“Hope for love, pray for love, wish for love, dream for love…but don’t put your life on hold waiting for love.” ― Mandy Hale
In July of 2016, I moved into a one bedroom apartment. I was living alone for the first time and the experience changed my life. A few months prior, I went through a difficult breakup and was feeling absolutely lost. Despite the pain, I discovered that solitude was a key ingredient in my healing process. Living alone is like shining a bright light on the darkest corners of your mind, and being forced to face them. As a result, I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my life.
Lesson #1 Identity
My sense of self was weak. Identity felt like a muscle that I had not flexed in years. I forgot, or maybe never learned, how to think for myself. For the majority of my life “going with the flow” had been my default. I never chose where to eat dinner, I rarely called a friend first to make plans, and the choices I did make were mostly based on what I thought others wanted. I preferred to follow along. Following along is easy because you don’t have to think much and you don’t need to worry about upsetting anyone else with an unpopular opinion.
When I first moved in, I never DID anything because I was so incredibly rusty at making my own decisions. In all honesty, I had no idea what I wanted to do anyway. I was in my apartment all of the time and I felt trapped there.
Slowly I started asking myself simple but tough questions:
I did not know the answers at first. Up until that point, my concern was always fitting in. So I went to poetry readings, hiked alone, and spent time with my family. I listened to podcasts, watched documentaries, and read books. I followed bloggers that talked about lifestyle and mindset. I absorbed information and experiences, paying attention to anything that jumped out at me. The process was slow, but I rediscovered myself one piece at a time.
The thought of “finding your true self” may sound like an overwhelming task. Try writing down how your closest friends and family would describe you. Is that who you are? Is that who you want to be? Simply start this conversation with yourself.
Learning my “style” was a particularly hard and something that I’m still working out. A few weeks after moving in my Mom came over to help me organize the apartment. It was spartan. White walls, white and black chairs, no decorations. Because I was going through a painful time, I had thrown away a lot of my things. There were no signs of the person I had been and I did not feel ready to redefine myself. I was a blank slate.
But my Mom dragged me to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. She encouraged me to pick out a few small things and we decorated the apartment that night. It sounds simple, maybe even insignificant, but it changed the entire vibe of the space. It was the first small step toward making something mine.
Here’s my suggestion to you. Try writing down how your closest friends and family would describe you. Is that who you are? Is that who you want to be? Simply start this conversation with yourself.
Lesson #2 Self Worth
Simple tasks, like cleaning and eating, were suddenly much harder to do when living alone. Why? When you live alone you are no longer motivated to keep up appearances by the existence of another person. Are you worth the energy to cook a meal? To keep the apartment clean? These are the questions I faced head on. It’s easier to stop taking care of yourself when nobody is watching.
The truth is, we only take care of things that we consider valuable or worthy. Living alone forced me into the icy depths of self-worth. Self-worth is the belief that you are worthy of love. I knew this was true but I didn’t know how to get there. To me, love was something abstract that I had no control over. My mind finally changed about this when I learned the most powerful lesson of my life:
A friend told me this during a difficult time and it challenged my perspective on everything. If love is an action, what does it look like? To love is to take care of someone. Self-love in action is self-care.
Developing self-worth and self-love requires deep work, and it may take many years. Most people imagine something extravagant, like taking a spa day, when they hear the term “self-care.” A nice massage is an act of self-care, but not a particularly sustainable one. There are small, simple things that we can incorporate into our daily routines. These small acts will eventually turn into habits. You won’t change overnight, but eventually, you will notice that you feel good and that being nice to yourself feels good.
Today I challenge you to add one small act of self-care to your daily routine. My suggestion is to think of something you can do when you wake up in the morning because I am a believer in the power of morning rituals, but do whatever works for you.
If you’re struggling to come up with something, below are a few ideas. Set your alarm 5-10 minutes earlier and try one of these tomorrow.
5 Simple Acts of Self-Care
- Take a short walk
Don’t listen to music. Turn off your phone. Walk only for the sake of walking. Focus on observing the environment around you.
- De-clutter one small space in your home
Maybe it’s your kitchen table, your desk, or a corner of your bedroom. Clear a small area and keep it that way. Slowly turn this into a sacred space where you can decompress.
- Sip your morning coffee/tea/etc. And do nothing.
Have you ever considered doing nothing for a few moments before launching into your morning routine? Your morning can influence your mood for the entire day. Why not start with something calm?
- Start a journaling practice
Start with one bullet point each day if writing is new for you. A goal or something you are grateful for is a good place to star
- Read something
Reading is an excellent exercise for your brain. Adding just a few minutes to your daily routine can be a solid foundation for developing a lifelong, healthy habit.