am absolutely my own worst-enemy. I think many of us are. The things I say to myself – I wouldn’t imagine saying to any person I dislike the most. So why do I do it? It’s learned behaviour. The below quote captures what I mean perfectly:

In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.

Disliking myself was learned behaviour; when I was growing up I never really had any understanding of what it meant to like yourself as you are in this current moment. From school grades, to extra-curriculars, to the dark times of puberty – improvement and bettering myself are all I have known. Fast forward 10-15 years and no matter how successful I am, I still think: I can do better.

This drive is not maladaptive when it encourages you to put in extra time at work, or study extra hard for a test, or choose vegetables over cookies as a snack. It is, however, when you begin to criticise every single detail and aspect of your character. When at night you think back over the things you did or said during the day with disdain. When you can’t bear to look at yourself in the mirror because the reflection fills you with disgust, dread and makes you upset. And this harsh criticism is definitely not okay when all you want to do is disappear, erase yourself and come back a better, perfect version.

Whatever it is that you may dislike yourself for – low self-esteem, body shame, perceived failure…the below steps are things that have brought me peace, and are paving the way to loving myself.

Step 1: Acceptance

The step to liking yourself, and then to loving yourself, for me came when I realised: I am not perfect, and that is OK. When I realised that perfection doesn’t exist, and that my “flaws” made me unique. It sounds like utter rubbish when I type it, but try it – I dare you. It’s not a groundbreaking concept, that perfection doesn’t exist – but rather in allowing yourself to accept that it is ok that you are not perfect.

Step 2: Presence

You can’t move forward if you’re dwelling in the past. Whatever it is you’re beating yourself up about – it happened. You can’t do anything to change what happened but you can move on. Forgive yourself. You can’t predict the future, either so for me, trying to stay present (using mindfulness meditation, for example) is one way to keep myself grounded, focus on the present day and continue to accept myself as I am, today.

Step 3: Separate thoughts & fiction

Our minds are immensely powerful and incredibly adaptable. When we tell ourselves negative things, these negative thought patterns become harder to dispel, and we can start believing them. Meditation and mindfulness in step two reminds us that thoughts ≠ truth. The thoughts I typically have about myself are grossly exaggerated and largely untrue. Anytime you find yourself thinking something negative about yourself, recognise that thoughts and feelings are not facts nor truths.

Step 4: Don’t compare

Do not compare yourself to anyone, and also do not compare yourself to a past version of yourself, or a previous job you had, or incident. It’s in the past. See step two. Comparison is the thief of joy; stay present. Social media is the worst for this, so unfollow anyone who makes the comparison monster come out.

Step 5: Act

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles like these with tips and steps on how to improve my self-esteem and self-image, and then done nothing. Change is hard, and as humans we’re naturally resistant to it. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to force you to really think about things. Nothing will change or improve unless you do, so make sure that you do.