How To Have A Great Relationship With Yourself, Starting Now

Being a great friend to yourself is key for long-term happiness.

  • Set intention and cultivate awareness: Set the overarching goal, over a span of years, to keep moving toward a good relationship with yourself, with the understanding that what this entails will change over the years.
  • Plan for the short-, middle-, and long-term: As part of being thoughtful regarding cultivating a great relationship with oneself, it is important to set priorities for different time frames. Having realistic goals, and setting milestones for each goal and steps toward those goals, are proven ways to stay on the right track. Realize that motivation in the short-term is often based on reward (e.g. feeling great you started a new class you’ve always wanted to take) but over the longer-haul, motivation becomes less exciting and more about maintaining habits and avoiding dropping new behaviors. Therefore, blending novelty with long-term satisfaction is a good general recipe. The long-term rewards are an investment which comes due down the road — often just when you need them — but it can be easy to focus too much on immediate gratification.
  • Adopt an attitude of curiosity and acceptance: Recognize that change is inevitable, and generally good to embrace without excess fear. Over time only, we come to see areas which are truly stable and may define who we are to ourselves and others. Be wary of making changes, however, which have not been fully explored, or making decisions which don’t seem or feel right in some ways, or getting stuck in indecision.
  • Prioritize basic self-care: Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, Rest, Recreation and Mental Habits are the foundations of sustainable self-care. These are the very basic behavioral building blocks which constitute having a good relationship with oneself. Being connected with one’s body and providing for the body as a good custodian as well as holistically are crucial, and on top of that the proper care of one’s physical needs makes everything else work best, and shows us on an ongoing basis that we actually care about ourselves. This builds trust in oneself over time, rather than feelings of betrayal. Mental habits are a kind of behavior, and can take a while to shift, but are equally important and easy to overlook — and harder to maintain when hungry, poorly fit, sleep deprived, or experiencing not enough play, affection or rest in one’s life when by oneself, and with others.
  • Be kind to yourself: This doesn’t mean “letting yourself off the hook” or shirking responsibility, but it does mean working toward appraising yourself without destructively aggressive criticism or blame. People are often blame-dependent regarding self-appraisal and self-correction, and more often then not, excessive blaming leads to less effective change. To the extent it is unavoidable, accept blaming — but work toward being kind and gentle while also being candid and taking responsibility.
  • Seek others who fit your goals: In addition to being around people who treat you well, it’s helpful to have relationships with others who also seek to have a good relationship with themselves, both because they are good models and also because you can support one another in your efforts. It’s impossible to completely avoid toxic people for most of us, so manage those relationships with care.
  • Cultivate realistically optimistic behavior: Perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking is the enemy of sustainable change. Many people I know want everything to get fixed in a short-period of time. This almost always leads to failure, and maintains a negative cycle of self-blame and more “cracking the whip.” Much of the time, this crosses the into the dark place of self-abuse and punishment, which is not a recipe for healthy change but people sometimes say is better than nothing. While it is good to accept one’s needs for maladaptive defenses and the survival use they had, it’s a bad idea to cling too strongly to them. Some level of frustration with oneself, getting “sick of” how things are, or “tired” of being the same way, often precedes change, though. Setting goals we can achieve, and building on them, is a standard and effective alternative. For instance, instead of demanding that I go the gym four days a week for one hour each time, and messing that up the first week — I can set a goal of going at least once for 1/2 an hour, and after that, everything is gravy. And if I don’t meet that goal, it carries over the next week.
  • Have a personal crisis plan: Sometimes life deals us a really bad hand, or we make a decision which we regret and hate ourselves for. At these times, it is helpful to have a personal crisis plan, because these are times in which we are also most vulnerable to falling back on old habits and justifying self-abuse. The simplest plan is to expect these times may come, and be prepared with ways of understanding how we are feeling which keep us focused on long-term intentions and goals, while dealing with the immediate issue. Writing down our thoughts for this eventuality and referring to them, and having a couple of close people available for such times to help keep things in perspective, can be very effective. If you know you tend to reject help at such times, stay on top of that because it is the thread which causes everything else to unravel.
  • Maintain meaningful activity: Rather than having a static definition of success, work toward having regular activities which provide satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Work is important, and not everyone has a job they love, but it is important to find ways to make it meaningful — this may be about changing what you actually do, or focusing on how you work and what it means in your current job. Having a sense of integrity for the quality of one’s own work can be a personal standard which lends meaning to a job which is externally not that engaging. Likewise for activities out of work — hobbies, recreation, volunteer activities, etc. — and meaningful personal and love relationships. Your own mind can be a source of great fascination, and entertainment.
  • Establish good habits: Start you day in such a way that you increase the likelihood of having a day which supports your self-relationship goals. Some people find it useful to write down daily goals the night before, and review them first thing in the morning. Others hold these ideas in mind, and can review them mentally. Regardless, within a short time after waking, remind yourself of your long-term intentions and goals, review key practices you want for that specific day, and rehearse how you want to address problematic activities in your day. Of course, I’m not suggesting that everything be planned out and tightly controlled — spontaneity is critical — but it’s good to keep our intentions and goals in mind so that we can behave in ways which further them.
  • Speak differently with yourself: If you tend to speak harshly to yourself (out loud or in your head), when you notice you are doing that, learn to interrupt the action and take a reflective step back. Notice how you feel — is your heart rate higher, do you feel agitated, are you speaking fast and critically with yourself? Think about slowing down and being kind and gentle with yourself, let yourself calm down, reappraise the situation, and try again. Some people find it helpful to have conversations out loud with themselves — under the right conditions, doing so can be very useful.
  • Avoid the “Selfish” Trap: A good number of us are raised to see practically anything to do with taking care of ourselves as bad and, specifically, “selfish.” Of course, being overly self-centered is problematic for relationships and ultimately self-destructive. We may think everything for ourselves is an indulgence and a luxury. Many of the things we see as extras are really necessities. Some actual luxuries are great from time to time, and I feel grateful and lucky to have such opportunities because they aren’t always there.



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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer