I Love Me: Self Worth (Part 4: Healthy Habits)
If you're going to change a habit, you must be the treatment.
- Dr Wayne Dyer
In this section we will talk about healthy habits that often help us maintain a good sense of self and mental health. However, before we list these, we must discuss the issues that come along with trying to create healthy habits. One thing we’ve found that goes hand in hand with a low sense of self worth, is increased propensity towards anxiety about not doing enough or being "good enough". We don't always frame it that way, but I think we can all agree that we as a society fetishize perfection. We even use perfectionism as a humble brag on job interviews. We have come to believe that if we are not exceptional in all our ways or "well rounded", we are not worthy of considering ourselves as sufficient. In a world of photoshop and airbrushed magazines, we start to believe that we are somehow inferior if we can't immediately be better at things in life. We wrongly correlate achievement with inherent value.
We think that we must first become the quintessential superhuman with perfect teeth, clear skin, washboard abs, perfect poise, vibrant personality, high achieving, wealthy and altruistic at the same time before we merit high value. We imagine that if someone had been able to accomplish all these things, they must be innately better than us to be able to do these things. Also, we assume these people must be fully self assured in order to have accomplished these things. This may or may not be true. I argue that you can achieve the above mentioned feat, if you are highly self assured, and also that you can do the same with poor self image.
Interestingly, you will find that these two concepts of perfection and self worth are not tied together. This is how you can have one rock star accomplish many things in life and live to see their golden years, and have a Hollywood actress die of an overdose before she even reaches her 50's. Talent or high levels of achievement in life can be indicator of high self worth, or dangerous levels of self hate. Developing a lifestyle of achievement can come either way; however, it will last only if you are deeply rooted in yourself.
This means having developed the skill of dealing with imperfection; being able to be okay with the tension of striving to better but being okay and patient with yourself and the pace of your journey. When you are able to extricate your self worth from your achievement, you then come to the place where you can work on improving your life from a purely caring and loving place. You want to be better because you know you are capable, not because of fear of inadequacy. We understand that we are not diminished by our shortcomings but instead are strengthened in other ways. This also means we be realistic about our abilities; we do not overestimate, but we don't underestimate ourselves either.
A healthy sense of self worth affords us the ability to form healthy habits. But, instead of the jeers and accusations you once heard in your mind, you now are able to motivate yourself out of compassion for yourself instead of disdain. As I develop a healthier sense of self, I find that it's easier to motivate myself. I worry less about needing to do and instead find myself just doing. I have found that as I have developed a better sense of self and become more honoring of myself, I am able to examine and respond to my negative self talk and replace my internal dialogue to be more compassionate and loving. Feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy were no longer my motivations, but rather a true sense of self love. I find that I now make choices and act out of a true conviction instead of worry.
This concept would sum up how best to describe the way that healthy motivation comes about. Our internal dialogue often says "Why cant I stick to my diet? I'm so undisciplined, I'm so weak. Well, whatever I might as well have the extra piece of cake because I’m fat anyways." This process of guilt and shame fuels emotional responses that lead to sabotaging our goals. When we take on negative beliefs about ourselves by moralizing our actions, we end up self-fulfilling our beliefs. If instead we choose to have positive and compassionate beliefs about ourselves, our self talk would sound a bit more like, "Wow, I’ve been feeling less than my best lately, I want to be less sluggish and more productive. Let me see what I can research to get myself to a better place." The difference is between the voice of an exacting dictator vs. a loving nurturer. A loving inner self will not accuse or berate you; it will be gentle and understanding.
HOW TO PROMOTE WELLNESS & BALANCE
With the concept above in mind, we want to look at the way setting worthwhile goals and habits can help buttress a healthy sense of self worth. An immediate struggle that many have with seeking to establish habits is a sense of being constricted. Sometimes trying to get yourself to eat healthier, or do something every day, might take you back to childhood, with a parent or teacher barking commands at you. If this is the case, you likely value your freedom very much. It may help to picture the freedom that comes with a light feeling from a light space, or a free mind. Sometimes we feel like we are giving ourselves freedom by neglecting certain habits, but in the end we place ourselves under tyranny - the tyranny of freedom, or the tyranny of ourselves. We become enslaved to messy spaces, or to poor health. Understand that by taking even a single step here, you are not restricting your freedom, but actually expanding it. This is not the same as being bound to some outward expectation, but instead you are creating a life in which you feel true joy for yourself. Only you can define what this means for you. Below are some suggestions that are generally helpful.
Routines are a crucial part of any healthy lifestyle. There's a reason that even Sesame Street educates children about healthy routines. Once you are able to get certain things going on a good routine, it will take less effort to accomplish things than it will at first. It's the old law about inertia - an object in motion remains in motion, and an object at rest remains at rest. It takes more energy to start something than it does to keep it going. Getting yourself to integrate healthy routines, like trying to have breakfast on a regular basis, or getting to bed at a decent hour, gives you a good foundations from which to build on with your other goals. Be mindful, however, that routine is a tool, not the master. You are the master. Routines are intended to help create order in life but not to be your task master.
We start with a difficult one, because this is basically the bane of everyone's existence. Every year, we collectively aspire to get good at this part. I think our collective struggle with exercise has gotten so bad that the majority of people I spoke with this year have declined to make a resolution at all. Regardless, a key to success with exercise is to figure out:
- Why you are truly doing it
- What is it you enjoy
Are you doing it to prove something to someone else about your work ethic, or are you honestly concerned about your health?. Find out if your motivations are coming from the dictator or the nurturer within. Additionally, there is no reason to bang your head against the wall doing what everyone else does. Exercise is hated because we actually hate the forms it takes. Ask yourself, do you enjoy cardio? Or, do you prefer yoga? Start there. Would you rather go to the gym or stay home? Do that. Is it better to play some sports at the rec center, or a class at your local gym? Great! Start with something you actually enjoy. This way, you're giving yourself small wins, and getting some momentum. Maybe it'll help to try YouTube workouts or simple bodyweight exercises at home. Maybe Zumba is easier to start with than Insanity. Either way, try to remove the barriers as much as possible with simple solutions. Then you're on your way!
Another serious one is sleep. Sleep is integral to so many things; mental health and wellness, and physical well-being. The quality of your relationships might be tied somewhat to the quality of your sleep. Sleep difficulties can also be tricky to deal with, so issues here likely need to be addressed by a medical professional. Some go-to things that can help with sleep is:
- Exercise - A good workout, even in the morning, will make you good and tired come bedtime, and will also improve the quality and depth of your sleep.
- Sleep Hygiene - Turn off the screens an hour or two before bed to reduce your mental stimulation and help you to sleep better. Some of our brains need no assistance when it comes to running on overdrive and keeping us up at night. If you can't stay away, at least use Night Shift or other night mode on your devices to reduce that blue light that keeps your brain awake.
- Tea - A good calming way to ease yourself to sleep is with some warm tea. Chamomile, Basil, or any other restful, herbal, caffeine-free tea can be a great part of a calming routine. Pick a tea that you enjoy, and you will look forward to your wind-down cup. A sleep routine is helpful, because we often don't have an intentional routine surrounding sleep. Much like when we were children, a sleep routine is a great way to send a message to your body that it's time to wind down, and it can be a really comforting and nurturing way to speak to that inner child within us, which is a deep comfort, especially for those of us who might not have had the best of childhoods.
- Smells/Essential oils - Diffusing calming essential oils, such as lavender, is another way to soothe the body and mind. As smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, making a smell association with rest can be a very strong trigger to get you to go to sleep peacefully and restfully.
- White Noise - Playing soft white noise, rain sounds, or any other peaceful, calming sound is yet another sense to add to a sleep routine. It can be very comforting and calming to the mind to recharge you for the next day. A favorite app of mine is Calm.com (Desktop, iOS and Android), which has a variety of peaceful sounds to choose from.
A neat space is important because it provides a soothing energy to your mind. When our space is cluttered and/or messy, it promotes feelings of anxiety and fatigue in our minds. When we try to focus in a cluttered space, our brain is using energy to try to filter out all the stimuli that surround us. Have you ever walked into a clean space, such as a hotel, or a freshly cleaned home, and just felt a sense of peace? This is your goal. Here are some helpful tips to keep a neat space with minimal effort:
- Make your bed - If you do nothing else, this creates a large space of cleanliness in your eyesight without much effort. A made bed in the messiest room will still feel much better than before.
- A clean desktop and no tabs - Don't keep icons on your computer desktop; it adds to the feeling of stress. On a windows computer, simply right click the wallpaper and uncheck "show desktop icons." Problem solved! If you want them later, you can also recheck that box. As for your tabs, make sure to close your browser regularly, and set it to not remember your previous tabs. If you're worried about losing your place, simply search your history. If it's important, you will go back for it. If it's not, you won't.
- Throw stuff out; a LOT of it - This one is simple; if you don't have a lot of stuff, it's a lot harder for things to get messy. How many clothes do you really wear? How many dishes do you really need? This is a good opportunity to get rid of mismatched or aged things, and donate things you simply don't use. More on this below.
- Downsize your place - Chances are that if you struggle to maintain your space, it might simply be too large. Get a smaller place. This will make cleaning a breeze and save you some money as well.
This one can be sensitive, but what this means is a space in your mind or otherwise where you can create meaning from life. It is a place where you can resolve the things that life brings. This might mean praying, reading, going to a temple, engaging in nature, spending time with your loved one, taking a bath, whatever it is that brings you to a place of centeredness. This allows you a reset that gives you a point of reference to which you can return when times get rough. Also, engaging with the larger questions of life has a way of making us clear of our purpose and showing us what we believe in a changing world.
Sometimes we have a lack of peace due to the overwhelming thoughts and emotions we experience. A great way to manage this is meditation. You may have tried it already without much success, but a great approach is outlined by Dan Harris. His book 10% Happier, and the companion app (iOS & Android), tailor it for people like me who often struggle to remain still or focused. Meditation is one of those things that continues to pay dividends long after you've gone on to do other things. Just shoot for one minute; 60 seconds - you will be amazed at the difference just that can make. Meditation can also help a lot with sleep as well. Try out 10% Happier's sleep meditations, which have helped me calm an overactive mind at bedtime on numerous occasions.
Minimalism refers to a lifestyle that involves shedding things that don't matter in order to make more room for the things that do matter. This takes the form of shedding items you don't use or that don't add value to your life. This moves to relationships that are not contributing positively to your life. Simply throwing out, selling, or donating a lot of your seldom-used possessions can give you a massive dopamine boost. After shedding dozens of bags, and selling a lot of extraneous items, my house stays cleaner longer, and it takes about 20-30 minutes to clean the whole thing. This has helped me a whole lot!
Most of the habits listed above are also methods of self care, but it is important to take time out from all of these habits and take time to just love on yourself. Self care means taking time out to check in with yourself, and to get yourself back to a place of happiness and contentment. It means engaging in things that elevate your mood or puts a pep in your step. It can be anything from having a peaceful bath, or watching your favorite movie, to snuggling up with a good book. Mani-Pedi, Sunday football, whatever it is, on a fairly regular basis try to allow yourself the chance to consciously and purposefully take time to yourself without feeling sorry about it. Only you have the power to create the life you hope for, and your decision to make yourself well from the inside out is really the only tool you have. You are you own medicine - start your dosage today.
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