Practice of the Week
Be for Yourself
Be for Yourself
Category: SLOGANS TO LIVE BY: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.
“We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies." (Roderick Thorp)
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing
For many people, that's harder than it sounds. Maybe you were raised to think you didn't count as much as other people. Maybe when you've tried to stick up for yourself, you've been blocked or knocked down. Maybe deep down you feel you don't deserve to be happy.
Think about what it's like to be a good friend to someone. Then ask: Am I that kind of friend to myself?
If not, you could be too hard on yourself, too quick to feel you're falling short, too dismissive of what you get done each day. Or too half-hearted telling others what you really need. Or too resigned to your own pain, or too slow about doing those things -- both inside your head and outside it, in the wider world -- to make your life better.
Plus, how can you truly help others if you don't start by helping yourself?
The foundation of all practice is to wish yourself well, to let your own sorrows and needs and dreams matter to you. Then, whatever you do for yourself will have real oomph behind it!
Several times a day, ask yourself: Am I on my own side here? Am I looking out for my own best interests? (Which will often include the best interests of others.)
Good times to do this:
- If you feel bad (e.g., sad, hurt, worried, disappointed, mistreated, frustrated, stressed, or irritated)
- If someone is pushing you to do something
- If you know you should do something for your own benefit but you're not doing it (like asserting yourself with someone, looking for a new job, or quitting smoking)
- Bring to mind the feeling of being with someone who cares about you. This will help you feel like you matter and have worth, which is the basis of being for yourself.
- Recall what it feels like to be for someone. Perhaps a child, pet or dear friend. Notice different aspects of this experience, such as loyalty, concern, warmth, determination, or advocacy. Let the sense of being on someone's side be big in your awareness. Let your body shift into a posture of support and advocacy: perhaps sitting or standing a little more erect, chest coming up a bit, eyes more intent; you're strengthening the experience of being for someone by drawing on embodied cognition, on the sensorimotor systems in your brain that underlie and shape your thoughts and feelings.
- Recall a time when you had to be strong, energetic, fierce, or intense on your own behalf. It could be as simple as the experience of the last part of an exercise routine, when you had to use every last ounce of willpower to finish it. Or it could be a time you had to escape from a serious danger, or stand up for yourself against an intimidating person, or doggedly grind out a big project in school or work. As in the bullet point just above, open to this experience and shift into embodying it so it is as real as possible for you, and so that you are stimulating and thus strengthening its underlying neural networks.
- See yourself as a young child -- sweet, vulnerable, precious -- and extend this same attitude of loyalty, strength, and caring toward that little boy or girl. (You could get a picture of yourself as a kid and carry it in your wallet or purse, and look at it from time to time.)
- Imagine having this same sense and stance of loyalty, strength, and caring for yourself today.
- Be mindful of what it feels like in your body to be on your own side. Open to and encourage that feeling as much as possible. Notice any resistance to it and try to let it go.
- Ask yourself: Being on my own side, what's the best thing to do here? Then, as best you can, do it.
- Being for yourself simply means that you care about yourself. You wish to feel happy instead of worried, sad, guilty, or angry. You want people to treat you well instead of badly. You want to help your future self -- the person you'll be next week, next year, next decade -- to have as good a life as possible.
- Your experience matters, both for the moment-to-moment experience of living and for the lasting traces that your thoughts and feelings leave behind in the structure of your brain.
- It is moral to treat people with decency, respect, compassion, and kindness. Well, "people" includes you! You have as many rights, and your opinions and needs and dreams have as much standing, as those of anyone else in the world.
- When you take good care of yourself, then you have more to offer others, from the people close to you to the whole wide world.
At the end of a day, write a self-assessment: how did you do at being for yourself today? (Can you be for yourself even as you compose this assessment?) Which of the strategies suggested will you try tomorrow?
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