If you’re anything like me, practicing self-love is like trying to eat cereal with a fork.

It’s really hard. Really awkward. And I’m always a little hungry.

In fact, I used to feel like this:

This comic used to show my general mood when I wake up... for most days, anyway.

In this guide, I’m going to show you everything I learned in my own journey to finally loving myself.

What is Self-Love?

Self-love is the feeling of acceptance when you look at and think about yourself. People with high self-love are confident, happy, and positive about themselves and their situation in life. They also avoid people-pleasing and treat themselves with respect.

Why Is It Important to Love Yourself?

See if you can answer this question: How many of Billboard’s top 10 hottest songs of the last decade are related to love?

Drumroll, please…

I counted. And I found at least 9 of the top 10 songs are about love in some way or another:

Billboard's Top 10 shots of the decade
(If you count “Old Town Road,” that’s 10.)

This begs the question: Why is love so important?

Is love truly, according to the movie Interstellar, the only thing that can transcend time and space?

Well, according to science, it certainly comes close:

Feelings of love have been linked to feelings of well-being.

In other words… the more love you feel, the happier you are! It’s not rocket science, right?

But what IS rocket science is how to work on our self-love.

Now, let’s take a look at the components of self-love…

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The Hierarchy of Self-Love

Remember that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid we learned in high school psychology class?

I found there is also a self-love pyramid. It looks something like this:

The Hierarchy of Self-Love

In order to reach the self-love section at the very top, you need to take care of the 4 C’s first.

Starting from bottom to top, they are:

  • Confidence
  • Circle
  • Competence
  • Core

Confidence

This is the foundation, the critical mass, the pièce de résistance that you need before you can move on up the pyramid.

Confidence helps you wake up in the morning thinking, “I can do this!”

Even if it’s just a little bit of confidence, you need to believe in yourself. Cheesy? Sure! Necessary? Absolutely.

But if you have no confidence, no sweat! I’m here for you, and we’ve got tips below that’ll help you boost your confidence.

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Circle

The next step is your social circle or group. These are the genuine, honest people in your life.

Not acquaintances…

Not annoying colleagues

And definitely not fake friends

These are the people who you CHOOSE to be with. And most importantly…

Your circle makes up the people who will support you, even during the low times of your life.

We very rarely stop to take stock of who is closest to us. Fill in the blank.

I spend the most time with these 5 people:

  1.  
  2.  
  3.  
  4.  
  5.  

I spend the most time thinking about these 5 people:

  1.  
  2.  
  3.  
  4.  
  5.  

Now take a look at those lists. Do you like them? Are you proud of them?

One of the most important aspects of self-love is making sure you are around people who make you feel good about yourself.

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Competence

Are you good at writing? Drawing? Board games?

Dig deep and ask yourself this question:

What am I good at?

Now write it down:

I am good at _____.

I am great at _____.

I am amazing at _____.

I want to be better at _____.

Being good at something helps propel you forward and gives you a sense of purpose.

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Core

The last C of the pyramid is your core. It’s made of your beliefs, values, and identity, and all the labels that make up who you think you are:

  • occupation
  • relationship status
  • hobbies you like
  • groups or organizations you belong to
  • political identity

These aren’t just labels.

These are labels of love.

And with these steps satisfied, you’ll be able to reach the top of the pyramid: Self-Love.

So let’s start with the tips that will fulfill these 4 steps.

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17 Tips To Love Yourself When You Don’t Know How

Confidence, the lowest part of the pyramid

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Mirror Exercise

What does your inner monologue sound like?

If you have negative thoughts saying things like, “I’m not good at anything,” I want you to change that. Try the Mirror Exercise:

"I love and accept all of myself, including my imperfections."

#1. Look in the mirror.

#2. Without trying to change anything, notice your thoughts.

#3. If you notice a negative comment, try a shift. Notice just ONE good thing about yourself.

The goal of the Mirror Exercise is to slowly change your self-narrative over time.

Dealing with a lack of confidence? Disability? Acne? Instead of beating yourself up over it, begin to shift. Tell yourself how far you’ve gotten in life, or how brave you are, or how you’ve got really awesome bed-head when you wake up in the morning. The more personal your self-narrative, the more impact you’ll feel.

And you can even take it a step further:

  • Post positive sticky notes around your home.
  • Set up an inspirational wallpaper for your computer.
  • Do it with your phone lock screen, too.

Remember, it takes time to change your inner voice. The longer you keep it up, the more your inner monologue will become nurturing and confidence-boosting.

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Channel Creativity

In order to love yourself fully, you need to create.

Why? Imagine your body is a vessel that fills with energy.

If the energy isn’t released, that vessel eventually overfills and flows over. This excess energy often leads to negativity, anger, and self-hatred.

We need to avoid excess energy and find a way to channel it.

Now, this isn’t just a bunch of voodoo magic. There are studies that show a relationship between having a creative outlet and mental and physical health.

"I don't know what it is painting teaches me, I know it just frees me. Free from the future, free from the past, free from regret, free from worry."

My challenge for you: Find a way to create or express. It could be painting, running, meditating, or singing. And if you already have one, continue to do it!

Here are some resources to get your creative juices flowing:

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Make Sleep Your Night Job

The world has its known issues. Obesity. Smoking. Addiction.

But there’s a HUGE issue that keeps people up all night…

Lack of sleep.

Did you know a lack of sleep can increase your risk of cancer, cause thinking issues, lead to weight gain, and even contribute to depression?

We’ve all had those days where we regret watching just one more episode of Gilmore Girls.

How would your boss like it if you showed up late to work every morning? I want you to respect your body and be on time for your sleep.

Turn your phone off, black out the lights, unleash the lavender mist. Whatever it takes to be consistent!

Treat your sleep like a job.

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Be Grateful

If you don’t have a reason to be grateful, here’s one for you:

You won!

Won what, exactly?

You’ve won the gift of life. Mel Robbins says in her TEDx talk that the chance of even being born is 1 in 400 trillion.

How amazing is that!?

To put 400,000,000,000,000 into perspective, here are some more odds:

The more you realize you actually have, the more you’ll love yourself. And it doesn’t have to be a big thing, either. It’s those everyday moments of love that count:

  • a greeting from a friendly neighbor
  • a small gift from your friend
  • a stranger offering you their place in line

Love is found in the micro-moments of everyday life.

Here are some more ways to cultivate gratitude:

  • Practice loving kindness meditation.
  • Start a daily gratitude journal.
  • Be grateful for your struggles.
  • Count your blessings. What do you have that makes you happy? It could even be having a warm bed to sleep in.
The 2nd part of the pyramid, the Circle

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Find Your Clique

The Plastics.

This was the most exclusive, fashionable clique in the film Mean Girls. And luckily for the main character, Cady, she joined this clique.

But unluckily for her, she transformed from a nice girl to a really mean girl herself.

Here’s the bottom line: pay attention to who you hang around. The people you are with can either make you feel loved… or hated.

  • Who are the 5 people you hang around the most? Are they supporting you or hurting you?
  • Do you feel more loved after spending time with them?
  • Do you look up to them and respect them?

And most importantly, be yourself! The best social group is one where you’re free to be yourself.

“Perhaps the first step to finding people like yourself is to show up as yourself.”—Alex Hillman

Try one of these to find your circle:

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Take the Kindness Challenge

Have you done a random act of kindness before? Science says there are a TON of benefits. Being kind:

  • makes you more attractive to the opposite sex
  • boosts your mood
  • helps you overcome social anxiety
  • nets you extra baked cookies from Grandma (OK, not so scientific. But still a benefit!)

I even went out on the streets of New York with my good friend, Michelle Poler, and approached dozens of strangers with our own acts of kindness.

You can check out the video below!

Here’s my challenge for you: Perform one random act of kindness today! It can be to anyone you know, or even a stranger if you’re feeling brave. For the best random acts of kindness ideas, feel free to check out our article:

62 Unique Ways to Be a Nicer Person

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Quit the Inspiration Storm

In 2014, comedian and journalist Stella Young gave an amazing TED talk on stage.

Except she did it in a wheelchair.

Her talk, appropriately titled, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much,” explains to the audience that disabled people shouldn’t be turned into “inspiration porn.” They are just going about their daily lives like everyone else.

You can watch her TED talk here (highly recommended!):

Her talk reminded me of something my mom always used to say:

“Everyone is beautiful. But sometimes that beauty isn’t obvious.”

And it’s true. Everyone IS beautiful and has something unique to offer, no matter their challenges or circumstances.

I want you to start looking for that beauty.

Look for that beauty in others. And look for it in yourself, too.

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Plan Your Relationships

How much time do you spend tracking your relationships?

Believe it or not, the best social butterflies spend a lot of time not only DOING relationship-related activities, but also PLANNING them.

And it’s worth it because affectionate, loving friends are great medicine for all forms of self-hatred.

"If you love friends, you will serve your friends...And if you only love yourself, you will serve yourself. And you will have only yourself."

Next I would like to help you through an exercise that is helpful for taking stock of your relationships. Take out a piece of paper and draw three circles like this:

Relationship Circle for loneliness

Inner Circle: Now in your inner circle write the initials of people you are closest with—these are the people you feel know you the best. It is usually 1 to 3 people at most.  If you feel no one truly knows you, that’s OK! Leave this circle blank.

Middle Circle: In the next circle are the people who know you fairly well and you enjoy being with. These are all the folks you would celebrate your birthday with or enjoy following on social media.

Outer Circle: The last circle is people whom you like seeing but are not very close with. They can be people you know through other friends or colleagues whom you enjoy working with. You can also include here old friends you would like to get back in touch with.

The Outside: Outside all the circles, please put the people you would like to know but do not know yet. This can even be a type of person you would like to know, like a hiking partner, someone to play board games with, or an unmet romantic partner.

After you’ve filled out your circle, head on over to 30 Days to Better Relationships to manage your relationship goals, or watch the video below:

The 3rd category of the pyramid, Competence

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Find Your Ikigai

“Just follow your heart!”

If you’re anything like me, this phrase doesn’t help. What if my heart wants many things? What if my heart says to quit my job and live on the beaches of Cali all day?

What happens when you follow your heart

Instead, try the Japanese way of Ikigai.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is the Japanese concept that literally means “a reason for being.” People who have Ikigai have a clear direction or purpose in life and feel happiness and satisfaction for what they do. Ikigai is made of 4 components: what you love, what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you can be paid for.

The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai

In order to find your true calling, you’ll want to find your purpose that fulfills all 4 of these categories.

For example, you may love to play badminton and be good at it, but you might not be able to make a living from it unless you are at the very top. However, you might be able to strike a balance by becoming a badminton coach or starting a badminton group.

Don’t have an Ikigai just yet? Don’t worry! MANY people don’t find their true calling until later in life:

  • Colonel Sanders didn’t create KFC until he was 62.
  • Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, didn’t make the platform public until he was 43.
  • GEICO wasn’t founded until Leo Goodwin was 50.

And this lady didn’t learn to code until she was 81:

So if you don’t have a calling yet, you’re not alone.

If you’re struggling, consider watching my webinar where I detail my own unique approach to finding your calling:

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Micro-Goals

Here’s something many kids have been told before:

You can be anything you dream of!

Except we can’t. We don’t become the rock stars in magazines or the fairy princesses in Disney movies.

Instead, science says that effort is all that matters. In a 1998 study by researchers Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, praising kids for their intelligence actually made them avoid tough challenges.

Why? Because they wanted to keep receiving that praise, and the fear of failure crept in, so they opted for easy challenges instead.

But the kids who were praised for their efforts? These were the kids that overcame tough challenges and grew.

The key to true inner success is not to achieve the result but to challenge yourself and keep on trying.

What expectations are you setting for yourself?

Don’t aim for the moon, because that’s far away. Instead, aim for micro-goals.

Micro goals in goal linking
What is a micro-goal?

A micro-goal is a goal—even a very small one—that is part of a bigger goal. Micro-goals include doing 3 pushups, learning 10 new words in a language, or even consistently flossing for a week.

Since every micro-goal is part of a goal-linking chain, the big goals for these micro-goals could be:

  • Do 50 pushups without stopping.
  • Become conversational in a language.
  • Floss every day for a month.

But the key here is keeping these goals attainable—AND rewarding your efforts along the way!

We’ll do this by harnessing the power of micro-wins.

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Micro-Wins

What do you do when you’ve got free time? After a long day of work, most people opt for the simple pleasures.

But I want you to be different.

I want you to find the pleasure in productivity.

Being productive is truly AMAZING! You get a 2-for-1 combo:

#1. a sweet boost of dopamine

#2. actually getting something done!

I found being productive is similar to playing a video game. While I’m not a huge gamer myself, my husband loves games.

And when I see him playing games, I notice how fun and satisfying it can be! Characters flash as they level up, and you can unlock new skills and bonuses!

But life can be boring. There are no flashy pixels or fancy upgrades we get for putting in the work.

There are no obvious micro-wins in real life.

But you CAN create your own.

Here’s how to create your own micro-wins:

  • Set micro-goals. Half an hour of reading. An hour of writing. Learning a new guitar chord. The goal here is to set up SMALL goals that compound toward a bigger one.
  • Give yourself a micro-reward: After you complete a small goal, reward yourself! Take a bite of your favorite chocolate, watch a guilt-free YouTube video, or play a quick game. Give yourself permission to have fun!

For a huge list of productivity ideas, check out my article on the 40 productive things to do when you’re bored.

And if you need help with goal setting, I want to help you. Here is my science-backed framework for goal-setting. Never miss a goal again:

Subscribe Now!

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Learn from Failures

Did you know that lovely chocolate kiss everyone receives on Valentine’s day actually came with a ton of failures?

Milton Hershey dropped out of 6 different schools before the age of 13. He bounced back and forth with different jobs.

But after picking up an apprenticeship with a candy maker, he fell in love. He was determined to open his own candy store. However…

When Hershey opened his first candy shop, he didn’t profit a single penny.

Years later, he tried again, opening another chocolate store. And that one failed, too.

Even more years later, Hershey tried for the third time. And it was a success! Everyone loved it!

Five years later, the first Hershey Company factory opened for business, churning out those little kisses you and I love.

But why did Hershey’s first 2 attempts fail? And what was the special thing that made him finally succeed?

In a research study by Nature, researchers examined 46 years’ worth of venture capital startups and found that failure was almost a necessity before success.

“Every winner begins as a loser.”—Dashun Wang, Kellogg School of Management

But even though companies failed…

Successful companies and unsuccessful ones tried basically the same number of times.

So, what gives!?

It turns out that the big differentiator is that successful companies learned from their failures. The unsuccessful ones made more unnecessary changes.

And Milton Hershey? The third time he opened shop, he decided to sell only caramels, which turned out to be a wild success.

So remember…

Every failure is an opportunity for success.

Learn to love the failures. I know it’s hard. But the more we can reflect on our failures, the better they will help us in the future.

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Straighten Up Your Finances

According to PwC’s 2019 Financial Employee Wellness Survey, 65% of women and 52% of men listed financial matters as the main cause of their stress.

Here’s a thought experiment: If you had 100 million dollars, would you love yourself more than you do now?

If you said yes, then we’ve got some work to do.

Note: I want to make it clear that money ≠ happiness. But not having enough money clearly is a big life stressor (unless you are a happy, penniless monk meditating in the mountains).

Money can’t always buy happiness, but it sure is a great stress-reliever.

If you’re a financial beginner, I recommend brushing up on these resources:

Extra Note: I am NOT a financial advisor, so take this advice at your own risk. 😉

Core, the 2nd highest category of the pyramid

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Visualize Love

If you don’t know what love is, let me offer you an exercise I do that has truly given me deep insight into real love.

Visualization.

The exercise is simple:

Close your eyes and think of those who you feel are the most “loving” in the world. Maybe it’s your favorite actor or actress. It can be your boss or a friend, or perhaps a mentor you’ve had in the past.

Now, once you’ve got those people I want you to think of the following and write it down:

  • What are their traits?
  • What do they like to do?
  • How do they spend their free time?
  • What are their habits?
  • What things do they NOT do?

Here’s a simple table you can draw:

A table for your loving people in your life

After you’ve done this exercise, where do you stand on this graph? Do you have the same traits as these people? The same habits and interests?

If there’s a big gap between you and your loving people, perhaps it’s time for a shift.

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Keep Your Promises

What does a promise mean to you? For me, I keep every promise I make, no matter what.

And when I say no matter what, I mean Forrest-Gump-style.

In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest’s best friend, Bubba, dreams of catching shrimp for a living one day.

Together, they make a promise to buy their own boat and catch shrimp in the ocean. But unfortunately, Bubba dies in the Vietnam War before they get out of the army.

After the war, Forrest keeps his promise.

Using the sponsorship money he earned from playing table tennis, Forrest buys his own shrimp boat, fulfilling his promise to his dearly-departed best friend.

Oh, and he becomes a mega-millionaire, too.

If you can’t trust yourself, how can you love yourself?

There are 3 mental questions I go over before I commit to a promise to myself or others.

#1: Can I keep the promise?

#2: What is the deadline to fulfill the promise?

#3: What are the consequences of breaking the promise?

The last one is important.

There has to be a consequence to breaking a promise, or you’re more likely to break it. Disappointing a friend. A non-optional monetary “donation.” Forcing yourself to go bungee jumping if you fail.

Have someone hold you accountable, if it helps.

When was the last time you broke a promise?

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Take the Trip

People say you can find yourself when you travel.

So when I left my comfortable home in Atlanta for the unfamiliar city of Shanghai, I had no idea I would:

  • learn Mandarin
  • love eating stinky tofu
  • make lifelong friends around the globe
  • or even meet my future husband

So when people say you’ll “find” yourself when you travel… I think there’s opportunity to find MUCH more.

Misfortune (“I lost my flight ticket!”), bewilderment (“people live like THAT!?”), and general annoyance (“Not another fly!”) will likely happen.

By learning a new perspective in life through travel, you’ll gain a greater appreciation of life… and hopefully, learn to love yourself even more!

So if you haven’t been bit by the wander bug yet, ask yourself:

What’s the best thing that could happen?

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Why Do We Self-Talk?

You might be wondering, “Does everyone have a voice in their head?”

According to Dr. Ethan Kross, author of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It, about ⅓ to ½ of our waking time is spent not focusing on the present. And a significant part of the unfocused time is spent on talking to ourselves. Dr. Kross says:

“One study estimated that people can think to themselves at a rate that is equivalent to speaking 4,000 words-per-minute out loud. A contemporary State of the Union address is about 6,000 words and can last over an hour. So you are getting the same verbal punch thinking to yourself for about a-minute-and-a-half as you would if you listened to an entire State of the Union address.”

Humans are animals who need control, and when we can’t control our external circumstances (due to financial issues, political issues, etc.), we turn inwards. Our inward talk can reflect a desire to control our external and become negative as a result.

We are also affected by our peers. Spending time with negative people can cause us to have negative self-talk. That’s why it’s critical to choose who you spend your time with, and make sure they are truly fostering positive self-talk within you.

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Bonus: How to Love Yourself When in a Relationship

"We are a little bit of a mess and trying to hide it."

There’s an old saying that goes “You must love yourself before you can love someone else.”

In my own experience, my relationship is much stronger now that I have learned to love myself than when I always sought approval.

Now, the first step to loving yourself is knowing how you love. Did you know there are 5 major ways people like to receive love?

Take our Love Language quiz to find out your Love Language:

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“I just want to be loved!”

Remember, love is a journey.

No matter how fast you want to be loved, self-love grows slowly like a tree. Once you plant the roots and develop your Confidence, Circle, Competence, and Core, it takes time to see the roots blossom.

But once they do…

I promise you, the journey will be worth it.

To your success,

Vanessa

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

5 replies on “How to Love Yourself in 17 Ways (Even If You Don’t Know How)”

  1. ERICA

    This message on self love has really opened my eye to how much I am a critical person to myself. I knew I didn’t love myself but I didn’t realize how deep it was until reading this. I am so thankful for this being full of love in how you shared your stories or transitioned from one topic to the other. I just couldn’t stop reading and I am actually really excited to get to know myself again and find the love I once had! Thank you Vanessa

  2. Mindy

    I absolutely love this article Vanessa! It was so easy to understand and it will definitely be effective to people if they apply it to their life!

  3. Melina

    Wow Vanessa and team you guys really put so much love and effort into everything you do like this amazing post!
    I’m a big fan after reading your book Captivate so I will continue reading you and enjoying everything you put out there for the world to be a better place. Thank you!

    1. Kensi Science of People

      Thank you SO much for your kind and encouraging words, Melina! We are grateful for you! – Kensi | Science of People Team

  4. Steven Paul

    This is one of the best. Yes I went through it all and then I realized that I’m “ok”. Yes I need to change and your pathway is the way.

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