The relationship you have with yourself can be challenging, and at times you can feel shitty about where you are in life or about who you are. We get frustrated when we don’t make goals or don’t achieve the things we think we should, and we are often the harshest critics. We hold ourselves to ridiculous standards considering everything we see nowadays is filtered, edited, and completely manipulated. Comparing ourselves to others only makes things worse, making us feel like we are so far from our goals; there is no point in trying. It can seem impossible to live the Instagram-worthy life we dream about, so how do we break out of the comparison loop and begin to feel better about ourselves? I found through therapy that the only way to start to feel better about myself is to observe everything. To observe, I had to slow down, and nothing forced that more than covid. We tend to live fast lives, and instead of investigating the thoughts and behaviors we have created, we continue to race around because sitting with our thoughts can be terrifying. We keep ourselves busy because busy is easy; executing tasks keeps our minds occupied, so we have less time to sit with our worry, guilt, or whatever emotions we don’t like feeling. The only way to feel better about yourself is to figure out why you don’t feel good in the first place. I can’t replace actual cognitive behavioral therapy, which helped me begin my process. Still, I can share the most impactful things I’ve learned that ultimately made me feel better about myself despite not achieving all my goals yet.
Be Kind to Yourself
When I began therapy, I felt guilty for needing help, and I felt like I SHOULD be able to handle or cope with my issues. Instead of being compassionate towards myself, I judged and assumed my therapist was judging me too. I like to think I am an empathetic person, but I struggle to have empathy for myself. I think many people do, and we are harshest towards ourselves and the people we love. Forbes.com describes why some people are so hard on themselves, “Maybe it’s so difficult to silence our inner critics because, at some level, we realize it is also our greatest teacher.” For those searching for personal growth, it can become an obsession, and we know deep down what we need to be doing to achieve our goals, but we don’t always do it, and that’s when the judgment sets in. I learned in therapy to slow down, challenge those thoughts, and choose to be kind to myself. I had to accept I am a work in progress and always will be. There is no day in the future where I will wake up and have learned all the lessons I need to know; life continues to evolve, and if we are lucky, we continue to learn and grow until we are old and grey.
“Maybe it’s so difficult to silence our inner critics because, at some level, we realize it is also our greatest teacher.”
What contributes to feeling better about oneself is to have compassion for yourself and to learn to trust. Cynthia Wall, author of The Courage to Trust: A Guide to Building Deep and Lasting Relationships, “The person you need to trust first is yourself. No one can be as consistently supportive of you as you can learn to be. Being kind to yourself increases self-confidence and lessens your need for approval. Loving and caring for yourself not only increases self-trust, but it also deepens your connection with others.” Improving the relationship you have with yourself is your first step to feeling better; you already have everything you need to improve it; you have to put it into practice every day. Our internal dialogue is where happiness begins, but being kind to yourself doesn’t stop there. On my journey to feel better about myself, I had to investigate how I treated my body because that relationship can be highly challenging, especially for women, but it’s half of the equation.
Improve Your Mind-Body Connection
Coming from the Midwest, I could have been what you called “corn-fed,” or maybe I just thought of myself that way. I have never been extraordinarily overweight, but I have had my struggles, and obesity runs in my family. Growing up, I didn’t think about my overall health; like many women, the only thing that mattered to me was being skinny. I would see what I could get away with eating and when the scale crept up, I knew I had to lock it up to get back to my previous weight. This behavior didn’t teach me to listen to my body and pay attention to how I felt, everything was about how I looked, and if I could look good and still eat pizza instead of veggies, then that’s what I was going to do. It wasn’t until all the abuse on my body from food, alcohol, and stress finally caught up to me that I realized I would have to make a serious change. I spent the past year working with a holistic health doctor, and I knew when I began that my diet was going to be an issue; I didn’t realize how much until I slowly started making changes. I fought it every step of the way; I didn’t want to give up all the food I loved. But my body was telling me something was wrong. Instead of looking at the positive of healing myself, I looked at everything I had to give up. Finally, I became fed up with feeling like shit, so I decided to do the Whole30. I didn’t give myself any time to overthink it; I just decided it was time to see how I would feel if I genuinely changed what I put in my body.
"If you want to feel better about yourself, start with feeding yourself in a way that fuels your body and mind."
What has happened over the past few weeks has been borderline shocking. Not only did all of my stomach issues disappear, but the mental clarity that I have is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I have more energy and focus, which has led to productivity and confidence. I was looking forward to the physical benefits of the Whole30, but I hadn’t even considered the mental. It’s like all of a sudden, I can see through the alcohol and carb-induced haze that I’ve lived in for the past few decades. I’m not going to lie; I had a glass or two of wine, so don’t call the Whole30 police. But overall, I am shocked at the benefits. Trust me when I say I NEVER thought I’d be able to do it, so if I can, anyone can. I am also not saying I will eat this way forever, but it has opened my eyes to how the food I consume affects my mental health, and I think it makes a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves. This article from Everyday Health explains how eating a healthy diet can help you feel better, and I’ve now experienced it firsthand. I’ve always seen the importance of the mind-body connection when it came to exercise and meditation. Still, I didn’t realize that the American diet of processed food was clouding my ability to function at my highest level. I haven’t even hit my weight loss goals yet, and I still see how powerful this can be. It’s much simpler than I thought it would be, and I only wish I had done it sooner. I’ve always known how vital food could be to my health, but now my eyes are open to how it can affect my overall happiness. If you want to feel better about yourself, start with feeding yourself in a way that fuels your body and mind.
Build Confidence with the Wise-Mind
When you are no longer using unhealthy coping mechanisms like eating junk food to handle your emotions, you are forced to address your thoughts head-on, which can be uncomfortable. I realized through the Whole30 is I had so many unhealthy self-soothing behaviors wrapped around food and alcohol, and I never realized how strong the behaviors were until I removed them. Now that I can’t treat stress with wine or anxiety with chocolate, I am forced to sit with my emotions and face them instead of avoiding them. Luckily, the year I spent in cognitive behavioral therapy taught me how to sit with my thoughts, challenge them, and find healthy solutions to limiting beliefs. If therapy isn’t an option for you, this article shares some impactful steps on training a “wise mind” for greater self-confidence. What I realized without substances clouding my head, I can observe my emotions more clearly. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through the meditation app Calm is to watch my thoughts like clouds and let them pass without attaching meaning to them. Psychology Compass describes it as, “An ability to observe all your emotions regardless of their source/type, and to have the experience without getting caught up in them (side note: this is the idea called equanimity, which comes from Ancient Buddhism).” The theory of the wise mind is sitting in the middle of emotional and rational thoughts, which allows you to be more confident in your decisions, “The Wise Mind is the optimal state for true self-confidence. It is the strongest defense against the crippling pressures of doubt and indecision. The more you occupy this optimal mental state, the better off you are. You’ll be less distracted and act with a self-assuredness that can help you get things done effectively and efficiently and with a greater sense of personal meaning.”
"The theory of the wise mind is sitting in the middle of emotional and rational thoughts, which allows you to be more confident in your decisions"
Avoiding extreme emotions or extreme rationality allows you to find your authentic sense of self somewhere in the middle. This skill will help you feel more in control, and it will give you a sense of confidence in your everyday life that ultimately leads to feeling better about yourself, your decisions, and the path you’re on. Feeling better about ourselves is the most important thing we can focus on because if we feel good, we do good. When we show up as our best selves, it creates a ripple effect on the world around us. The most important thing to remember is we have control over so much more of our happiness than we realize. It starts with our internal dialogue, but the way we treat our bodies and minds makes or breaks our joy. Trust me when I say I am the last person who would ever preach giving up pizza or chips. I won’t give them up forever but what I have learned is to investigate and observe everything because I am serious about creating a life I love, and I’m not going to let carbs or my emotions stand in my way.