For a long time, I wasn't a big fan of myself. I have a lot of flaws, and I spent more time focusing on those parts of myself instead of the good things about me. Even when I was forced to confront a positive truth about who I am, I would condition it with something negative: Maybe I'm smart, but I'm too lazy to put my brain to any good use. Perhaps I do have nice eyes, but my crooked teeth keep me from being beautiful. If I'm compassionate, it's only because I'm so crazy that I can relate to everyone else's problems.
It wasn't a healthy way of thinking, and at some point I started a journey of self-love that I am still on today. I posted a list on my bathroom wall titled "Commandments of Self Love" and read them every morning. I wrote down something nice about myself at the end of each day. I started accepting compliments instead of denying them, and I spent time focusing on things that made me happy - even if they didn't seem important. I've made a lot of progress, but I still mess up sometimes.
Every so often, I find myself slipping back into the old way of thinking. I criticize myself and others, I forget to take care of myself in one way or another, and I lose my trust in myself. If I'm not careful, it's easy to start down a spiral of self-loathing and recrimination. And when this happens, I have to do a lot of work to get myself back on the right path.
I know I'm not doing anyone good when I think this way, but the truth is that self-love is not something that comes naturally to me, even after a few years on this journey. Loving myself is a conscious decision, and like any other learned skill, it takes practice. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get back up on the horse and try again when I find myself in a dark place - it just doesn't seem worth it when I'm there.
But deep inside the part of my soul that holds all of my best qualities, I know that I must keep trying. In these situations, I try to treat myself like I do my best friend. When she comes to me with a problem, I am honest with her, but never critical. I do my best to build her up and make her feel like the wonderful person I know she is. And when she makes a mistake, I don't shame her or make her feel guilty for it - I tell her to keep going, because one screw-up doesn't have to derail her goals. It's easy for me to treat her this way because I love her, and when I remind myself of this, it's easier for me to love myself, too.
Celebrity fitness trainer Jillian Michaels said, "If you get a flat tire, you don't get out of the car and slash all three other tires. You fix the flat and keep going." And when you screw up in any area of your life - your health, your career, your relationships - it isn't the end of the path for you. It's an opportunity to learn, to become more skilled, and to move on from something negative that's been plaguing you. A few instances of negative thinking don't cancel out all of the work that I've put into becoming a more loving person. In fact, these mistakes help me to grow, and give me opportunities to practice coping strategies that I need to overcome these thought patterns when they crop up in the future.
Whatever you're working on, you're bound to mess it up along the way. But that's no reason to give up on your goal. It's an important lesson that applies to almost any area of your life. When you are gentle with yourself and take a solution-focused attitude, failures become opportunities to sharpen your skill set and become a better person in every area of your life.
Never stop learning, and never stop trying. It's so much more gratifying to achieve something when you've struggled for it, and you're more prepared to meet future challenges and you can feel more confident in yourself as a result of that struggle. So embrace your mistakes. They're worth loving - just like every other part of you.