“Choose a bit of Love.”
I’m a fan of Calm, one of many meditation apps out there that offer some cool, easily accessible practices and programs that, while some might consider them mindfulness or meditation “lite,” provide a mess of solid structures for launching and keeping one’s self in the game…
At the end of every “Daily Calm” meditation, guide Tamara Levitt shares a brief quote. I began writing this piece on Valentine’s Day, so naturally, the quote du jour was on love – and specifically self-love.
And because I’m focusing on writing a bit more about men lately, I want to say a word or two about some of the challenges – and rewards – that come with the territory of men and self-love.
First, from a cultural angle, we’re primed to have a funky relationship with love-of-self. (That’s all of us, regardless of gender…)
Early on, we’re taught that having positive self-regard – arguably necessary before even approaching the neighborhood of self-love – is conditional, typically based on earning, performance, outside approval, deliverables and/or other metrics.
Add to that conditional foundation a few sprinkles of comparison – a compounding factor long before the multiplier of social media ever came along – and it becomes remarkably easy to amass mountains of evidence that, while others are just plain amazing, worthy and deserving – we mere mortals just don’t cut the mustard…
I wish I were joking, but I see this playing out in vivid technicolor every day in my work – and because I’m human, I’d be lying through my digital teeth if I didn’t cop to going there myself countless times.
Thing is, we’re trained to look for flaws we need to fix, to seek out the things we’re doing wrong so we can improve, to track down the weak links in our personal systems so we can strengthen them…
From a men’s angle, we’re more than likely to have been trained to compete “against” rather than “with”, to equate earning power with a sense of worthiness, to perform in business, boardroom and bedroom, to identify ourselves based on the work we do and, among other things, to have instant access to logical, rational answers that’ll fix any problem.
As a ski instructor, I couldn’t tell you how many times adult male skiers – including beginners – said “I want you to tell me what I’m doing wrong.” (Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t take the bait. I just showed them other ways to do things and – who knew? – they learned. Sneaky, eh…?)
People who are beginners don’t do things wrong. They are simply blank slates…
While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with knowing what one is “doing wrong”, I’ve yet to see sustainable growth arise as a result of focusing on shortcomings…
On the other hand, I’ve seen a litany of limiting beliefs, self-defeating attitudes, self-sabotaging behaviors and practices – and downright destructive, painful self-images – the logical outcomes of a steady diet of being shown and seeking out what’s wrong.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not teeing you up for a Pollyanna, feel good, “you’re all special and get a trophy just for participating!” ending here…
This is about self-love – not New Age fluff or self-delusion…
With the occasional (and refreshing) exception, what we’re not taught much about are practices of observation, curiosity, self-compassion and self-acceptance – all of which serve as the bricks and mortar of a strong foundation upon which self-love can be built.
We need that foundation in order to withstand the storms of doubt, failure and loss that life inevitably brings…
Here’s a wildly simplistic – and still useful – primer:
Observation is the practice of seeing without judging or interpreting what’s being observed.
Curiosity is the practice of allowing one’s self to not know, to engage in wonder and ask simple questions.
Self-compassion is the practice of allowing for (and appreciating) stumbling on the path of learning.
Self-acceptance is the recognition of what’s currently so (observable) in and about one’s self without the need to approve of – or resign one’s self to – what’s currently so.
The above foundation is laid on the bedrock of humility – of being truly and wisely clueless – free from the burden of having all the answers.
And yeah, there’s a whole lot more to all of this. These are merely offerings of places to begin to look…
But why bother…?
For starters, as a man who works with men, I see so bloody much self-punishment and shame distortedly masquerading as drive, motivation and a brand of self-leadership that – were they part of a corporate or team culture – would quickly be flagged as wildly toxic and abusive.
I often hear men tell me they need – yes, need – this sort of self-flagellation in order to get things done, to be productive…
And, by the way, they also want to feel more appreciated at work and at home and, while we’re at it, less stressed.
With great respect and a boatload of compassion, here’s what it can sound like:
“I beat myself up because kicking my own ass helps me get things done even though I know it’s gotta hurt. No pain, no gain ya know! By the way, I’m jumping through fiery hoops to prove I’m executive material so I can move up. I can handle the pain! Oh, and it seems no one at work appreciates my efforts and my family says I work too much and that I’m always in a bad mood. What do they expect…? Of course I’m in a bad mood… I’m doing it for them! I really need you to kick my ass and tell me what I’m doing wrong, too, because that’ll motivate me… Oh, and I’m stressed to the max, so the faster we can get this all done…”
Gosh o’ gee willikers Professor Science, whatever could be faulty about this equation?
So the payoff of moving in the direction of self-love…?
For starters, a less bruised backside.
At a deeper, more substantive level, looking into the mirror and recognizing that that man – that human being who really wants to do good work for the benefit of his family – needs first to treat himself to the good he wants to do and the benefits he wants to provide…
That man who feels under-appreciated at the office – he gets to lead the way by appreciating himself first and foremost…
And that one who finds motivation in hurt and claims he can handle the pain…?
Maybe – just maybe – he can find the humility and curiosity to discover that, as motivators go, self-compassion and yes, Self-Love, make for some pretty potent rocket fuel.
See you on the launch pad.