The first thing to understand is that love is an action, not a feeling. And to love yourself should come hand in hand with tangible actions and not just pretty words. And because of this, true self love is difficult. It requires active dedication everyday, working towards the most beneficial long term goals. In order to do this, we all have to create a relationship with ourselves based on growth and accountability. The most important relationship I will ever have is with myself. And that is true for everyone. The body I reside in will be the most important thing I will ever have to take care of. The mind through which I process life is the most essential component I need to safeguard. Fundamentally, we all know this and we act according to what we feel will bring the most advantage to us. No one ever purposefully sets out to self destruct, and yet we do – sometimes permanently. Most times however, we tear ourselves up slowly and in little pieces until the work to put us back together is so much and so difficult that we instead choose to sink deeper and faster into annihilation. And even this action is a form of perverted self preservation. It is important to understand that even at that time, and in that moment of self destruction, your mind was acting in a way that it thought was beneficial for you. You were protecting/ nurturing/ gratifying yourself, regardless of how twisted the method was. Knowing that, we must approach ourselves and others with sympathy, kindness and abundant love.
Change is difficult. Everything about our biology wants us to get content and then slow down. So a lot of our journey of self help tends to have timelines, defined steps and simple antidotes to solve all of life’s problems. As said before, our bodies not like change- because change comes with suffering. More so, it is extremely difficult to delay gratification. We want everything right now. Tomorrow is too far and too vague for our mind to justify the wait. When trying to change an aspect of ourselves our mind tries to protect us from prolonged suffering by seeking quick fixes and anecdotal evidence that fit our narratives. Product development and advertising has successfully capitalised on this understanding of human behaviour, churning out the most ridiculous ideas that ‘fix’ life’s problems. Some of the more outrageous examples include claims like;
- Reebok’s EasyTone Shoes give you better buns than other sneakers (Rebook, 2009)
- The white tea in Nivea’s My Silhouette Cream makes you thin (Nivea, 2009)
Kellogg said Rice Krispies could boost your immune system (Kellog, 2010)
Extenze claimed it could extend penis length (Extenze pill, 2010)
- Skinny tea and all the other kinds of weight loss supplements that destroy your metabolism and just make you shit.
The world is running on quick fixes because they capture our attention the most. I think this is a very flawed model. It lulls us into a false sense of security by promising that very little effort will yield life altering results. It promises a quick short almost painless solution. An end followed by prolonged joy. But, there is no magic pill. There is no end of the race. There is no finish line. This is just life. Nirvana will not reach us and have us finally relax. Our problems will just evolve or change, becoming more or less complex- and that is okay. Struggle is an integral part of life. This is yet another reason why bliss will come fleetingly. Happiness is the little peaks in life’s journey, and not the intended destination. So the point of life is not to avoid struggle, but to choose worthy struggles and to struggle well. Struggling well brings us something more satiating than happiness- it brings us satisfaction, humility, patience, honour, resilience and pride.
It is important to realise that our bodies and minds adapt to whatever environment we subject them to. That’s why sometimes when you look at your past you cringe, because you cannot understand how on this green earth you justified certain mindsets or actions. The harder you cringe at your past the better you are for it. It is a marker of progress. If you look behind and only have nostalgia and longing, then it is a signal that your life has either stagnated or retrogressed. No one is ever content in that state. The point of life is to thrive. It is embedded in our DNA. Going against that is to choose a struggle that is counter productive to your biological hard wiring. And we must keep reminding ourselves that within our individual journeys of struggle, we must also struggle to love ourselves. I say struggle to love ourselves because I think self love does not mean coddling yourself, giving in to bad habits or justifying our behaviour. Self love means trying to access yourself objectively (as objectively as possible), delaying gratification and pushing to make better versions of ourselves. And this is requires constant change, so it is painful and it is struggle, but long term, it is a lot more rewarding than any other measure we might take. Below I will highlight a few things I have read about or practice in order to show myself some true love and equip myself to struggle well in life.
M I N D
In this case, I define the mind as the organ of cognition. The state of your mind is crucial. This is the lens from which you view the world and perceive its reaction to you. This is the tool that builds effective habits and great relationships and reacts to fulfilling experiences. But, it is also very uncomfortable with change. So sometimes even devastating habits can be reasoned away as beneficial. This is because continuous exposure to different habits, whether helpful or detrimental will have your brain reason that these repeated actions are helpful to you. The tricky thing about the mind though is that it is extremely difficult to detach to the idea that the mind is you. It is kind of hard to wrap your head around the notion that the brain is first and foremost an organ. For this organ to function properly and allow you to have proper reasoning, certain factors have to be put in place. Also, the brain is a muscle. Any muscle that is not used properly will eventually atrophy. This is the same case for the mind. These are a few helpful things that I have found along the way that feed the mind- that build the mind.
- Learning- Learning about how the brain functions using material on biology, diet, psychology and sociology is essential. It is only when I started really focusing on these materials that I was able to somewhat let go of the idea that the way I think was unique, constant and could not change. Everyone can change. Learning helps us understand who we are, why we are the way we are and what are the effective ways of introducing long term change. Learning for me is about trying to get to the overall truth rather than trying to assert my truth. It takes a bit of curiosity, humility and childlike wonder to really reap the benefits of learning. My personal philosophy is that you can learn from anything and anyone if you are able to let go of the idea of the unchanging and self righteous self.
- Meditation– Meditation is a great tool for re-framing the mind and de-cluttering it of ideas and anxieties. It is a way to calm the mind and allow it to detach from the struggles of life. I must admit that I am still trying to adopt this habit. Because it is such a new habit, my brain has not recognised it as a beneficial task yet and thus always finds excuses of avoiding it. But that is the struggle of building new habits.
- Happy experiences- The brain has certain happy hormones such as Serotonin, Endorphins and Dopamine that regulate mood. Laughter, love, exhilarating experiences, exercise, dark chocolate etc., are some of the things that trigger these hormones. Human beings are hard wired to seek happiness and it is important to seek it first through understanding what it is, how to achieve it and understanding that fundamentally, happiness is a peak and life will be littered with them if you understand how to get to the top. Happiness can also be trained. You can train your mind to respond to different ideas of happiness rather than choosing methods related to instant kicks. Eg. Rather than having 12 beers tonight and a debilitating hangover in the morning, I will have 2 beers and manage to do something fun in the morning. Or maybe rather than eating that crappy pizza hut pizza today, I will eat really great food and reward myself with the best possible pizza once a month. All the experiences have happiness- the only difference is the quality achieved. The key thing is to delay gratification and access your future actions as if you had already done them.
- Sleep– I feel like the importance of sleep is not stressed enough. I was a trained insomniac. From high school I developed the habit of sleeping 5 or 6 hours a night. In university I subconsciously adopted the habit of sleeping with the light on and with noise in my ears. This habit was so ingrained that sleeping in the dark with no noise was impossible and gave me anxiety and nightmares. Eventually I convinced myself that this was just how I operated. But this is not the case. This was just my mind rejecting the idea of change and seeking comfort in known habits. Some of the benefits of sleep include stress reduction, improvement in memory, lowering of blood pressure, regulating mood, maintenance of body weight and strengthening of one’s immune responses. To try shift my sleeping patterns, I set my devices to yellow light after 7.00 p.m., I try play less stimulating content after 7 and try have my devices off as much as I can at night. I have found that exhausting myself physically and mentally during the day also really helps. I also try not to eat passed 6.00 p.m. The most helpful method I have found though is not trying to fight my many thoughts before I sleep. Now instead, I play them like a movie in my mind until eventually I drift off to sleep. I am still working on making my sleep habits stick. Some days I sleep like a rock while some are fitful and require me to self soothe with some noise. Just as everything else, it is a journey.
- Exposure- As social creatures, our ideas and thoughts about ourselves and the world are formulated through exposure. We live in an interesting society where we are overexposed to content. Every idea, whether good or bad is just a click away. We must be careful to filter what we consume habitually, as these form some of the basis of who we are. We are also creatures that assess each other based on trying to position ourselves in a social hierarchy. The most detrimental example of this is how social media has managed to cause so much anxiety as everyone clamours to show off their lives and simultaneously judge other people’s lives in order to see where they fit in society. In order to attempt to remove myself from this craze, I got off Facebook, I do not use Twitter and I made my Instagram more focused on art and aesthetics rather than my personal experiences. It does not mean that I am in any way immune to fomo, so sometimes I have to leave Instagram to refocus on myself.
- Therapy- In the same way that when you are feeling ill you go to the doctor, when you sense that there is something atypical about the way you are processing life, then you should go to therapy. Therapy is usually hard for people to wrap themselves around because many feel that the admission that their brain is not functioning at optimum is an admission of weakness or failure of some sort. The brain is an organ first. The idea that you can self treat a problem that is happening in this organ is like using lemon and ginger tea to cure pneumonia. Especially in this hyper-stimulated overexposed and socially isolated time, therapy is extremely important.
B O D Y
Your body is your temple. It is your home. How you treat it will definitely impact all aspects of your well being. It is yours to cherish and take care of not just for a season, but forever. Unfortunately as mentioned before, it is really difficult to delay gratification, and once your body gets used to a certain state of being, it becomes really hard to shift towards a different lifestyle. Here are a few aspects I have found are crucial to having a healthy body.
- Diet– You are what you eat. The topic of diet is very broad and everyone’s food habits are different. One thing remains constant though, food is fuel. The kind of fuel you put in your body will determine how your body runs. We are pre-programmed biological creatures whose bodies have evolved to run on certain foods. Denying our bodies these foods is akin to putting diesel in a petrol car. In the same way that we would not water plants with soda, we should not fuel ourselves with imitation foods. Some of the habits I have been culturing lately are to avoid all processed foods, to drink lots of water and to try and incorporate as much organic food as I can. A very important thing that has led me to stick to this lifestyle is researching on food, nutrition and disease. I have to stress that changing your food habits should never be done so as a temporary solution. It is a lifestyle. I try stick to an 80/20 rule where 80% of what I ingest I can consider good food to feed the body, and 20% is a little treat to feed the soul.
- Exercise- For millions of years human beings have existed as hunters and foragers. Due to this, our bodies have evolved to require muscle stress to boost things like metabolism, cognition, energy and even happiness. Both fortunately and unfortunately, the post industrial era has eradicated the physical need to remain active. Everything we want is a click away. This has had us completely change our relationship to physical activity for the worse in most cases. I have to say that exercise has been one of the most difficult habits I have had to introduce. My mind and body literally rebel every time I have to go for a work out. Understanding that the rebellion will end once my body has become accustomed to it has been the only thing keeping me going. And I can say it has. The first two weeks of exercise were hell. Now I look forward to it because I am reaping the physical benefits of it- the most important of which is how good it makes my mind feel.
- Check-ups– If you can prevent an illness or detect something early, then do. A lot of us bury our heads in the sand and only seek medical advice once the situation is severe. But just like your car goes for annual service, so should your body. That way you give yourself a fighting chance should something not be quite right with your engine.
S O U L
I use the word Soul here to mean anything that is nourishing the spirit. These are the edifying activities that bring joy, peace, passion and hope to the collective rather than just the individual. We are social creatures who exist in communities, so I think that anything that feeds the soul feeds the community as well. It consists of ideas, culture, art, interpersonal relationships and social activities. Your soul is just as important as your mind and body. A lot of us have starved our souls because we don’t have the tools or knowledge to understand how to nourish them. Here are a few things that I do to feed my soul.
- Engaging with new ideas– I love learning and I especially find myself drawn to ideas relating to human behaviour and its complexity. Engaging in different ideas curiously and without judgement, I find, helps us better understand one another through fostering empathy. It also helps us understand how the collective human race works. We are all grappling to better ourselves. It is only through sifting though different ideas can we incorporate new values and different perspectives into our lives.
- Culture that edifies- Culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Culture is just the reflection of society; and society is made up of positive and negative aspects. It is very easy to get swept up in cultural frenzies. This has come to be referred to as tribalism. In this definition of tribe, it is a group of people who share similarities, either physical, mental, spiritual or social. To preserve oneself, it is important to keep questioning whether the culture you are prescribing to falls in line with not just your own values, but with the collective good. Most ideas that emphasize segregation over unity are not worth having. So pick and choose what aspects of your culture you know will be the most beneficial to you and those it affects.
- Creating art- Nothing nourishes my soul more than art. For me art is music, fashion, paintings, dance, photography, poetry and literature. Art taps into a primal part of who we are that is first responsive to feeling rather than logic. The soul is what you feel rather than what you rationalise.
- Relationships- There is a saying that ‘you are the product of the 5 people you surround yourself with’. Though this is simplified, it does hold a lot of weight. The ideas you have about the world and about yourself will be greatly shaped by the people you are closest to. So for those that you can choose, it is crucial to be careful. It is not selfish to protect your soul by letting go of toxic or parasitic relationships. It is just survival. Surround yourself with people who love you hard enough to be honest with you. Create an environment of championing each others’ success (not just financial). Finally it is important to understand that good interpersonal love is symbiotic rather than unconditional. People come together effectively when their goals align. When this fails to be the case, it is okay to step back and re-evaluate the nature of the relationship and adjust accordingly.
Self love is a journey that will only end once we die. Journeys have ups and downs- and we should embrace that. What I have touched on here has barely scratched the surface of what self love is. But it is a start. No one will ever love you as honestly or as much as you can love yourself. It is essential to tap into that power. Remember you should only love others as much as you love yourself. So love yourself fiercely and protectively so that you are able to share that great quality love with others in your life.
The image featured is a portrait of Alexis Nereah from my work with jewellery company Indigene.