The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself. – Steve Maraboli
Our relationship with ourselves influences every aspect of our lives—but it took me a long time to recognize this. Having spent years trying to fix things on the outside, trying harder at work, focusing on my relationships with other people, and living as busy and productive a life as possible, the penny finally dropped.
I knew I could grow more, do more, and be more, but something was missing.
Although I started pursuing personal development to make my external life better, I quickly learned that this wasn’t going to happen until I had nurtured another missing key ingredient: self-connection.
If we don’t have a good relationship with ourselves, then we’re unlikely to be happy, unlikely to achieve our deepest goals and desires, and unlikely to live to our full potential.
It takes time to develop any deep and intimate relationship, whether that’s with ourselves or others, and I’ve found the following five practices useful to kickstart this process.
When we journal, we hold a conversation with ourselves—and what better way to get to know someone than through talking with them?
When it comes to journaling, the important thing to remember is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. If you’re starting out, simply grab a piece of paper or open up a blank screen and start writing down whatever you happen to be thinking about at that moment.
2. Tuning in
Our physical sensations are just as important as (and intrinsically linked to) our emotions. In fact, our emotions often show up as physical sensations, such as the tingling of butterflies in the stomach or the intense pain of a broken heart.
Disconnection from ourselves doesn’t just involve our feelings; it applies to our bodily experiences too. To cultivate a deeper physical connection with yourself, try setting several timers during the day. When they go off, check in with your body to see where you’re holding tension; over time, you’ll learn the language of your body and develop a deep understanding of it.
Our breathing is unconscious and, while this has some major advantages (we don’t want it to stop!), it means that sometimes we lose track of how our breathing is affecting the way we feel.
When we pay attention to our breathing, we reconnect to our emotional and physical sensations. We also learn how one affects the other; when we are tense, our breath tends to be shallow and fast, which makes us more tense. When we learn how to notice this and slow our breath down, we can help ourselves feel more relaxed.
Many people view compassion as a personality trait, but it’s also a skill we can practice. As Kristin Neff explains in her excellent book, Self-Compassion (Hodder, 2011), the more self-compassion we have, the more likely we are to try new things, to challenge ourselves, and to grow.
Self-compassion is really about extending the same kindness and care to ourselves that we extend to other people. Next time you find yourself feeling low, having a difficult day, or struggling with something, ask yourself: “What would I say to a good friend in this situation?” and offer yourself the same treatment.
5. Possibility sessions
As you deepen your relationship with yourself, make time to explore new possibilities that occur to you as a result. We often stop ourselves dreaming big by talking ourselves down as soon as an idea pops into our heads.
Set aside time to sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself: “If [insert obstacle here] wasn’t a problem, what would I be doing right now?”
The more you can practice dreaming without discounting, the closer to reality those dreams will become.