Self-love and wanting to change yourself are not mutually exclusive. In fact, self-love is an essential prerequisite of positive change. The words you constantly tell yourself, the way you feel towards yourself, and ultimately the way you view yourself, dictate your behaviour at a subconscious level.
Everyone wants to better themselves physically, mentally, spiritually, whatever it is – people are seeking self-development, it’s part of the human condition. But love your journey, accept yourself for where you are, and celebrate the small wins.
How can your words and thoughts affect you?
The brain creates neural pathways according to the repeated thoughts that you have. These pathways are strengthened each time you think that thought and your brain starts to cement the idea that it is the truth.
Every single thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some that last longer than others depending on how much you resonate with that thought. For example, individuals who repeatedly feel positive thoughts, whether these are about the beautiful weather, or that they look good in a pair of jeans, or how grateful they feel for their family, will receive a surge of positive neurotransmitters and neuropeptides like dopamine and norepinephrine.
These neurotransmitters will leave the individual feeling happier and more alert and will strengthen the validity of those feelings in his or her mind. Meaning that they will really start to believe that they look good in that pair of jeans.
Conversely, if you tell yourself you look terrible in those jeans, the monopoly effect will happen. The negative neural pathways will strengthen and establish the grounds for habitual negative thinking and behaviour patterns.
If you repeatedly tell yourself that you are fat and unable to lose weight, your brain will establish this thinking as the standard and your subconscious behaviour will reflect this. So, in real terms, this means that if you tell yourself this – you are less likely to go to the gym, eat healthy and lose the weight because the idea that you can’t is so ingrained.
But there is some good news. Neural pathways can be strengthened with positive thoughts too.
So, how can I have a positive mindset?
Studies show that implementing specific techniques can help if you want to make long lasting change. Let’s use the example of weight loss – say you want to lose 10 lbs. Try out these techniques.
1. Daily positive affirmations
Positive affirmations work and research has proven this. Positive affirmations are a form of self-talk developed by psychologists to help improve body image in individuals with anorexia or body dysmorphia.
We all have an internal representation of our own bodies, and this becomes the way we are convinced we look to the outside world. But we are not always right. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, scientists watched women with anorexia walk through doorways in a lab. The women turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways, even when they had plenty of room.
This is because the women were so convinced that they were bigger than they were and this altered their public behaviour. So, what ways is your body image impacting the way you behave in the world?
A psychologist from the University of Michigan conducted a study into positive affirmations, noting that talking about yourself in third person rather than using ‘I’ helps to give you perspective and has powerful self-regulatory effects.
The aim is to make you feel empowered and less driven by emotions. By positively talking about yourself in the third person you are getting distance from your own negative self-image in order to remodel yourself internally.
So, stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself, that you have a great body, that you are beautiful, that you are valued… you get the idea.
2. Leave cues
The book titled ‘The Power of Habit’ gives an interesting insight into how new habits are formed. These habits can be everything from brushing your teeth to taking out the rubbish every Monday. The best way, according to this research, is to leave cues to remind you to do the action.
So, if you’re reading this, you want to improve your relationship with your body. You want to make having a good relationship with your body a habit. So, leave Post-it notes on your mirror telling yourself you are beautiful, leave your running shoes next to your bed to remind you to exercise, and leave a notebook next to your bed to do your daily affirmations.
When you get constantly reminded to love yourself, loving yourself will become a habit, then a routine, then a permanent state of being.
3. Push yourself
This is where it gets real – you need to push yourself. You need to take responsibility for your own negative behaviour.
If you eat a ton of chocolate before going to sleep because you are lonely or bored – you are going to feel bad about yourself, because you are attempting to cover up emotional struggles with bad food. That doesn’t sound very productive does it?
Become more self-disciplined, set goals and commit to them. If you say that you’re not going to eat chocolate anymore, stick to it and enjoy how good you feel about yourself. Next time you are running on a treadmill, go for a minute extra. Next time someone is rude to you, be even kinder to them. Push your boundaries and prove to yourself that you are a high calibre person. It will help you to improve your relationship with yourself.
4. Nourish your body
Treat yourself like you would a child. Would you tell a child they are fat? Would you feed them excessive quantities of junk food? Would you keep them sitting still at a desk for 12 hours a day? I doubt it. So why do you do that to yourself?
Treat your body with the love and respect it deserves. Feed yourself properly, eat an abundance of nutrients, don’t drink too much alcohol or eat too much sugar, workout, move your body, smile, laugh and do things that feed your soul.
When you start treating yourself properly, you will learn the true power of self-care. Proper self-care improves your relationship with your body in the most profound way.
Ultimately, when you spend time focusing on each one of these steps, you will notice how your feelings and behaviour shift towards your body from being negative and detrimental to positive and motivating. Love yourself first and see how the world changes around you.