Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that you either love or hate. If you’re in love, a romantic, and in sync with your partner, it’s a great one. If you’re unhappily single, miserably married, or the anniversary of your bitter divorce falls on February 14th (true story: I knew someone in graduate school whose anniversary of their bitter divorce was 2/14), then probably you’re not a fan, to say the least. But love is a beautiful thing every day, right? And saving some of that love and lavishing it on yourself is a great plan, one that is meaningful not just on a holiday dedicated to love, but every day. So why wait? Let’s look at some ways to love yourself, and–since I’m always Professor Bruno even when I’m being a health coach–we can also digress a bit into the history of Valentine’s Day too.
It’s great to learn new things!
How do you speak to yourself and what do you say? Especially when it is a longstanding and embedded internal dialogue, you may not even notice that you speak to yourself in a harsh or unkind manner. The first step is to listen, really listen to yourself. Do you see yourself and describe yourself in kind terms? Or do you only see your perceived flaws? When confronted with an obstacle, is the first response “I can’t” or is it “Yes, I can”? If you make a mistake, do you start by telling yourself “I’m such an idiot” or do you think, “Hm. I could have done better with this one. Let’s see how I can change this situation so that next time is better”?
If you could improve the way you speak to yourself (this is something most all of us could improve), keep in mind that there are gradients to what’s in the conversation. There are big dialogues that relate to shame and self-neglect (these are the unkind things we say to ourselves) and others that relate more to capacity for tolerating uncertainty and frustration (and this can be anything from dealing with traffic to being compelled to persevere in the face of uncertainty and seemingly never-ending obstacles). Then there are the small internal chats (brisk dismissal of one’s perceptions and other quotidian and ostensibly benign acts of omission). They all add up though.
Can you listen to yourself with kindness for a day or so? Hear what you say. Decide what you are going to keep. Let go of messages that do not serve you or your mental health. Pick a few reassuring phrases and use them. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone who is important to you.
~~~Emotional intelligence, empathy, & listening skills~~~
Speaking to yourself as though you are someone you love is one aspect of the communication question. But what about yourself and others? Emotional intelligence is a bit of a buzz phrase and it has lasted because it resonates and because what is espouses does work. (More on that here). In essence, emotional intelligence, or EI, is a matter of recognizing your own emotions and those of others. It also includes the capacity to self-regulate and to empathize with others in a way that potentially helps those around you to do the same. One way to love yourself is to not only listen and respond to your own needs. Being able to listen and navigate your emotions while engaging with others is an act of love too.
There are big actions and small ones. Letting another car pass on the highway or restraining yourself from forwarding an inflammatory tweet or Facebook post on days when the social media is churning more than usual are small things. Mindfully committing yourself to a plan of action, be it therapy, further study of the topic, daily journaling and subsequent action, to name a few, are the larger actions. If you are really dedicated, there are groups you can join that are founded on principles of active empathy, social justice, and change. Two I like? Given my background as a former professor, I admire the Zen Peacemakers International (here); my love for all things Harry Potter, on the more personal side, draws me to the Harry Potter Alliance (here). There are so many ways to do some good in the world. If you have enough love for yourself then your cup is full and you can love your neighbor, be they near or far.
~~~Just one thing: What did you do right?~~~
The journey of a thousand steps begins with that first one. As you begin to take loving care of yourself it can be helpful to start small. Can you incorporate some new habits into your daily routine? At the end of the day, then, you might want to sit down and ask yourself an important question. In a previous holiday-inspired essay, I proposed a crucial question for anxiety (here). For Valentine’s Day, and on the theme of love, allow me to propose another good query. To wit: “What did I do right today?
You did something correctly today. You handled something well or you made someone smile or you changed a habitual response that no longer serves you. You did something positive and healthy and affirming today. Some days, we do wonderful things. Other days, it’s a tiny something but it is something. Identify that something. Take note of the fact that you did in fact clock a win, no matter how small or large, and give yourself a pat on the back for so doing.
~~~Environmental health: A clean space, a made bed~~~
The funny thing about advice is, of course, that you can always find contradictory theories. For instance, take the notion of making your bed every day. If you follow one school of thought, making your bed is a bad idea because it traps dust mites and results in negative outcomes (here). In other news, making your bed is the cornerstone of good character and a well-regulated life that will bring you mental peace (here). Being whipsawed by conflicting advice is not at all a new phenomenon, in any event. If you don’t know the ancient fable of the man, his son, and the donkey then take a look here. As you will see, there is an opinion for everything and someone ready to deliver it no matter where you are or what the subject. It’s a tale as old as time but the idea of being pulled in three directions feels that much more potent now that we can all take a look at what Dr. Google has to say about things. (I have a blog post for that, here). When you are better at knowing yourself you become better and deciding which advice to keep and which suggestions to toss. Mental and spatial clarity help.
Long story short? If it’s available, have a tidy space both in your home and in your head. Make time to clean out the junk. You don’t have to get rid of everything, but it helps to cut loose what you no longer need. And it’s nice to have a clean area, even if it’s just a tiny corner of your room, that lacks clutter and mess.
~~~Valentine’s Day Fun Facts~~~
The short version? It’s not hearts and flowers. Valentine’s Day is generally attributed to a pastoral festival in ancient Rome that was designed to promote fertility and celebrated on February 15th. Young naked men accosted young women and hit them with goat or dog hide whips in the hopes of making them more fertile. (No, really. For more, a good article on the subject can be found here). In the 3d century A.D., Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage because he thought it made for guys who weren’t then going to make good soldiers; an early martyr, eventually known as St. Valentine, married young couples in secret and was put to death for his efforts. Christianity, recognizing that these pagan roots were not going to disappear, appropriated the sentiment, gave St. Valentine his official story, and the rest is history.
Eventually, the custom of celebrating the holiday acquired varying cultural expressions that we now know today, including the act of giving gifts like roses, chocolates, and cards. By now, the driving force behind the holiday is commercial and retailers everywhere tend to love February 14th for reasons other than its ostensible purpose.
~~~What to do about Valentine’s Day?~~~
Bottom line? Valentine’s Day is a social construct, as are the notions surrounding how you opt to celebrate February 14th. If you don’t have a significant other this year (or even if you do) it can be healthy and meaningful to check in with the person who is always there for you and always there with you: yes, you, yourself. No matter whether you have a hearts–and-flowers plan for the day, if it is available to you, or if you are alone and blue, do check in with yourself. Is there something you can be doing to listen to yourself and to enrich your life and your sense of wellbeing? Can February 14th be a call to action to you for your own benefit and growth?
Of course…life does not need to be all kale and mindful mediation. Yes, it is fun to do something to celebrate the day, single or not. You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting a pedicure or some chocolate on February 14th. Naturally, I think that tui na treatment, either for aesthetic purposes or for stress or pain relief makes a fantastic treat for yourself or for a loved one. Or maybe you can decide that you have earned a gift of health on this day. The decision to work with a health coach or a trainer, or to finally take some other concrete steps for your own wellbeing are always wonderful gifts. Whatever you do, do it from a place of love and respect, though. You deserve it!
This holiday can make a perfect excuse for lavishing love on yourself or someone close to you. But remember: Valentine’s Day does not require chocolate in order to be marvelous, and it doesn’t require much of anything else unless you so choose. A small treat and some mindful choices are gifts enough, especially if you use this moment to plant seeds for your future wellbeing.
Depending on where you are at this moment of your life, it may be that the fun and breezy side of Valentine’s Day is front and center for you this year. For quite a few people, that’s not the case. But there is hope for times when things are easy and there is hope for us when things are complicated. The practice of self love and self care don’t need a holiday like Valentine’s Day to be significant. This is something to practice every day.
By nurturing skills like emotional intelligence, listening, and empathy, we learn to listen to not just others but also ourselves. When we have at least one place in our lives, no matter how small, with no clutter, we can pause and regather. By keeping in mind that holidays are social constructs and not mandates, we find that we can choose to react or not. They can be a catalyst for change if we choose. But they do not define us. Actions do, and consistency. The small things add up, and before you know it, if your small steps are self-loving ones, you are living the kind of life you always wanted, one that is healthy and joyful and characterized by peace of mind. Be kind to yourself, use the holiday as an inspiration, and if you need a present, give yourself a nice treat that will bring a great return for your wellbeing. Then be done with it. Valentine’s Day is nothing more and nothing less that what you decide to make it. It’s not the be-all, end-all of your value as a love object by any means.
Are you ready for a wonderful February 14th and a beautiful late winter and return to spring?
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