We are in a society where being competitive is validated, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Being competitive, and pushing yourself to be a better runner, worker, partner, parent, or person is an important part of life and growth. But when pushing yourself to be better becomes punishing yourself because you’re not “good enough,” that’s where the problems start. That’s where a slight injury becomes debilitating, trying to have a better marriage becomes settling for harmful dysfunction, trying to be a better worker becomes being a stressed out basket-case waiting for a heart attack to happen.
But how do we know the difference? That’s where self-love comes in. When you love yourself, you can see that you are worthy of good in your life. You can step back and judge whether something is truly good for you, or if you are trying to force a harmful situation to work because you don’t value yourself.
I learned this lesson in a big way. I previously “pushed” myself to do yoga 7 times a week, work 50 to 60 hour weeks, make time, at any cost, for my kids and friends. I had to be a better everything, except I was not being a better anything. I was sacrificing everything, and almost sacrificed my life. When I had a stroke, I had to slow down and listen to what was truly good for me. It takes a lot of work to learn this lesson, but you can do it.
The first step is allowing yourself to feel what is good for you. If you are a runner, and your knee hurts every time you run, then working harder is not going to help. No matter how much you try to strengthen your knee by running or lifting, it will not get better until you support your body in healing. To someone who is not a runner, this may seem obvious, but believe me, when you are trying to make a goal, quitting running for a month to heal an injury is a tough decision. Training harder is what you want to do, what you think will be best for you, even what seems to feel best, if you ignore the pain.
The smarty pants who are not runners think this is stupid, but I’ll show you how it works in the opposite situation. Let’s say you are overweight and physically unfit, and you say you are okay with that. It makes you happy to eat good stuff, which you define as cake and potatoes and gravy in unlimited quantities. You are also happy not getting any exercise. Walking or any kind of workout is unappealing to you. And you love yourself enough to do exactly what makes you happy. But let’s look at this happiness a little closer. You are in pain all over your body, because you never move it and it is a fact that the body is made to move. When you must walk a long distance, you get out of breath, a stitch in your side, and may not even be able to do it. This is painful. In addition, you likely have diabetes, high blood pressure, and a cadre of other diseases that go along with those. Because of these, you have to take medications that give you other health problems. You suffer painful consequences from the diseases themselves. And you are slowly killing yourself. All the things you enjoy will soon come to an abrupt end. When you’re in the hospital, taking your food through a tube into your stomach, even the mashed potatoes will end. How is this making you happy?
It is difficult to get ourselves off of this path of self-destruction, whichever path we are following. But honestly, we all know what the things we do that are not loving. Think about what you would want for someone you love, and you will know what you should want for yourself. If your child were hurt at recess, no matter how badly he wanted to get back to his game of tag, you would make him allow the injury to heal before returning to the playground.
If your child were doing drugs, you would not want to see her making such an unhealthy decision. She might think the drugs make her feel good, and you just don’t understand how it is to be in her shoes. But you would want her to stop this harmful behavior and would do anything to help her make that decision.
I’m struck sometimes by people who pretend they don’t know what a healthy choice is. There is enough information on the internet, on the news, in magazines, that we all know what is a healthy, loving choice to make for ourselves, and what is not. We know that working too much or in a constant level of stress is bad; that getting moderate exercise is good; that certain things should be eaten in moderation (or not at all); that running on a broken leg is bad; that being in relationship with someone who treats you poorly is bad; and that loving ourselves is good. So you need to love yourself enough to choose, moment by moment and day by day, to do the things that will lead to true happiness.
I’m not saying it is easy, but it wasn’t easy raising your children the right way; it isn’t easy taking care of your loved ones when they are sick; and it isn’t easy supporting your friend who is trying to make changes in their life. But you do it because you love them. Learn to make the right choices for you because you love yourself!
You are a human being, who deserves a good and truly happy life, not pain and misery. Don’t wait for a stroke, or a broken leg, or to be injured in an unhealthy relationship. Make those decisions today, ask for help in staying on track, and find out how good it feels to make emotionally and physically healthy decisions for yourself.
To show you that I live what I preach, I’ll tell you some of the decisions I’ve made to love myself that were difficult:
After my stroke, I live on 50% of what I used to make. I love myself enough to make the decision every day of how I will maximize what I have. I love myself enough to decide in what ways I can make more money, if needed, without bringing stress upon myself needlessly.
I made the decision to do yoga a few times a week, and not stress out about it when it doesn’t fit my life for a few days.
I made the decision to restrict consumption of gluten. For my body, it is a toxin. Short-term, it just gives me heart burn and a sniffly nose, but long-term it injures my immune system. (I also make the decision every now and then to have a little bit of it, because it is in things I love to eat, but I acknowledge this decision when I make it, and I keep it in check.)
I made the decision to drastically lower my sugar and dairy consumption because I believe they are bad for me.
I made the decision to get massage regularly, because, hey, it’s massage!
I made the decision to sacrifice financial resources and convenience in many respects to buy a condo in Denver instead of living in Littleton with my love, because it is healthier for me to have easy access to more things I like to do and people I like to see.
I made the decision to love myself enough to do good things for me and take harmful things out of my life. And I have to make those decisions each and every day. I’m not superhuman, and having had a stroke doesn’t make healthy decisions any easier for me than they are for you. But I choose. Wisely. Mostly.
I love you, my friends!
And I love ME!!!