How to Love Yourself: Stay On Your Own Team

We all talk to ourselves in some form. It’s less weird than you think.

But I’m not interested in the times that we just recite a shopping list or wonder whether we’ve locked the back door properly.

What about the times you hate yourself?

The times you call yourself stupid, worthless, meaningless. The times when, if you said them to anyone on the street, you’d probably be punched in the face and the aggressor would be cheered on.

When you repeat these things to your friends, you’re probably told that you’re not stupid, worthless or whatever other mean word of choice you pick that day.

The problem is… they are just so believable in the moment.

Whatever caused these thoughts are probably still present. Negative thinking is just continuously being triggered and reinforced.

I didn’t go to the gym so I’m fat and worthless -> I’m still not going to the gym -> I’m even more fat and worthless.

Now, these thoughts are often completely untrue if you give yourself the chance to challenge them in a meaningful way.

Does missing a workout suck? Of course! Does it completely shatter your self-worth? No – the same way one workout probably doesn’t justify your whole existence.

You may be told to challenge these thoughts. It’s a valuable way to tackle negativity and if it works, keep at it. However, I’ve found something else to be useful.

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Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash

Stay on your own team

Or “talk to yourself as you would a friend”.

If you had a team of people to help you out in life, think of how you’d assemble it.

Would you have a person who you can turn to for advice?

A person who makes you laugh?

A person who makes stellar banana and chocolate chip cake?

Even a person with a voice that’s like audible silk?

Now, what about yourself – where would you stand?

Of course, you’re the person moving forward because you’re not being carried all the time. However, even if you stand still or move backwards, remember that you’re on your own team.

It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. A good teammate wouldn’t tell you that you’re a piece of shit if you missed a basket (and mean it) or conceded a penalty. They’ll help you get back on your feet and move on again. I’m not sure why I mixed up two sports.

They’ll be encouraging rather than demoralising and realistic rather than endlessly pessimistic (there’s a difference).

This is where talking to yourself helps. You can imagine yourself as a separate member of the team you’ve assembled and help yourself with a reminder that the hateful things you’re saying about yourself aren’t true.

Even if you really believe it, you can use that as a way to improve your life regardless. As Ryan Holiday says – The Obstacle is the Way.

When you begin, it won’t be believable. With practise however, you’ll slowly begin to correct your outlook on your own self-worth and reduce the negative self-talk that doesn’t inspire helpful self-improvement.

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Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

How stay on your own team

A thought that flies in my head when I think of advice like this is that I don’t deserve to speak to myself so kindly. Because the things I say are true.

Well, that’s not true. They just often feel true. And feelings aren’t facts.

Do you need to deserve a helping hand to have one? Maybe not. If you can offer yourself that helping hand, it may be the most useful thing you do for your own mental health.

I’m not asking you to lie about yourself – that’s simply not believable. I’m not the greatest writer in the world so I won’t tell myself that. However what I can do is tell myself but I can improveFor example:

  • I’m a terrible swimmer … but I can get better with consistent practice.
  • I’m not a kind person… but I can do one kind thing a day to learn how to treat others better.
  • I’m not good at studying… but I can ask for help.
  • I’m worthless… but I can find or create my self-worth with time and patience.

I try to use the “But I can improve” correction because I find telling myself “no I’m a perfect swimmer!” empty. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

Reminding yourself that you’re a draft in progress is a smaller and more realistic step to take. And it’s possible to prove it to yourself!

  • Swimming: after not being able to swim a length without getting tired, I practised consistently and now can swim 1.5km without hating myself.
  • Kindness: years ago, I challenged myself to point out good things about people and now it’s a habit.
  • Studying: I took the time to ask for help and learn about better studying techniques, now I’ve done well academically throughout university.

Give yourself a chance

Really, this is all about giving yourself a chance. You’re a draft in progress and we all are. Sometimes your brain malfunctions and tells you falsehoods that you want to believe. Like any part of your body, it can just be faulty.

So remember, you’re on your own team. Try not to join the opposition – they aren’t as good-looking as you and don’t have nice cakes.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What stops you from treating yourself with compassion?

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Live with Questions

Big questions. The type of question that apparently has no answer. Questions that result in debates which devolve into shouting matches. Questions that are discussed with friends in a park without noticing how serious the conversation has become.

Such questions have unfortunately been met with quick dismissal because they lack an easy answer. And the statement ‘We can’t figure it out! Stop asking about it!’ is uttered by the frustrated.

This attitude is often damaging and unhelpful. Some questions demand vigorous thought and conversation. They test patience and sanity. However, what they’re unlikely to do, is make life drastically worse for existing.

I say this because they have another function beyond being in an introductory philosophy book.

They foster powerful conversation between friends, give us a chance to exercise freedom of thought and help us learn more about ourselves, the world and the people we share it with.

They force us to live with uncertainty and find peace in it.

Take the question ‘What is the good life?’

Thinking about this question for only a few minutes opens us up to the huge possible answers you could give. To this question alone the answers have ranged from serving God to finding peace in a secular place to being virtuous to living with as much pleasure as possible. Some great minds have been trying to answer this and solve our contradictory yet equally appealing opinions for thousands of years. However, the lack of a definitive answer does not signal towards its insignificance.

In part, the value of the question comes from the process of trying to answer it, not just the answer settled on. Engaging with the questions opens us up to personal beliefs previously hidden to us which are then challenged and defended or dismissed. They can potentially change our lives simply because they’ve given us a new perspective on problems that we may never have taken seriously.

For example, we all know about avoidable poverty that persists in the world and tend to think it’s a bad thing but asking whether we’re all morally equal humans can change our opinions on whether we should give to charity. If we decide not to give to charity we can begin to develop our answer beyond a stutter and a hurry to change the topic.

Thinking about the questions, we might come closer to a satisfying answer that we may never have realised was in our grasp. But only by grappling with it for a while (or for some, their whole lives) can we do this. Everyone can be told answers to questions without any personal engagement but refusing to do some of the work ourselves stifles our gift for curiosity that should be grown instead of stifled.

If we find an answer we like, then all the better. If not, we can still enjoy the discussion. We then find that saying ‘I don’t know’ shouldn’t make us anxious. It’s a normal part of dealing with difficulty and practising some humility in the process.

It is important to note that I’m not demanding we live with every question in the world. There are many I currently have little interest in (No, I don’t know what an object is Mr van Inwagen.*) and some I have lived with for so long they aren’t invited for dinner any more. We all have different interests and some are more central to our everyday lives than others but we mustn’t dismiss them simply because of their difficulty.

To live with a question means we sometimes invite it over for some food and drinks, chat for a short while, crack a few jokes, realise you’re personifying a question for the sake of a metaphor and then, when the night is over, thank Ms Big Question for the enriching conversation. Maybe afterwards you’ll call Mr and Mrs 300-page-book for some help.

Live with questions and embrace the complexity they bring.

Live with questions and allow them to enrich your thinking.

Live with questions instead of wishing for their death.

If the questions die then the answer goes along with it and more importantly so does our thought.

***

* Peter Van Inwagen is a philosopher who has written about what objects are and determined they’re either elementary particles or living organisms.

Some other stuff:

Keeping Alive The Big Questions

Why I read