Today I propose exploring saying nice things to ourselves, all the time, no matter what. In daily life. Unconditionally.
Being nice to ourselves is consciously choosing to think encouraging, rational thoughts about ourselves instead of negative, irrational thoughts. Simply put, it is finding the silver lining all the dang time. The whole when life gives you lemons, go make some tasty lemonade type of thinking (UGH).
The technical way to say this is "positive self-talk." I'm assuming here, but it is likely you've come across/heard of positive self-talk before. Maybe with self-improvement or self-help materials, or maybe when scrolling through health and wellness articles. Or in an exercise class (or video). Or as part of a diet plan. Or an employee motivation meeting (just me? It was cute.).
There are lots of examples of the effects of positive self-talk. The more nice things we say to ourselves, the better we feel about ourselves, and the better we believe in our ability. Being able to cultivate positive self-talk (or positive body language) has been shown to make us more likely to achieve our goals, much more than negative reinforcement. Positive people have lower levels of stress, live longer, and their relationships are healthier. In other words, it makes sense that we would all benefit from engaging with ourselves in a positive way (apparently lots of research says so). In my own job, there is an entire portion of counseling material devoted to working on this with patients as it relates to behavior change. Hence why I care about it so much :)
Positive self-talk is a very positive thing, but there is a caveat.
When we only think about positive self-talk in the context of trying to change ourselves, the message that we send is that it is when we are trying to get to a better version of ourselves that we are deserving of kindness. And when we don't relate to ourselves in a positive way apart from these times, we're essentially telling ourselves that we aren't worthy of kindness unless we are striving to improve ourselves. This is selective positive self-talk, motivated by an ideal because of constantly being told/believing that what we are doing now is not enough. Rather than practicing positive self-talk to encourage self-acceptance, it becomes a motivational tool that is sending us the message that you, as you are right now, is not enough. It is missing the point. See where I'm going?
We humans do this all the time. We are only nice to ourselves when we have an agenda to better ourselves, or when we think we're doing a good job because we did it "right." Again, this isn't really positive self talk. It's conditional, based on a goal. And it turns into negative self-talk if/when we don't achieve the desired result. Or if we didn't achieve it in the way that was "right."
If we can't relate to ourselves kindly no matter where we're at, then we're not engaging in positive self-talk. It is negative self-talk in disguise.
Positive self talk shouldn't be reserved only for when you want to motivate yourself to achieve a goal to become a "better you." It should be a constant. Just as you don't sometimes talk nicely to your best friend. If you only talked to people kindly when you had an objective, it would backfire. They'd figure you out as someone not really interested in them, but really only interested in your agenda. This is a very black and white approach to being nice to ourselves. Should we only be kind to ourselves when we envision a better version of ourselves? Because when we are resting, when we aren't "ON," when we don't meet the goal, when we don't have any goals, does that mean we are any less of a person? No. No it does not.
Obviously, the area of life that is near and dear to my heart on this is with food relationships. What does it look like to practice positive self-talk with food-related situations? (This is where the "practice" part comes in :D).
Choose the food that you would like to eat in the moment, and enjoy it.
Say, "I really enjoyed that." Don't follow it up with thoughts of how to burn it off or be "healthy" at the next meal (that is diet mentality).
Congratulate yourself when you satisfy a craving, instead of trying to get rid of it.
Say, "I listened to my body! I love that I can satisfy a craving."
Be grateful that your body is wired to crave and digest a wide variety of foods.
Say, "It is so awesome that if I am feeling like eating vegetables, or cheese, or cake, or pizza, or a bowl of fruit, or a snack, or a large meal, that my body can and will process all of it."
Be happy to eat when you're hungry, and excited that your hunger signals are working.
Say, "It is awesome that my body lets me know when I need energy. Bonus that I am not an earthworm eating dirt -- I get to ENJOY my energy!" (Maybe earthworms enjoy dirt, but tbh not buying it.)
Remind yourself that every meal won't be balanced, and that your body can handle it.
Say, "That meal didn't have everything I would have liked, but it did the job! I've got my next meal to enjoy."
Relish in the satisfaction of a meal, even if you over-ate, because you had access to delicious food.
Say, "Well, that was amazing. I might be uncomfortable right now, but my body can handle it. How awesome, because that meal was TOO good!"
Be thankful for a binge or emotionally-fueled eating session because it might be a sign that something is going on.
Say, "Hmm, I wonder why I felt the need to do that. I'm glad that this is showing me something might be going on with me emotionally."
Make food choices based upon what will make you feel physically and mentally good.
Say, "What sounds good right now? What really, REALLY sounds good right now? I love that I can practice learning what satisfies me and nourishes me each time I eat."
Food is one window that allows us to look at the deeper, engrained habituation that we have in relating to ourselves. Thanks to our diet-fixated health and wellness culture, our food habits and choices give us daily opportunity to practice positive self-talk for the sake of self-kindness, rather than an external motivator (like pursuing "the perfect diet"). Food-related positive self-talk gives us the chance to realize that positive self-talk is always appropriate; whether you enjoyed a meal or not, fell into an old struggle or not, or whether you were judgmental of your food/size/etc. We still need to eat, so we'll always have another chance to try being nice to ourselves again. Our eating habits are learning opportunities and ways to insert positivity into daily life. And, despite what your negative self-talk may be telling you, they are not opportunities for self-punishment.
As I said above, I currently work in behavioral counseling with research patients (seriously, my boss is a psychologist. I am uncertain if he reads TMT but hopefully not, let's be real). I advocate for positive self-talk in behavior change, so clearly I am not saying that positive self-talk being used to promote positive behavior change is wrong. I am saying that only being kind to yourself when trying to change yourself is wrong. And this is a whole other bit, but understanding why you want to change is the single most important thing that needs to be addressed before pursuing any sort of change. If the motivator is not coming from a place of self-acceptance or self-care, then the positive self-talk isn't, either. And when you can engage in self-kindness in every situation (hey, food relationship!), it makes the process so much less scary and all the more rewarding. You're on your own side.
For transparency's sake, I am in my own process on this as well, so I don't mean to act like I've got it together (I will never, ever say that :D). It is hard and calling negative self-talk out for what it has been huge in me recognizing how much negativity can infiltrate my thinking and effect my sense of self. Teaching others about it has been a major learning moment. Kind of crazy but in a good way, you know?
If nothing else, please please please know that even if you don't love yourself, you can be nice to yourself. Even if you aren't trying to change yourself or pursue a "better" you, via a diet/lifestyle/regimen/whatever, you are still a human and should be treated with kindness. Even if you ate the non-Whole30 brownie.
PS I will return to TMT later this week with a recipe! I feel like I may have scared peeps away with all of this intense stuff (that I probably could have articulated in a less confusing way), and I need a breather too I think. But my brain is equal parts baking and thinking. Or thinking and making. Hence the "TM" part of TMT, I guess :). WOW. That is my cue.
P.S. These are pictures from a cafe around the corner of my digs. So sunny and positive, yes? I think it's adorable.
P.S.S. The positive self-talk links are super reader friendly :)