How to make self-love an instinctual habit

I once thought I could get by well enough with an indifference to my own desires. However, with contentment eluding me and life not going as planned, I was starting to see that I'd never be truly happy unless I drastically elevated my self-regard.

So I signed up to The Self-Love Project (SLP), a six-week course which teaches daily habits to rewire the brain to a default position of love over fear. It's conducted via a weekly teleconference with other aspiring self-lovers, along with daily rallying emails full of motivational quotes and videos encouraging us to keep at it, and a workbook of research that supports the SLP's four pillars of self-love.

Loving yourself requires daily
attention to “untangle old wiring” of self-criticism, unworthiness and self loathing, and develop new neural pathways.

Loving yourself requires daily
attention to “untangle old wiring” of self-criticism, unworthiness and self loathing, and develop new neural pathways.

We're stressed, repeating destructive patterns, when we could just choose love and fulfilment. "Self-love is a verb," says Eloise King, founder of The Self-Love Project. "I truly believe it puts people in control of their life again."

Loving yourself requires daily attention to "untangle old wiring" of self-criticism, unworthiness and self-loathing, and develop new neural pathways. It sounds simple, but it takes work and commitment.

Pillar one: meditation/mindfulness

Self-lovers meditate. You can't expect to experience unadulterated self-love without inner peace. I'm already a regular meditator, but those who aren't are given a crash course in the practice.

Another pathway to mindfulness is journalling: free-range thought dumping, a catharsis of our darkest, often buried ruminations. Its benefits include solving problems by, as King puts it, "brainstorming a solution with your higher self".

As a writer, I resisted journalling, too preoccupied with forming the perfect sentence. But as I write, for no benefit but my own, my unedited stream of consciousness starts cutting through with clarity, resolution and gratitude. I feel lighter, having my say without repercussion.

Pillar two: happiness

Many of us have everything we want, yet we are still unhappy. SLP suggests practices to bring us closer to happiness, including speaking from the heart, meaningful goals, expressing kindness and empathy, savouring special moments and creating new ones, and choosing positive thoughts. SLPers are encouraged to practise these habits daily, tracking them in a logbook.

Inspired, I find myself stopping myself mid-sentence to "eliminate dead-end thinking", seeking out new experiences, such as rock-pool rambling, and pausing to take a mental snapshot of happy moments: legs entwined for bedtime stories, car games, gratitude lists over dinner.

Pillar three: movement

Forget the gym or personal trainers – we're given tutorials in twerking and hip hop, moving for joy rather than weight loss. Bonus side effects include more energy, less anxiety, better sleep and better sex. I ramp up the bushwalks and dance with my boys.

Pillar four: eating mindfully

Self-lovers don't diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully – neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt calls "intuitive eating". Be conscious of food choices by recording them and lean towards organic, nutritious, mood-enhancing options. Our diet affects everything and our gut health is of prime importance.

When I fall down on the food front – eating on the run, picking at the kids' leftovers – King lets me off the hook. "Don't feel bad about it," she tells me. "It's the self-love project, not perfection."

Even without nailing every habit, I feel a shift. I'm firing up my mind to make self-love habitual. I'm calmer, stronger and more trusting of myself. It's a lifetime's work, I realise, but worth it for my greatest relationship.

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