How to Like Yourself More

When someone first recommended I try this, I thought it sounded very self-involved, maybe a little pathetic — was my self-esteem so impoverished that I needed to ply myself with compliments? (It turns out that some days, in fact, I do.) But over time I realized that what at first seemed facile was actually sort of revolutionary.

I’d tried practicing gratitude before and found it quite effective. You take a few minutes to write down things you’re thankful for — the kindness of a stranger, the way your child looks at you while you’re reading a bedtime story, the smell of honeysuckle when you bike past that one tree. You remind yourself how lucky you are, that while you’ve been fretting or regretting or despairing, all these good things and people and possibilities are part of your story, too.

With gratitude, you think about things outside yourself. You remember that you’re not alone, that there’s more going on in your life than what’s in your head, and this offers perspective. An appreciation practice entails thinking about yourself, but it’s not the opposite of gratitude; it’s a refraction of it. It’s expressing gratitude for oneself, which at first feels conceited, but eventually, for me, has come to seem anything but.

Left to its own devices, my mind will take stock of the day like a detective, looking for things I did wrong, could have done better or left undone completely. With an appreciation practice, I start with, “What did I do right today?” These are the behaviors and moments we tend not to linger on because they’re usually the parts of the day with the least tension. They’re not the sort of headline stories you might think to tell someone when asked how your day went. They’re not amusing or annoying. They don’t really make for good cocktail party fodder.

But the cumulative effect of memorializing these situations, day after day, is you start to see patterns in your behavior, to note the positive effect you’re having on those around you. And when you see that, you start to like yourself more. And who couldn’t stand to like themselves more?

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