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PRAISE FOR The Self-Love Experiment “[A] profound book and a must-read for anyone who prioritizes happiness. . . . This is the playbook for making small changes and shifts that will yield you large results in your happiness.” —Kristine Carlson, New York Times bestselling author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women “Shannon offers easy-to-absorb advice to help you become your happiest, most loved, highest potential self—and best of all she makes it a fun process. My kind of gal.” —Karen Salmansohn, bestselling author of How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness “This is a breakthrough guide to help you release negative thought patterns and live a life you are in love with.” —Christine Hassler, life coach, speaker, and author of 20 Something, 20 Everything and Expectation Hangover “She not only believes in the message of happiness, she lives it and breathes it. Every time I talk to Shannon, happiness finds a way in. Pick up this book and breathe in some happiness into your heart and mind.” —Christine Arylo, author of Madly in Love with ME “I admire Shannon because she’s battled her own demons—overcoming depression, drug addiction, and an eating disorder—and has emerged with an enthusiasm for life, a belief in herself, and a passion for helping others identify and pursue what they truly want.” —Lori Deschene, founder of TinyBuddha.com and author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions “Shannon shares her story of vulnerability and victory and emerges as a radiant example of what is possible with a mental makeover. Shannon gives you an easy-to-follow road map to lasting happiness, joy, and inner transformation. People say happiness is an inside job—this is the ultimate how-to manual.” —Amy Leigh Mercree, author of The Spiritual Girl’s Guide to Dating “Shannon’s blazing one hell of a self-love trail for others to show up, release fear, and live life, fully. You know, one where your dreams come true, and we live happil; y ever after in love, with ourselves! The world needs this self-love injection. And so do you.” —Emma Mildon, bestselling author of The Soul Searcher’s Handbook and The Evolution of Goddess “Shannon is an absolute Goddess. She’s a beautiful example of what is possible when you free yourself from self-criticism, blame, and guilt, and choose love instead. I am in total adoration of this woman, and that’s because of how in love she is with herself, the world, and life! Thank you, Shannon, for being such a light. Readers, you are in for a treat!” —Melissa Wells, eating psychology coach and bestselling author of The Goddess Revolution: Make Peace with Food, Love Your Body and Reclaim Your Life “The Self-Love Experiment is the book I wish I’d had in my twenties. And my thirties. Now more than ever, we as women need to rise up and empower ourselves and each other. Shannon’s book is like the necessary guidebook we need to get ourselves there. Self-love can seem elusive, but Shannon has broken it down in easy-to-digest lessons.” —Andrea Owen, author of 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life: BS-Free Wisdom to Ignite Your Inner Badass and Live the Life You Deserve “One of the freshest voices in mental health and wellness, Shannon is on a mission to empower others to be true to themselves and live their full potential.” —Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author of Happy for No Reason and coeditor of Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul “Shannon Kaiser inspires people to ditch what doesn’t serve them and follow their paths to true joy and satisfaction.” —mindbodygreen “Shannon Kaiser is an incredible woman on a mission to help people find peace, happiness, and fulfillment in their lives. Her desire to serve others shines through all of her work.” —Gabrielle Bernstein, New York Times bestselling author of May Cause Miracles ALSO BY SHANNON KAISER BOOKS Adventures for Your Soul: 21 Ways to Transform Your Habits and Reach Your Full Potential Find Your Happy Daily Mantras: 365 Days of Motivation for a Happy, Peaceful and Fulfilling Life Find Your Happy: An Inspirational Guide to Loving Life to Its Fullest ONLINE COURSES Get Unstuck: How to Find Your Calling & Live a Life with More Meaning (mindbodygreen Video Course) Make Happiness a Way of Life (DailyOM Course) Embrace Your Single Self (DailyOM Course) An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 375 Hudson Street New York, New York 10014 Copyright © 2017 by Shannon Kaiser Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. TarcherPerigee with tp colophon is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Kaiser, Shannon, author. Title: The self-love experiment : fifteen principles for becoming more kind, compassionate, and accepting of yourself / Shannon Kaiser. Description: New York : TarcherPerigee, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references. Identifiers: LCCN 2017014368 (print) | LCCN 2017024608 (ebook) | ISBN 9780143130697 (paperback) | ISBN 9781524704520 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Self-esteem. | Self-actualization (Psychology) | Happiness. | BISAC: SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Happiness. | SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Self-Esteem. | SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / General. Classification: LCC BF697.5.S46 K35 2017 (ebook) | LCC BF697.5.S46 (print) | DDC 158.1—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017014368 While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content. Cover design: Laywan Kwan Cover image: Rolau Elena / Shutterstock Version_1 This book is dedicated to YOU, DEAR READER, For showing up for yourself, for listening to your heart, and for trusting the guidance within. Together we can celebrate life and the journey back to our true selves. Your dedication to living a life with more joy and love is a beautiful gift to yourself and the world. Also for Tucker, I love you so much. Thank you. The Self-Love Experiment Resources THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT IS my own personal journey into finding self-love. Throughout this book, I share my story to help you learn by example. But there are many tools I use in my own life and in workshops and coaching sessions with my clients to help them access self-love. I’m committed to doing all I can to support you on your self-love journey, which is why I have created extra resources to help you feel more joy and self-love. This book is one tool among many to help you fall in love with yourself and life. These powerful tools are designed to help you feel supported and loved while you read this book and create your own Self-Love Experiment. FREE “ME MATTERS” AUDIO MEDITATION I created a powerful audio meditation that you can download for free to help you align with your best self daily. This meditation will help you feel more balanced and loved. Download the free self-love audio meditation here: www.playwiththeworld.com/theselflove experiment/mematters. COMMUNITY—FACEBOOK GROUP I’ve created a tight-knit, collaborative community on my Facebook author page at @ShannonKaiserWrites. This is a community where I post tools, resources, and daily inspiration. This is a safe place for readers to connect. Share your reflections, your questions, and your brilliant “aha” moments. SELF-LOVE POWER MANTRAS Throughout the book you will see key phrases and positive mantras. Each on its own page, these are designed to be used as motivation. You can snap a pic, post to social media, send to your friends, or simply copy them and put them on your own vision board. You can use them to help you feel connected to your authentic self. SHARE THE LOVE #THESELFLOVEEXPERIMENT When you are inspired by messages and mantras in this book, share them on social media using #TheSelfLoveExperiment or #MeMatters. I invite you to take photos of the book cover or any text that inspires you and post to your Instagram page, as I am always reposting readers’ photos. Just make sure to use the hashtags #TheSelfLoveExperiment or #MeMatters or tag @Shannon KaiserWrites so I can find you. JOY JOURNAL—POWER QUESTIONS Throughout the book I ask specific questions to help you take the process deeper. I encourage you to get a special journal for the process and have fun answering the questions, strategically designed for maximum growth. SELF-LOVE SOUNDTRACK Get sweet music for your ears by listening to the free soundtrack I created of uplifting songs I use in my Self-Love workshops and in-person events. You can access the free playlist on www.playwiththeworld.com/theselfloveexperiment. Contents The Self-Love Experiment Resources Why This Book? Why Now? Introduction PART 1 BEAUTY IN BREAKDOWN There Is Purpose to the Pain Difficult Roads Lead to Divine Destinations The “When Is Tomorrow Going to Be Today?” Syndrome PART 2 THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT The Magic of Self-Care The Magic of Self-Compassion The Magic of Self-Trust The Magic of Self-Acceptance Disappear Your Fear PART 3 SURRENDER TO WHAT IS The Art of Letting Go Let Go of Trying to Get There Let Go of the Fear That You Won’t Be Accepted as You Are Let Go of the Outcome Let Go of Fear—Turn It into Fascination Let Go of Thinking You Are Off Track or Behind PART 4 THE JOURNEY IS THE REWARD Or at Least It’s Supposed to Be Appreciate the Struggle Appreciate Where You Have Been and All You’ve Been Through Appreciate Who You Are Becoming Appreciate How You Look Appreciate What You Have to Offer Appreciate the Unknown and the Space in Between PART 5 ME MATTERS Show Up for Yourself Show Up for Your Body Show Up for the Experience Show Up for Your Doubts Show Up for Your Inner Child Show Up for Your Dreams Show Up for Joy Show Up for Yourself Show Up as You Are PART 6 THE SELF-LOVE PRINCIPLES 1. Accept Where You Are. It’s Just a Point on Your Journey and Everything About It Offers the Possibility for Further Growth. 2. Be Who You Needed to Be When You Were Younger. 3. Thinking You Don’t Have a Choice Is a Choice. 4. To Get What You Want, You Have to Let Go of What You Don’t Want. 5. Strive Every Day to Be a Better Version of You. 6. How You Feel Is More Important Than How You Look. 7. Things Don’t Happen to You, They Happen for You. 8. When You Nurture the Inside, the Outside Will Flourish. 9. The More You You Show, the More Your Life Will Flow. 10. You Get What You Focus On. 11. Your Dreams Are the Invisible Architecture of Your Life. Trust Them. Honor Them. 12. Your Relationship with Yourself Sets the Tone for Everything in Your Life. 13. When You Heal Yourself, You Help to Heal the World. 14. You Are a Gift. Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are to Be Alive. 15. Self-Love Is Not About How You Look or What You Do, It’s About How You Live. Dear Me (A Letter to Your True Self) We Are Clouds Conclusion: It’s All Perfect as It Is Thank You The Self-Love Experiment Journal Prompts Letters to Self Notes Download the Free Self-Love “Me Matters” Audio Meditation www.playwiththeworld.com/theselfloveexperiment/mematters To be nobody but yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. —E. E. CUMMINGS Why This Book? Why Now? I HAVE WHAT I refer to as a guru. But he is also my life coach, adviser, and healer. The term doesn’t really matter, as he has been all these things and more for me, and I am eternally grateful to him for having helped me sort through some very difficult life situations. For the sake of protecting his privacy, we shall call him Doctor P. The last time I met with him, he told me, “You will find lasting love when you love yourself. Your only homework is to Love Yourself.” I felt like a helpless child watching as an adult dangled candy in front of me. The sweet thing I wanted so badly in my life was right there in front of me yet completely out of my reach. His words echoed in my mind: “All you have to do is love yourself and you will have everything you want.” Sigh. I thought to myself, “I am trying. I’ve been trying. But when will it get easier?” You see, at the time I met with my guru, I was about to embark on an inward journey. I had already been focusing on knowing that me matters. But it was fleeting. Some days I felt great, I enjoyed my own company, and I liked who I was, but most days I felt unworthy, ugly, and off track in life. Welcome to the Self-Love Experiment. What is it, you might ask? The Self-Love Experiment is a challenge I gave myself to become my own best friend. It was born out of a desperate need to feel more connected to my life and myself. I wanted to know what it was like to live at peace with myself in my body and finally end the war I had been carrying on inside myself for more than three decades. Was it possible that this battle might finally subside? I wanted to find out, so I set out on a giant adventure. The Self-Love Experiment is a love story. Not the kind where a Prince Charming comes to rescue you from distress, but the kind of love story where you become your own hero. I rose up and learned how to save myself from the demons that live in my head. Before my Self-Love Experiment, self-criticism formed the backbone of my relationship with myself. I was always attacking myself in my mind, overanalyzing everything I did. Nothing I ever did was good enough for me. I wanted to know what it would feel like to go an entire day without criticizing myself or feeling as though I didn’t measure up. “Heck,” I thought, “it would be nice to go even an hour without this inner critic beating me down.” So I set out to work on myself, for myself, and by myself. For more than three decades, I didn’t just dislike myself—I actively went out of my way to sabotage myself. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was indeed treating myself like dirt. All through my twenties I picked inappropriate men who were not right for me in myriad ways: drug addicts, unavailable men, or men who were super clingy and liked the idea of me rather than who I really was. All my relationships were superficial. I overspent, overate, overworked, all in an effort to avoid the sinking sensation that perhaps there might be a gentler, kinder, and more compassionate way to live. Was it possible to love myself? When I looked around at my circle of friends and family and in society, it became obvious that most people don’t really love themselves. It’s not that we don’t want to. We just don’t know how. And most of us aren’t talking about it. We aren’t walking around saying we don’t love ourselves; rather, it’s in our behavior, our way of existing. It’s in our constant quest to be happier, skinnier, smarter, and richer—outward expressions of achievement that we reach for, based on some notion that we just aren’t enough as we are. We try and we try to be enough. It is fleeting, the sensation of getting there. The chase is what we are conditioned to accept. In doing research I discovered:1 91 percent of women hate their bodies. 89 percent of women are always on a diet or trying to lose weight. Twice as many American women than men are on antidepressants. 95 percent of people want to change something about themselves. People today are less happy than in the 1970s (and women then had even fewer opportunities and less freedom). Studies estimate ten million women and girls suffer from eating disorders as a way to control their out-of-control lives. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. But it’s not just women who are seemingly unable to love themselves. It’s men, too. And who is the culprit? It’s that mean part of us that says we aren’t worthy or lovable. The inner critic that creates a playground for our lack of self-love. It is the judgmental, critical, and belittling inner dialogue that virtually every person hears running through their mind every day. It became clear that, in order for me to find self-love, I had to look at what was blocking me, which was my own inner critic and the beliefs about myself and how others perceived me. It is the part of me that tried to sabotage my efforts at being happy. It is the inner voice that points out all the ways we don’t measure up or might be falling behind . . . how fat, old, young, uneducated, or flawed we are. The part of us that says we should be doing more, we should have it figured out. The voice that says we are off track and therefore doomed. For most of us, this voice is very much in the driver’s seat, making it highly unlikely that we will ever reach the destination of self-love. We worry we are “not enough” or we are being “too much.” We judge ourselves for just existing. We focus on what is not going well and how far we still have to go instead of celebrating the journey and appreciating where we are, as we are. Self-love is not something that comes naturally to adults or something we actually think about trying to achieve. Many of us, it seems, search for happiness and fulfillment, and we think this will give us the feeling of peace we have so long desired. But we quickly learn that happiness and even being fulfilled are constantly moving targets. I wanted to know what it felt like to fall in love with myself. “Falling” was an important part of my process, because falling in love is an essential first part of loving someone for a long, long time and loving them unconditionally. When we fall in love in romantic relationships, everything is heightened, and we are diligent in our devotion to our beloved. We are excited about the possibilities of what might be, and we allow ourselves to be present to what is. In our fascination with this person we don’t see any of their flaws. I wanted to feel all of this about myself, but I knew that—just like real romance—the falling is fleeting, and at some point we must roll up our sleeves and get down to the hard work of making love last. This full circle of self-love—falling in love with yourself and then discovering how to make that love last—is essential. And it’s a process that is so very rewarding because suddenly we find that we have discovered a gentler, kinder way to live in the world. One where we are no longer at war with ourselves but are simply celebrating ourselves in a loving light. Imagine what it would feel like to live your life at ease, never feeling the pressure to change or fix yourself. No more pressure to be different so you fit in or feel accepted, because you know you are enough. I believe that this way of living is entirely possible, which is what this book is about. Thus began my Self-Love Experiment. I first started by asking myself, “How do people love themselves? What tools and tips can I try?” I tried meditation. I tried repeating self-acceptance mantras. I looked in the mirror and tried to compliment myself several times each day. I read tons of self-help books and experimented with even more diets. I took all kinds of steps, but all my efforts were strained. Something was still off. I still felt unlovable, like an outsider looking in on my life. Not fully feeling as though I belonged anywhere. The big question echoed in my mind: How do I love myself? If only I knew how, I could take the steps necessary and make it happen. But asking how when we don’t know how just keeps us stuck. So I stopped asking how do you love yourself, and I started to experiment. The first step: I began to ask better questions. Perhaps the better question to start with is why? Why don’t I love myself? The answer was unclear at first. I liked parts of me, but when it came to actually committing to loving myself, I felt a little unsure. I just knew that I felt, for some reason, unworthy. Where it started, this insecure way of being, was unclear. And perhaps it didn’t really matter—all I knew was that I wanted to feel something about myself that just didn’t come naturally to me. In order to fall in love with myself, I needed a fresh start, a clean slate. No more regrets about the past. I thought about the moments when I did appreciate myself and felt excited about life. But then I thought about how, following these brief moments of self-appreciation, I would find myself looking in the mirror and hearing my inner voice interrupt my good vibes with self-doubt and judgments as I compared myself to others and concluded that I just didn’t measure up. It seemed every time I managed to see myself in a positive light, my harsh inner critic interrupted the reverie to assert that, No, actually you just aren’t good enough. But why exactly didn’t I love me? I thought, “Well, let’s start there.” Before my experiment, I felt unlovable. I didn’t love me . . . why? Because I was fat and overweight. How can an overweight person be loved? Because I felt ugly, I never felt like I fit in, I’ve always felt like I’m on the outside looking in, one of the uncool kids trying to prove myself worthy. Why don’t I love myself? Because I don’t always feel smart. I don’t always know the right thing to say, I often forget things, and I am clumsy with details. Because I feel like maybe my life is off track. Maybe somehow I took a wrong turn and I’m behind, I’m not where I’m supposed to be. I make mistakes, and everything is always my fault. Because I feel like I don’t matter. Like I have nothing of real value to offer others. Because I am alone. A single woman in her midthirties . . . surely something is wrong with me. There it was, scratched out on my notepad, all the reasons I felt ashamed to be alive. The reasons staring me in the face: proof that I was unworthy. As I looked at my list, I saw a consistency with its focus on my feeling a certain way—not good enough, not lovable. These clues into my deep-rooted insecurity were like bread crumbs leading me through a thicket of limiting beliefs about myself. I dug a little deeper. My entire life I felt ashamed to be me. I felt unworthy of being alive in the world. This way of living no longer served me. This way of being had to die. It was time for me to shed the cloak of fear and rise up to see my beautiful essence and know that I am worthy of love, acceptance, recognition, and joy. All I had to do was just decide. Because feeling as though we don’t have a choice is indeed a choice. We deserve to love ourselves. By recognizing this, I felt a little freer. And the choice to be kinder to me was under way. Before my Self-Love Experiment, my biggest fear—that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was—was because I didn’t accept myself as I was. And although I was unaware of it at the time, I was still needing the approval of others. Ironically, I wanted to be seen for who I was, but I was at the same time terrified of being seen. I’d think, What if people don’t like me? What if others laugh at me for being who I really am? I realized the only way to see if self-love was possible was to start taking action and exploring the possibilities of what might be. It was important to allow myself to be more me. How? What does this mean? Simply put, we will try. We will be willing. We will open ourselves up a little more to the possibilities of self-love. The Self-Love Experiment involves agreeing in your heart and in your actions to the following new ways of being in the world: I made a declaration to myself, that I will simply show up. I will speak kindly to myself, no more criticism. I will stop judging myself, no more comparing. I will stop feeling guilty for just doing things I really want to do. I will stop blaming myself and feeling as though it’s always my fault. I will start to care for myself in ways that cherish and appreciate my being. I will show up for myself. I will trust myself. I will no longer avoid my feelings. I will express myself and say what I need to say. I will let go of the habits, fears, and beliefs blocking me from feeling content with myself. Boiled down and at its essence, the Self-Love Experiment begins when you commit to learning how to exist in this world alongside the inner critic that has raged war on you for possibly even decades of your life. It means learning to love the unlovable parts of yourself. When I committed to doing my own Self-Love Experiment, I told myself that I would allow myself to be who I am instead of who I think I am supposed to be or who the world says I should be. How do you love yourself? What we are really asking is, How can you love something you think is unlovable? You try. We just have to simply show up, roll up our sleeves, and try. In this way, one day at a time, the Self-Love Experiment will unfold. And it will be the most beautiful journey you will ever embark on. Welcome to the adventure of becoming your own best friend. It’s hard to love yourself when you’re not being yourself. —TONY ROBBINS Introduction I AM NOT A technical or scientific person. I love research and researchers and all that they do, but I am a feeling person. I learn from my life experiences, my mistakes, and my feelings. They lead me forward and help me figure things out. This book is not a technical or scientific approach to reaching self-love. Rather, it describes my own personal journey to discover that I matter and that self-love is indeed possible. In my sharing, I hope you can learn through example. I will share my story, and in my sharing, you can apply the aspects that resonate with you for your own life. I might be talking about my insecurities and how I overcame them, and my hang-ups might not be yours, but if you apply your hang-ups to the experiment, you will see results for yourself, too. The goal is to become our own friends, even if we all have a different point of entry. You may not hate your body as I did, but you might hate something else that you think is holding you back. Just be open to the journey, and you, too, will see a shift in your own life. With that said, as I wrote the first few drafts of this book, I kept wanting to put the self-love into a process. It made sense to me to have steps. After all, if we take the steps, we should be able to see results, right? Technically this is correct, but draft after draft, the book kept feeling like it wanted to be something else. It felt incomplete. It wanted to be more organic, less formal, and not so technical. About the time I got the original idea to write this book, I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before,2 an instant New York Times bestseller. Her book is all about transforming habits, and her approach is very linear. She indeed has mastered the step-by-step process; it is approachable, simple, and applicable. I started to look at other authors to see if there was a secret to their success and any one-size-fits-all approach to self-improvement and laying out a book. The more I compared my approach to that of other authors, the more overwhelmed and anxious I became. It never occurred to me that trying to change my outside world was a desperate attempt to feel better on the inside. I kept trying to put my book into a formula, a specific structure, one I thought worked because it seemed to work for other authors. I thought if it worked for them—the formatting, the approach, even the structure—then it should work for me. I tried to shove my understanding of self-love into a cookie-cutter version of what was established. Little did I know at the time, but that was how my entire life was functioning. I was always trying to shove myself into situations that didn’t really align or fit. I’d do what others wanted, not really giving myself a chance to speak up or do what I wanted. I wanted to fit in, but I was always a little off. I was trying to fit into the world, but as long as I kept trying to fit, I would always come up short, because the real magic of the Self-Love Experiment is that I learned I don’t have to fit into the world. I can be me and let the world fit to me. There is no need to change ourselves to be something else, because we, as we are, are enough. Most of my life was focused on trying to change myself on the outside. I was always trying to fit my body to a certain size, trying to say the right thing and hide my real opinion, afraid to rock any boat. I was always trying to manipulate, control, or change situations, circumstances, and myself. I walked around an anxious ball of frustration. I was in a perpetual state of fear. I always felt as if I had to gasp for air. I was alive but barely living. My anxiety got so bad at times that I would forget to breathe and I would pass out. This is all because I was working so hard to change myself, to change my life, but I didn’t have self-love. I didn’t even know what self-love was. My shift came after writing multiple drafts of this book. Through my own Self-Love Experiment, I stopped trying to push and make myself be something I am not. I gave myself permission to be me. The same thing happened through the process of writing this book. Instead of trying to make it something it wasn’t supposed to be, I decided to let go of the rules and formulas of reaching self-love. I stopped comparing myself to other authors and just let the book and me be what we wanted to be: free to express itself, free to just be me. Once I let go of trying to make this book something it wasn’t, I was able to invite the real me to the adventure. The real me does not have a clear step-by-step process of reaching self-love, but she has stories, adventures, ideas, thoughts, and a deep understanding that spawns from personal experience, all of which I have a deep desire to share. So I put them into this book to document my own journey into finding self-love. What you will find are stories and ideas, and as I share my perspective, I invite you to learn by my example. My other books have been more prescriptive; I provided more checklists and questions to help you deep dive into your own life. This book is much different. Why? Because self-love is a very personal experience. This is my own personal journey into finding my authentic self, and not only finding her but also loving her unconditionally and realizing there is nothing to change or fix. You may be wondering why this is important. Because you too are on your own personal journey. By picking up this book you’ve already declared you are ready to love yourself more. I am enough. You are enough. We are enough. There is a power in sharing; when we share our true, real, raw selves with others, we can celebrate all that we are. This book is a journey, just like life and just like discovering self-love. If you are looking for the answers and you want your magic bullet, if you want some expert to tell you exactly how to find self-love, I’ll be honest: this book and my teachings are not for you. What I offer is my truth, a reflective process that is full of love, compassion, and wonder. I tend to learn best through example, and personally I like stories, as they can touch us in ways that move us to action. So here in these pages are hundreds of stories, examples, and insights into what self-love is and how to reach it. Take what works for you, leave the rest, but please, dear friend, have fun in this experiment and be open in the journey. I share my examples and learning because what I have been through and learned is nothing short of miraculous. I’ve discovered the power of being your own best friend, and in sharing my story, I hope you find a peace within. Please remember this is an experiment, which means the outcome is not as important as the journey. As long as you approach this book with an open heart, you will get so much more out of it than if you are trying to find the answer and looking to be fixed. Because it is an experiment, with this approach you will see there is nothing to fix. What I learned through my own journey is that there are only areas of our life and pieces to be loved. So any area that feels out of balance and is not going as well as you hope is neither broken nor in need of change for you to be happy. It just needs a little more love. What I learned is that self-love is not an organized process or even a destination. Self-love is not a place we get to but a place we choose. Specific steps and practical tools are good, but life doesn’t work that way. Real life, like my experiment to find self-love, is messy, gloriously raw, and exciting. There are no parameters or regulations. It doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It’s about the journey, the story that unfolds with each new discovery. All you have to do is be open and suck in the experience, because life will give you what you need, when you ask for it. I set out to find self-love. And I found it. Today, I love me. I feel peace. I realized the steps can be practical, but self-love is not. Finding self-love has to happen from within our own hearts. Yes, there are action steps you can take, the principles I share in the final section, but relying on only the steps will inevitably keep you missing the real magic of possibilities that can happen when we take off the blinders. I applied the principles to my life, but I applied them loosely, and as I loosened the reins, I felt freer. In the space of freedom, I was able to be more me. And that is what this entire process is really about: letting yourself be more you, instead of you trying to be more of what you think you need to be. That is the power of the experiment. And in the process of just being you, freedom can come in, and love and joy will commence. I feel as though I should share that this is the fifth draft of this book. Yes, that is correct: I wrote four other versions of The Self-Love Experiment. For a couple of reasons, really. One, I don’t like to put anything out into the world unless I am super proud of it and connected to the message, and two, I need to believe in what I am writing about. And for the past year, I have been trying to see the results before the experiment was over. I wanted to feel self-love; for a while the destination was more important than the journey. “I have a book to write,” I told myself, “so put this process on paper.” But that approach was putting the cart before the horse. It wasn’t flowing. Nothing was working. It even took almost six months to finalize the contract for this book with my publisher; the entire process was molasses slow, which begged for self-compassion. The more gentle I was with myself, the easier things became. The more I let go of the destination, the more fun my experiment was. You see, I am actually living daily what I’m writing about. I indeed have been on a journey, a true self-love experiment. Five drafts ago, I had an entirely different relationship with myself—and it wasn’t as good as the one I have with myself now! As I dive more deeply into my own Self-Love Experiment, I learn more and grow into even more self-awareness. In this experience, I learned we are always right where we need to be. Check in with yourself and see where you are today. How do you feel? What is your relationship with yourself? Knowing where you are today is key to getting where you want to go. I had to go through all those experiences and book drafts to learn the lessons and love myself fully. Every step of the way is a process, so please be compassionate and kind with yourself, for wherever you are is exactly where you are supposed to be. This book is not like my others. I mean, it’s still me, I am the author, but I feel as though this particular book, because of the nature of the topic, has asked me to go deeper, step up higher, and demand more from myself, my writing, and my audience. What do I mean? I mean the Self-Love Experiment is more than just an experiment—it is a declaration of sorts to your future self. You are saying you will show up more fully and be more present for yourself. You will be the best version of you because you know you are worth it. Well, at least that is what the Self-Love Experiment was for me. In the first few drafts, every word made me excruciatingly uncomfortable. I felt as though I were climbing a mountain every day I showed up to write the book. It was uncomfortable. I felt naked and exposed, like that bad reoccurring dream where you are naked in public. Only in my dream, no one was laughing. They just stared at me as though I were some social leper; they pointed and whispered under their breaths. It seemed as if they were one collective unit and I was on the outside, always looking in, much like a zoo animal that feels trapped by life’s circumstances. I felt judgment, shame, and oh so out of place. That is my dream, but that was also my life. No, I didn’t walk around naked in public, and I am not really trapped behind bars, but that’s what I felt like for much of the process of documenting my experience. I felt out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong, and perhaps we have to start there, because self-love isn’t just about becoming your own best friend. It is layered. And one layer is acceptance, feeling as if you fit when otherwise you often don’t. If there is an area of your life that “doesn’t fit,” self-love gives it permission to fit. There are many layers, and I did show up for this book, as hard and uncomfortable as it was for me to write. I showed up because that is the whole point. Dear friend, that is the only point to self-love. Showing up. This book and the process to bring it forth are a metaphor for the journey to actualizing ourselves into self- acceptance and love. For me, this book had to be written despite the uncomfortable feelings and painful perseverance. I not only showed up but I also had to push past my comfort levels. And that is the entire bedrock of the Self-Love Experiment: to push past what we know in order to experience breakthroughs. We can’t reach new heights if we stay comfortable. We have to be willing to go beyond what we know in order to see new results. I was too comfortable. I was settling. I was living my life but not fully alive. I was stuck in a routine; I felt alone, empty, and bored with life. It wasn’t just that I didn’t love myself, but I also wasn’t connected by my own life. For most of us, everything is a routine, and we get too comfortable. This book is indeed my own Self-Love Experiment, but it isn’t about me, really. I mean, it is, but it is more about you and the world and how we are all really very similar. No matter who we are, where we come from, what we do, or where we live in the world, we are more similar than we realize. Because at the core of our insecurities, frustrations, and pain is the need to be loved, to give love, and to want to be appreciated and seen for who we really are. But how can we really do that if we don’t know who we are? This book is my journey into my own heart to discover that everything I ever needed was never out there. It was in here, in my heart, in my soul. In recognition of self, we can shine. So, yes, I will be telling you my story, but it is our story. You are here and reading this for a reason. The experiment is ours together. As far as the book writing, the process to get this book out into the world was not natural. The same way self-love, at first, feels so unnatural, so was every phase of writing this book. But when you keep at it, and believe in it, it will happen for you. Remember, self-love is a process. And the most important part is just showing up. By holding this book in your hands, you are showing up. Draft one was all about weight loss. I thought if I lost weight, I would feel self-love. I lost some weight, and some of it came back. And I realized self-love has nothing to do with how you look but everything to do with how you live. Onward to draft two. Draft two was all about the sutras. These are clear, actionable steps to self-love, and when you apply them to your life, voilà! You have arrived into a loving utopia of happily ever after. I didn’t even finish that draft because it was clear early on that there are no clear sutras or laws to falling in love with yourself. It is not black-and-white, nor is there a cookie-cutter process. Next. Draft three was all about steps. Okay, no laws or sutras, but now I’ll list clear steps. We can apply the steps to our lives, and when we take the steps we will see results. Like working out, if you are consistent, you will become stronger and see results. Well, this step-by-step process was failing me. I felt further from self-love than ever. So I sat down and started draft four. Draft four, the stages of love. When we fall in love with another person, there are stages. What if I applied those stages to my own self? Bingo! We might be on to something. The Romance Stage The Power-Struggle Stage The Stability Stage The Commitment Stage The Cocreation or Bliss Stage I first took baths and even treated myself to fancy spa treatments. Then I tried to be more powerful by owning my worth, speaking my truth, and expressing myself more. But bliss never came. It did for moments, but it never really stayed for long. I realized very soon that I was trying too hard. I was trying to make my experiment work, and I was focused on the outcome. The result was my obsession. I thought, “Will I ever reach self-love? Will I meet my soul mate? Will I lose weight? Will I fall in love with my life?” And trying to put all my experiments into a “process” was not working. After all, falling in love with another person is different for everyone—for some, it happens at first sight; for others, it takes weeks, months, even years. I was on the decades plan. It took me what felt like a lifetime to fall in love with myself, but I kept showing up, and my dedication and loyalty paid off. I kept saying, “At least I am trying.” I thought about all the times I’ve fallen in love with romantic partners. Every single relationship was totally different. Sometimes it happened fast, and I knew within seconds of meeting that person; other times it took months, in some cases years, for me to realize I loved someone. You just have to trust your heart. Knowing this, I realized that my heart was not leading my experiment. I needed to add more heart and let it be. You can’t force love. You can only try. It became clear to me that my relationship was more like an arranged marriage. I was in a body that I didn’t like, and this was something I had to live with. Much like an arranged marriage, we don’t have much choice. We just have to accept it. We can do the best we can to find the love within the unlovable, but it is our responsibility to make the most of it. It always comes back to acceptance. It seems the first place we must dive into is self-acceptance. What you hold in your hand is a real-life love story. One with infatuation, understanding, concern, trepidation, lust, fear, doubt, joy, and clarity. Like any good love story, there is depth; there is magic and a little bit of drama, but the happy ending is not part of this story. For this story is more important than the result. And the happiness is in the story itself. Welcome to my Self-Love Experiment. My real-life love story. I remember when I thought things were so hard and I would never make it through, I thought I would never recover. And today I smile. I smile because I am truly proud of myself. I am proud of the person I have fought to become. —ANONYMOUS PART 1 BEAUTY IN BREAKDOWN There Is Purpose to the Pain Difficult Roads Lead to Divine Destinations TODAY I AM COMMITTED to caring for myself. I can look in the mirror and smile in gratitude for who I am and how far I’ve come. I can truly say, “I love myself.” But it hasn’t always been this way. I spent more than three decades at war with myself. I hated my body; it was to blame for everything in my life. The failed relationships, the missed opportunities, the rejection and ridicule—it was my body’s entire fault, or so I thought. For years I would pinch my extra skin, cry out into the dark night, praying for a thinner body, a different frame, a smaller stomach. I hated myself because I despised the way I looked. The majority of my thoughts were obsessive about how large, ugly, or unworthy I was. I couldn’t look into mirrors without saying hateful words about how I felt. I thought my life would be better when I was “not me” but smaller, thinner, not so chubby, not thick or round. I wanted to change so badly, but every failed diet resulted in lower self-esteem, more guilt, and even more self-sabotage. Even when the diets worked (for a short period), when I lost all the weight, I still hated me. I thought I needed my body to change in order for me to have a happy life. But when it changed, my inner critic never did. I’d lose ten pounds and gain twenty. This continued for two full decades until I found myself almost a hundred pounds overweight and experiencing a complete disappearing act of self-esteem. I found myself crying in a hotel bathroom, ashamed to look in the mirror. I was hours away from going on a Seattle morning television show to talk about my first book and share tips on how to be happy. I was teaching others how to be happy, but I couldn’t find one good thing to say about myself. That was the moment when I realized something needed to change. Sure, I was happier than I had ever been. A few years prior I had just barely made it through some major life changes. I left my corporate job in advertising, moved across the country, left a man who wanted to marry me, and overcame eating disorders, drug addiction, and clinical depression to follow my heart and become a writer. Here I was, living my dream life, but it still felt like a dream. I didn’t recognize my body, or who I was. I wasn’t fully in love with my life because I didn’t love all of me; I didn’t think I mattered. I spent so many years trying to help and be there for other people that I had sacrificed myself. My needs were never met. I wasn’t living to my fullest because I still hated my body. It was at that moment, when looking into the hotel mirror, that I made a promise to myself. I said, “Shannon, your full-time mission is to find self-love. It’s time to become your own best friend.” Over the next few years I went on a deep inward journey, what I call the Self-Love Experiment, and I discovered the most beautiful thing in the world: Me Matters. Me Matters is an acceptance of self and knowing that you are perfect as you are, for the imperfections are what make us beautiful. It is years of trial and error, books, courses, and personal exploration refined and tuned into a solid guide, the fifteen principles to true self-acceptance and love. The miracle came not in my body changing but in the change in my heart. I looked in the mirror and said, “I am committed to you. I am going to learn how to love you.” And in finding love for self, everything changed. This book is the result of my exploration, which I use in my life and in my own personal coaching practice. Hundreds of clients and tens of thousands of readers worldwide have used these tools to help them be more compassionate with themselves and learn how to trust their own inner guidance. When you trust yourself, you make better choices. But in order to trust yourself, you need love. After going through the Self-Love Experiment, I could finally accept myself for who I was, as I was. Learning how to love me has been the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Not because loving yourself is particularly hard, but because I had to unlearn all of the things I was conditioned to believe about self-love: I can’t love myself because it is selfish. I am not good enough unless I am a smaller size. I don’t belong unless I lose weight. That I can’t have what I want, or be successful, or be accepted, or be regarded as attractive if I am overweight. I believed I couldn’t love myself if I had weight to lose. The thing is, I would lose that weight and nothing would change. On the outside, people praised me, complimented me. I was treated much differently, sure, but on the inside, I still disliked me, I still avoided mirrors. Weight was never the problem. I was still at war with myself within my own head. The battle persisted for thirty- plus years. Until I discovered the Self-Love Experiment, a revolutionary approach that I created out of a personal need to end the madness and discover a more compassionate way to live. I use to say things like “I will be a TED Talk speaker when I lose the weight,” “I will travel the world when I drop fifteen more pounds,” “I will start dating again when I lose thirty pounds.” These “when I’s” kept me from living my life in the moment. They kept me on the outside of my potential. It wasn’t until I committed to me, through the Self-Love Experiment, that I discovered what self-love is: inner peace. Today I love myself. I know how hard it is to live a life where you are at war with yourself. I know it can be hard to believe you are worthy of love and acceptance. I, too, once thought self-love was selfish, and I spent years avoiding my heart’s desires because I didn’t think my dreams mattered. All that changed when I discovered real self-acceptance. The Self-Love Experiment is about learning how to trust and love yourself. I retrained my brain to focus on loving me instead of condemning me. One step at a time I transformed my relationship with my self. It started with a desire to change. That spun from learning how to care for myself with compassion, which led to finding self-respect. In one of my favorite books, Living with Joy by Sanaya Roman, Sanaya writes about self-respect and knowing your worth: What is required to feel good about yourself is not the same from person to person. What you require for self-esteem is not necessarily what another person requires. It is important to discover what makes you feel worthy, confident, and happy about who you are. Self-respect at the highest levels comes from honoring your soul. This means speaking and acting from a level of integrity and honesty that reflects your higher self.3 Self-respect means coming from your power, not your weakness. For most of my life I related to the world through my weaknesses. I felt ugly and overweight, so naturally I projected that out into the world. Learning how to love myself started with identifying my own set of beliefs about myself and removing ones that didn’t serve me. I know personal development is not one-size-fits-all, which is why this book isn’t going to tell you how to love yourself, lose weight, get out of debt, or find your soul mate. Instead, I will give you tools you can apply to your life to make the most out of your life. And when you do this, what you want comes to you. My approach is much different. Why? Because if we want new results, we need to approach things differently. Because you’ve most likely tried the courses, gym memberships, diets, and books that say this is the way, and maybe it worked for a while, but you fell back into old patterns, beliefs, and habits that didn’t align with your true self. Maybe you’ve tried to be kinder to yourself, and maybe it worked for a little while, but you want it to stick. Like real romantic love, falling in love with you is not a one-size-fits-all approach; sometimes it is fast and easy. Other times it is slow and steady. Love demands nothing but waits for our acceptance. I learned we first have to learn how to trust ourselves. This book is a road map and guide to being true to you, because with self-trust everything else can flourish. When you learn to identify your own value system and align with your own truth, you can stand proud in who you are and make choices with confidence and clarity. Most of us don’t have a solid relationship with ourselves, so we lean on others for approval; we try to mask our insecurities with overdoing, over–working out, overspending, overeating, and at the end of the day we feel exhausted and tired. We don’t have the energy to take care of ourselves, so we settle. We settle into bigger bodies, lower bank accounts, unhealthy relationships, lost dreams yet to be manifested, and we get comfortable being uncomfortable. This becomes our regular way of life. The Self-Love Experiment serves to reverse this. Because deep within all of us is an inner drive to rise up and show the world that we really are magnificently beautiful in all our natural glory. You don’t have to change yourself to fit in; the Self-Love Experiment is a revolutionary process to give you permission to be who you are, as you are. Imagine ending the endless battle against yourself, the little voice that says, “You messed up, you aren’t where you are supposed to be, you don’t belong, you are never going to figure it out, you might as well give up.” It’s time to let that little voice go. It’s time to seriously let that little voice go. The “When Is Tomorrow Going to Be Today?” Syndrome BEFORE I FOUND SELF-LOVE, pretty much my entire life I felt like I was waiting for my “real life” to begin. I spent the majority of my teens and early twenties trying to get out into the “real world.” But once I landed my so-called dream job in advertising, it felt nothing like what I’d hoped. My doctor diagnosed me with depression, and I was suffering from eating disorders and drug addiction. I was still waiting for my “real life” to start. I longed to be a writer, but fears around letting go of all that I had worked for separated me from my “real life.” Yet letting go of who I thought I needed to be in order to become who I really am was the greatest choice I ever made. I finally got up enough courage to leave the advertising industry and find happiness free from depression, and here I sit several years later with three bestselling books and a booming business as a life coach and speaker. Yet every once in a while I still feel like my “real life” is just around the corner. I am living it, the dream life I was waiting for, yet it doesn’t always feel like my life. My professional dreams have come true for the most part—the national TV appearance hasn’t happened yet, nor has Sandra Bullock played my life story on the big screen—but I’ve had almost a decade of doing what I love. That should be enough. But is it possible humans are conditioned to always strive for more? We long for tomorrows to help fulfill our todays. It’s the “when is tomorrow going to be today?” syndrome. Most of us have an elusive expectation as we wait for happiness to come in; meanwhile, our life is happening now. So here I sit, living the “real life” I have been waiting so long for. When I pictured myself at this point, I imagined I’d be sitting next to Oprah, with Elizabeth Gilbert praising my latest literary wonder, on the TED Talk stage with a standing ovation at the end, and in a white dress barefoot on the beach with the love of my life. These sweet visions still exist in my dreams. But they are not yet my reality. Is it possible our dreams distract us from reality? Here I am, living the life I spent years only dreaming about, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am not quite where I think I should be. It’s human to want what we don’t yet have, and when we get what we want, we often skip right over the joy to keep going on to the next dream, always in pursuit of happiness. This book is about catching yourself, and instead of reaching outside of you for some far-off joy, you will learn how to cultivate a sense of self-awareness for joy in this moment. We will no longer allow our fear-based voice, the ego, to stay in the driver’s seat, which is what happens when we focus on the destination more than on the journey, and we will turn our attention to the present, which invites in real happiness. This constant quest for more, reaching for untapped dreams that live only in our hearts, burns to be realized, but before my Self-Love Experiment, it was never enough; I never felt whole. Every time we get what we want, we just turn our attention to the next big thing. The real challenge is learning to see we are whole and complete in this moment. Just as we are sitting here right now, we are enough. Those dreams are nice to have, but they don’t make or break us. Life is the process and unfolding of glorious challenges filled with moments of inspiration. We just need to recognize this truth. It is in the wanting and waiting that we can find balance in life. When we get honest with ourselves, the painted version of our perfect life is often better than our reality because we imagine ourselves free of insecurities and flaws. It’s not just these experiences we aspire to have but also who we think we will become in those experiences. In our minds, most often we are worry free, thinner, smarter, richer, our problems are worked out, and we are free to just be. Before I started writing this book, I was, admittedly, still waiting for my ideal life to begin, but the Self-Love Experiment taught me how to enjoy the journey instead of wrapping up my happiness into some goal yet to be realized. Because the truth about transformation into the unknown is inevitable but manageable. When I sat down to write this book, it became obvious that I would have to go deep into my own patterns to teach this method and really practice it to show that it works. In order to allow happiness in, I’d have to stop chasing life and accept that this is it. I learned that wanting will never stop, but wanting the future more than today is when we fall into problems. When the wanting turns out to be waiting, we fall into the “when is tomorrow going to be today?” syndrome. When we want something that is not yet here—a bigger bank account, a smaller body, our soul mate, the dream job, etc.—it puts a focus on lack. Instead of reaching for happiness in the moment, we feel inadequate because we have yet to reach what we aspire to, hoping it will come tomorrow. This is why so many diets fail, why some people who win the lottery go bankrupt, and why divorce and depression rates are so high. It’s the lack mentality that keeps us from being present or achieving lasting results. And not just the lack from falling short of our goals but also from feeling unworthy of our desires in the process. We all have certain habits that block us from being our best self. Many are unconscious or so ingrained in our daily routine that they often hurt our success at healing. Look at every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you really want to change your life, you have to try something radically new, which I did. Instead of resisting who I was, I looked in the mirror and said, “I accept you.” Instead of wishing, hoping, and praying for someone else to show up, I revised my thinking to accept what is. I chose to accept what I can’t change. I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Instead of hating you, I’m going to learn how to love you.” I released the tension. I stopped the struggle. Most of our struggle in life comes from resistance and fighting against what is. We want to be further along, in a different body, have more money and more recognition, more of anything we don’t have. This constant push keeps us just on the outside of our potential; we can never truly reach our best selves when we deny ourselves the true experience of living in each moment. People often ask me if I regret having eating disorders earlier in my life, or if I wish I never went through depression. I always respond by saying I love that part of me. I needed to experience those lessons to become who I am today. I needed to experience a plus-size body to prepare me for my future self and the lessons my soul wants and needs me to learn. Everything you have gone through is part of a universal assignment your soul has signed up for. You agree to learn more about yourself by going through sometimes challenging situations. When we resist, we deny ourselves the lessons available to us. Most of us try to get through the discomfort as quickly as possible. We feel stuck and want desperately to get unstuck, but sometimes the “stuckness” is where we find results. Pema Chödrön says this beautifully: In life we think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem. The real truth is that things don’t get solved. They come together for a time, and then they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart. It’s just like that. Personal discovery and growth come from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for sadness, for misery, for joy. Suffering comes from wishing things were different. Misery is self-inflicted; when we are expecting the “idea” to overcome the “actual” or needing things (or people, or places) to be different for us so we can be happy. Let the hard things in life break you. Let them affect you. Let them change you. Let these hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop out on that. Don’t run away and hide under your covers. Lean into it. What is this storm trying to tell you? What will you learn if you face it with courage? With full honesty and—lean into it.4 I leaned into my struggles and transformed them by allowing them to be. Everything has its own time and place. What you are going through right now is not your forever; you can move on from a situation causing you distress. I approached my body size in this same way. I decided to lean into my overweight body and accept it by asking, “What lesson do you have for me?” Dear situation I would like to change, For me, dear body, what message do you have for me? What can I learn from you? By asking my troubles for guidance, I was able to move past them as being troubles. When I asked my body what message it had for me, it clearly said, “Self-love is possible right now. You can love yourself no matter what. I am here to show you that you are lovable.” I did this same exercise when I was stuck in depression in my corporate job in advertising. I asked my depression what message it had for me. At the time I was busy trying to please everyone and do what society thought was best for me—get a good job, meet a man, settle down—but my depression was trying to tell me something. It wanted me to be truthful. When I asked, “Why are you here, depression?”, it responded, “You haven’t been listening to your heart.” I was guided to be more honest with myself and create a life I love by doing what brings me joy. I left my corporate job and found my deep, enriching passion for writing and coaching. I found a love for life. This happened because I leaned into life and the situations causing me stress. When we stop pushing against life and lean into what is, we become more aware and focused. Our experience of life can be transformed when we step fully into the moment. Lean into it. There are great lessons to be learned. You can apply this same technique to projects. I also asked this book what message it has for me. While writing the first few drafts I felt like I was struggling. I was struggling to try to find an answer and result before I was ready. I was struggling to live my life more purposefully, I was struggling to be thankful for the aspects of me I disliked, and everything seemed hard. So I turned to the guidance available and I asked the book “process,” “What am I learning? What message do you have for me?” My inner voice chimed in, “You are learning patience, you are learning about the true magic of self-love, you are learning how to let go of how you think it is supposed to look, you are learning how to appreciate who you are, and you are learning how to show up for yourself in ways you never have before.” All these key learnings became the foundation for my experiment. Finally, the real Self-Love Experiment was under way. Suddenly it made sense: to stop hating myself is to raise the vibration and love on the planet. To stop loathing myself is to reduce the negativity and pain in the world. —SHANNON KAISER PART 2 THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT HAVE YOU EVER HAD a conversation that became a pivotal moment of change for you? Someone said exactly what you needed to hear at the exact right time? This happened at the beginning of my Self-Love Experiment. It all started with an innocent comment my mom made. One simple sentence that changed my focus and attention and the direction of my life. When she said it, she didn’t know it was important, nor did I. But looking back, it all started there, in my parents’ dining room. I was sitting at the table with my mother and we were coloring in her garden coloring book. I was filling in a flower that had big bold words that read, “Everything Happens for a Reason.” I couldn’t help but think that this was a universal message glaring me in the face. We were both happy, peacefully sitting together, doing what we loved. We were talking about life and dreams, all while being creative. She started talking about family friends and their new relationships. Within seconds a fear thought brushed over me, and I started to cry. I didn’t know I had tears stuck inside, but they popped to the surface fast and abruptly. I sat there at her dining room table, consumed by my own insecurity. I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I couldn’t hide my fear or shame; it burst out and was begging to be seen. It needed attention so much so that it interrupted my moment of bliss and contentment. I said to my mom through my tears, “I have a serious question to ask you.” She looked up at me and put down her marker to give me her full attention. I said with hesitation, “Do you think a man can love me the way that I am?” In that small sentence, only thirteen words, lies everything you need to know about me in that moment in my life, how I was raised, and why I felt so stuck and off track. My mom immediately reacted and said, “Of course! Don’t ever say that again. You are beautiful as you are.” She was almost offended that her daughter could think such a thought, but this was the language of my head. For years I had saturated myself in this fear that I was somehow unworthy of love. How could someone love me the way I was? I wanted to be beautiful, sophisticated, graceful, and at ease in my body and in my life, but to me I was overweight, short, awkward, and frumpy, and that meant odd, that meant I didn’t fit in. My mom said, “Don’t you ever think that about yourself . . . you have so much to offer.” But you see, at that point in my life I was at my emotional rock bottom. I had gained more than a hundred pounds since leaving my corporate job to start my own business as a writer and coach. I felt invisible to men and, really, to the entire world, and I worried I would never find someone to love me as I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I really was asking my mom was, “Do you think I can ever love me as I am? Am I worthy of my own love and care?” That small exchange between us was the catalyst that moved me to my soon-to-be Self-Love Experiment. I didn’t know it at the time, my mom didn’t know it, but my future self was guiding me. Up until that point, I was dancing around on the surface of my potential, not really taking care of myself or showing up for me. The mention of self-love or even self-care was a foreign concept. One I could barely grasp. Up until that point in my life I had tried to become happy by reaching new goals, changing my behavior, or trying to manipulate certain aspects of my life or me, all in an effort to be more peaceful. I’d reach the goal, the new job, the new boyfriend, the new body, and I still felt like something was missing. I didn’t really care about myself because my fears were blocking me. The real work had to happen on the inside, which meant I had to get to the root cause of why I felt unlovable and unworthy. Love in any form could not come to me if this belief was shielding me. That one night, that little conversation, changed it all for me. The reason that conversation, that night, that particular exchange was so important is because of what my mother said next. . . My mom chimed in and said, “It doesn’t matter what size you are or how you look. It’s just about you being happy, and if you are not happy in your current size, that is not the right size for you.” My mom was trying to help, but her words stung my heart. They stuck with me for weeks after our conversation. Because a part of me knew she was right. I really had only two choices: change what I couldn’t accept, or accept what I couldn’t change (as the proverb suggests). My body was what I hated, the size of it, the way it looked, and the lumpy shape. Could I really accept me? As my mother had suggested, if I couldn’t accept it then I would have to change it, and then happiness and love might find me. I was at the place of no return. I could no longer stay stuck in my insecurities. I knew I had to change. But I didn’t know if changing my body was the way to happiness. I had tried that before, and it hadn’t worked. What would make this time different? Then I had a novel thought: “Instead of trying to change me, why don’t I just love me?” My mother was suggesting that I change myself in order to love myself. She meant this in the kindest way possible, but here is the same woman from whom I would hide my food in the closet when I was eight years old. I’d sneak off before dinner and eat my favorite candy bar out of sight, because to her sugar was bad and unhealthful. The problem: I loved it. You can see the dilemma for a little girl who wants to please her mom. I was always in direct conflict with her, if unspoken, as I wanted my mom to be proud of me and love me, so I hid what I loved, sweet treats, from her. At a young age I learned that to be accepted I had to hide my true feelings and desires. I had to stuff them away or do what I really wanted in private away from others. You may see the fallacy in this, but this is exactly what happens. We all have learned behaviors from our childhood. You may not have hidden in the closet, eating your favorite foods, but maybe you did hide a part of yourself at a young age. What happens is we do something that we think is natural to us—eating candy was natural and fun for me—but the world, our parents, society, even our inner critic comes in and says, “What you think is good is really bad.” We interpret this as: we are bad for liking the things we like. We put so much pressure on ourselves to fit in and be liked that we forget to bring ourselves along for the journey. At a young age I thought I couldn’t be who I was and be accepted, so I pretended that who I really was, the chubby little girl who liked sugar, wasn’t really that girl. In order for me to feel accepted, I denied myself the things I really wanted, which, as you can imagine, caused desperation, pain, and internal angst. This pattern of denying myself, my true desires, resulted in my crying in front of my mother as an adult. I was ashamed of myself because I never allowed myself to be who I really was. Maybe the reason I wasn’t able to love myself was because I was trying so hard to be someone else so I could fit into the world. Maybe the fix was to just be more of me, let me be my true self. My mom was unaware, but her comment was simply probing me to change if I wanted to be happy. I have to change. But my own heart wanted to find self-love with the way I was in that moment. I had spent my entire life trying to change, trying to fit in, and that clearly wasn’t working out for me. That way of being caused depression, eating disorders, and addictions. I needed something different. Truth be told, as long as I was confiding in other people, I could never make headway. It was time to explore my own rhythms and natural tendencies. Time to eliminate the outward chatter and start to listen to my own needs. This idea percolated for a few weeks until I realized I must dive deeper. Now the Self-Love Experiment was alive and kicking. My entry point to self-love was my lack of body care and lack of body love. My body needed me. I may not have fully grasped the idea of body love in that moment, but this body needed my love. My body was, at that time, larger than life, but that in itself was my body screaming out to be seen, to be cared for, and to be loved. This body that craved attention and needed love was crying out because it wanted to be desired, but the body I was in was ignored, bumped into, could barely fit into airplane seats, judged, and criticized for being lazy and unmotivated. That was the house I lived in. That was the body I needed to learn how to love. Could I love seemingly unlovable parts of me? This story is not about my body—well, yes, it is about “the body” because I live in this vehicle, and in order for me to fully reach self-love I must accept all aspects of myself, no matter how they seem. They are in my life for a reason. We are here to learn from our insecurities, but looking at the bigger picture, this Self-Love Experiment is about going headfirst into our insecurities and biggest pain points and suffering. For me, it was my relationship with my body. For you, it may be your relationship status or lack thereof, the fact that you may feel off track or behind, or maybe you, too, hate a part of yourself or your physical appearance. If you ever say, “I need to change x, y, z,” or “I need to ‘fix’ a, b, or c,” or “I need to address this part of me,” then you, too, can apply the Self-Love Experiment to your life. Because needing to change, fix, or manipulate any area of our lives in an effort to reach something we don’t currently have, such as happiness, peace, and love, is the fastest way to stay stuck. It keeps you in the chase. It’s like a handsome, alluring playboy—addicted to the intoxicating charm, the drama of desire. The chase craves opportunity; once the chase captures, he disappears, leaving you cold, ashamed, and even lonelier. The chase never ends well. And the chase never reaches its destination; it is simply the chase that is the chase’s reward. This means we are stuck in the chase, conditioned to always try to reach for more than what is. This is really our drug of choice. This is the obsession we secretly cling to. Naturally, in order for me to remove myself from the hectic hamster wheel of chasing the elusive there, I had to look at my habits and start with self-care. I was never the most confident person. When I was young, we moved around a lot, so as the new kid I was picked on quite a bit. As children we never know the outcome of experiences gone bad, which results in decades of insecurity, loneliness, and shame. As children we just go through the experiences, but each one presses into our psyche and teaches us how to react and interact in the world. Each experience becomes a teacher, showing us what to do and what not to do. All our personal experiences can become our greatest teachers for optimal growth. We evolve according to our reaction to each experience. I knew that if I truly wanted to be happy, I would have to fall in love with myself. That meant no more self-sabotage, no more looking in the mirror and calling myself names, no more feeling horrible about overeating, or skipping a workout, or just plain making myself feel bad for living. So many of us focus on our outside relationships with significant others, family, and friends. We try to make sure they are happy and respect us or treat us kindly, but inside we are at war with ourselves. The real issue is the constant battlefield that lives in our heads. In order to reach self-love, we have to address the inner critic that tries to tear us down. I spent years blaming my childhood bullies for making me insecure. With a shrug of the shoulders I just accepted that this happened to me, as if to say, “Oh well, this is my story,” but I was the biggest bully of all. My internal rage against myself was keeping me from everything I wanted. It had nothing to do with the bullies or outside influences but with how I was relating to myself. I could start being nice to me and stop thinking I couldn’t love myself because of my shape or size. The fix: the Self-Love Experiment. THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT PROCESS DURATION: THREE MONTHS GOALS Lighten up (emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually). Increase self-confidence and be able to look in the mirror and say only kind things. See myself the way my dog does (awesome, amazing, beautiful, quite possibly the coolest person in the world). The Magic of Self-Care THE MOST BASIC FORM of self-love is caring for yourself. We have to start with self-care. Let’s get this right out of the way. Self-care is not about drinking your green juice or taking your vitamins every day and always keeping your diet super clean. It’s not about incessantly working out or meditating. For some it may be, but that’s because that is in alignment with that person. The most important thing is that you do what is in alignment with you. My paternal grandmother ate chocolate and drank coffee every day. For many years she drank alcohol quite frequently. And yet she was extremely healthy her entire life. She passed on at age ninety-four but never felt as though her choices hurt her. She was petite, fit, and happy. Have you ever noticed that there are certain people who seem to be able to eat or drink anything they want without the same result as others who put on weight or feel sluggish? It’s because they don’t pay attention to these things. The emotion around what we do is often more detrimental than what we actually do. What is important is how you feel about the things you do. I used to think self-care meant being an A+ wellness warrior, which meant that each day I must ask myself, “Did I drink my green juice?” (check); “Did I do my workout?” (check); “Did I count my calories?” (check); etc. This way of life was exhausting, and I always felt like something was missing. I was trying so hard to control everything around me—my schedule, my body size, my habits, everything was neatly in a box—but my doctor diagnosed me with depression. I hated my job at the time, and I was silently suffering from drug addiction and body dysmorphia. Most of us have something we don’t like about our appearance—a crooked nose, an uneven smile, or eyes that are too large or too small. And though we may fret about our imperfections, they don’t interfere with our daily lives. But my insecurities were my obsession. I couldn’t help but think about my flaws for hours each day. Before my Self-Love Experiment, I couldn’t control my negative thoughts. My insecurities even interfered with my social life, as I started to avoid situations out of fear others would notice my flaws. This was an emotional disease that I was suffering from. The fix was finding self-love. But before I started my experiment, I used to be the master of “self-care.” Sure, on the outside I was taking care of myself, by society’s standards, but I hated myself and was depressed. What kind of life is that? As you can imagine, this wasn’t real self-care. Because “caring” for yourself is loving yourself. I started to look at what self-care meant to me, and when I was honest I realized I didn’t really like kale salad, I was sick of green juice, and I was burned out with yoga. Self-care has nothing to do with what you do but with why you do it. And the only reason we should do anything is because it makes us feel good. Because it brings us joy. I started to use joy as my barometer for self-care. If it brought me joy, I would allow it and enjoy it fully. If it felt forced, I wouldn’t do it. This meant being okay with eating ice cream for breakfast (not every day, of course, but when I wanted it, I honored my desire) because I wanted to, without shame or guilt. But you know, the interesting thing is the more I loved myself, the less I craved sugar. Throughout my Self-Love Experiment my choices became naturally more healthful; they were never forced. The key is to be present with your joy in each moment, and let that be your guiding compass. For example, this meant canceling my yoga membership so I could have more time for hikes and nature walks. This meant booking a spontaneous trip to Paris to celebrate finishing my book and honoring my heart’s calling to celebrate life. Self-care is our foundation; it is our intention and our daily focus. Naturally we want to be healthy, but healthy is not one-size-fits-all. What makes one person joyful and healthy is not the same for the next. My mission was to address my self-care habits. I started with my appearance. Let’s be honest. I had let myself go. By looking at my habits, I could see areas that needed attention in my life. I was wearing frumpy clothes and shoes that had holes in the soles. I went straight to my closet and took everything—I mean everything—out. My room was a giant pile of memories wrapped up in outfits I couldn’t squeeze into anymore. For the past two years I had avoided mirrors as well as dressing rooms. I rotated between pairs of stretchy pants; I hadn’t worn jeans in eighteen months because I couldn’t fit into my old size. I had a choice. I could keep avoiding the truth and pretend things were okay and stay stuck in being uncomfortable, or I could be a big girl, suck it up, and go buy the larger pants size, which meant admitting to myself that I was larger than I’d ever been before. I looked at all my old clothes I couldn’t wear and put them into piles: Will never wear again, which became the donation pile. Love so much, I can’t part with nor can I fit into it; maybe wear again one day. Currently wearing. I realized there on that floor, glaring back at me, was a reflection of all my pain and self-shame. Eighty percent of my closet was a has-been. Old fabric I couldn’t fit into, which only made me feel worse about gaining weight. As long as I had these piles in my closet, I wouldn’t be able to let go of my past and accept where I was today. That meant donating everything that didn’t bring me joy. If there were clothes in my closet I looked at and felt regret or sadness because I couldn’t fit into them, they had to go. If there were clothes I loved so much because of sentimental value but couldn’t fit into, I would use them for motivation. I couldn’t move forward if my past was laughing at me every day. After removing everything that no longer worked, I noticed the clothes were a reflection of my lack of upkeep on Shannon. Some of these items had holes in them, bras from five years earlier, which meant they clearly didn’t fit. No wonder I felt so uncomfortable each day. I was squeezing my new-size body into the self of five years ago. Restricting ourselves and forcing ourselves to fit into something that isn’t meant to fit is a metaphor for our lives. By thinking there was something wrong with me because I had gained weight, I was avoiding the truth and not being real with myself. But in accepting my body, change could then take place. I went to the store and upgraded my wardrobe. It felt like a miracle trying on clothes that actually fit. My body felt healthier, thinner, even pretty. “This is one small step in the right direction,” I thought. I didn’t realize that holding on to something as simple as clothes from five years prior was actually hurting my health and also preventing me from feeling good in my body. Squeezing all my curves into clothes three sizes too small was not a habit by choice. It was a habit of comfort. I was comfortable in my old size, and for years I was afraid to admit that I had gained weight. Lying to myself didn’t hurt just my self-esteem—it also hurt my relationship with my body. Now that I was in clothes that felt good on my body, I walked with a little skip in my step. I held my head a little higher and I smiled more. Self-care means learning how to treat ourselves with more respect. It’s possible we all lie to ourselves a little bit. Maybe we are afraid to admit something about ourselves that we are afraid to look at. We worry that if we address a situation then we will somehow be found out or exposed. But in this exact act of admitting what you are most afraid to admit, you will find clarity and truth. The process will help you become your own friend. It helped me, but I had to be willing to hold nothing back. I wanted to show up fully for me; it was time to be honest. How and where can you be more honest with yourself? The word self-love feels funny for the majority of people. Self-love feels selfish. We are not trained to love ourselves. Because we are not used to it, it feels odd and uncomfortable for many of us. But we owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves. I discovered that the word self-love felt uncomfortable, so I focused on self-care. Self-care is somehow so much easier to approach than self-love—it feels less . . . huge. Instead of saying “I need to love myself,” practice simply caring for yourself. A foundation for any healthy relationship is trust, and if we lie to ourselves, we don’t have that. From there on out, I made a promise to always be honest with myself. In my own journey I had every interest in falling in love with myself, so acceptance was the order of the day, even in my plus-size body. Ask yourself, “Which habit no longer serves me?” I looked at my daily habits and asked which habits no longer served me. I discovered that for many years my eating was on autopilot. By becoming more keenly aware of my overeating, I could then transform it. In order to do this, however, I also needed to remove the guilt. We all have habits, and many of them are ingrained into our routine. Often they help us function, but sometimes they hinder us. Ask yourself which habits are hindering your happiness, and be willing to take away the emotion from the habit and let the habit be in your life. As you take away the guilt and shame the habit will lessen, and if indeed it is time to let it go, it will be easy to release. The reality is, when you’re ready to make a change, it is easy. But you have to be ready. We all have certain habits that block us from being our best self. Many are unconscious or so ingrained in our daily routine that they often hurt our success at healing. Bad habits create more bad habits. But for the sake of our Self-Love Experiment, let’s drop the idea of “good” and “bad.” This pressure won’t serve us. Instead, let’s look at every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you really want to change your life, you have to try something radically new. For me, it looked like being honest with myself. I wrote down on a piece of paper, “If you got yourself into this overweight body, you can get yourself out.” What can you write on your own piece of paper? Maybe “I got into this debt; I can get myself out.” “I got into this troubled job; I can get myself out.” Allow yourself to be very honest and own up to the fact that you are in this situation because you got yourself here. So guess what, beautiful? The fantastic news is, you can get yourself out. It’s about accountability and acceptance. But you also need the willingness to make a change. Before this moment I had a desire, which is different from being willing. You may desire a soul mate, but being willing to open your heart to new love is an entirely different story. You may desire to find your life purpose, but being willing to live without the comfort of a paycheck or a stale yet secure environment is a totally different notion. We must be willing, and in this willingness the change can truly take place. I reflected on all of my previous behavior in trying to lose weight. It had always been such a struggle. I had felt so much pressure to drop pounds; meanwhile I would mentally beat myself up for not seeing a change. This self-hate fueled my weight gain. The radical change for me was a shift to accepting myself and relaxing in the journey. Instead of desperately needing to hit a goal, I treated everything as an experiment. This helped tremendously. Just like a scientist experimenting in a lab, there is no expectation about the outcome, because every trial that results in an error brings you one step closer to a breakthrough and a new discovery. Be like a scientist and be open to possibilities. Become the explorer of your own life adventure. I invite you to go on your own experiment, a journey into self-love. When we are experimenting, the goal is not certain, and so we are able to revel in the joy of the experience. I had two choices: I could accept what I couldn’t seem to change or I could work my butt off to change, even though working so hard was exhausting and proved to be unfulfilling. As the serenity prayer that is so central to twelve-step programs goes: O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. This became my guiding light. I had fought an uphill battle trying to lose weight, so my only other option was to accept my overweight body. In this acceptance, resistance was released, and the joy of the experiment could commence. When you can allow yourself to be where you are instead of where you think you should be or even where you want to be, freedom prevails. And in this freedom, self-acceptance and joy rush in. This is a much better place to make a change from. By accepting myself, I was able to invite love in. Instead of self-criticizing thoughts, I said kind things to myself, which made my weight-loss journey much easier, and I was more pleasant to be around. Have you ever noticed when things are flowing in your life and they seem easy? Maybe you got that job without much effort, you met the person of your dreams when you were least expecting it, or you earned a big bonus without thinking about it. A lot of the time things happen because of divine timing. When things happen naturally, it is because it is the right time. Sometimes we try to force things to happen before we are really ready. Trust in divine timing because when the timing is aligned, things will be easier. The key to getting anything you want is patience, timing, and trust. That’s not to say don’t keep trying, but it is important to honor the flow of life, and you specifically have a journey. And when you are truly ready, you will find the courage, the wisdom, and the motivation to make the changes necessary to see the results you truly desire. You picked up this book; something in you led you to these words and this message. So I know you are ready. Think about a time in your life when things flowed and they felt very natural. Maybe you got into the school you wanted, you met your partner, or you found your dream home with little to no effort. These are all indications that you were ready. So if it feels like a struggle right now to make a change, recognize that it might not be the time. But there are certain things you can do to help yourself along. I wasn’t ready before my experiment to make major life changes. Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but I was comfortable in my stuckness and was still learning lessons I needed to learn in order to become more open to the process of the experiment. Not until I honored my heart’s calling to go work overseas did things begin to click for me. I was already well into my experiment but wasn’t seeing massive results. But by honoring my inner voice, which said, “Go, take your business and work from different countries around the world,” things shifted for me. I began to make more healthful choices, I raised my standards, and I fell in love with life, which gave me more permission to be me, and I feel in love with me. If I were to ignore my inner voice and not act on the inspiration, I would not be expressing self-love. The bottom line is: divine timing is everything, and change is easier when you’re ready. But you need a focused plan to invite the right opportunities to you. The second part is to accept what you can’t change. At some point in your acceptance journey, you will rise up and say, “Enough. I am ready for real, lasting transformation.” After you fully accept what you can’t change, you may ask yourself, “Am I ready to change this? Is this habit ready to transform?” Most of the time your inner guide will say, “Yes, let’s do this.” You will feel motivated because—guess what? You are ready. Change is yours for the taking. Are you ready to make healthy change stick? I certainly was, and here is how I did it: With self-compassion in my driver’s seat I was equipped to dive even deeper into my self-care routine. The tool I used was the Me Matters list. After only a couple of weeks into my Self-Love Experiment, I saw profound results. I had lost some weight, I felt more balanced, I had more opportunities coming my way, and I smiled a lot more. I wanted to keep the positive momentum going, so I created a Me Matters list. This is a list of the mandatory experiences that align with your soul’s ideal day. I asked myself, “What does my ideal day look like? When do I feel like my best self?” And I created a list to align to that vision. It looked like this: I exercise daily with joy and excitement. I enjoy my food and choose foods that make me feel alive and vibrant. I listen to my body and trust its guidance. I speak kindly to myself. I have daily cuddle sessions with my dog, Tucker. I go outside and play with the world. I remove food guilt and cherish my food fully. I add more adventure into my life with travel and exploration. I am location independent; I can work and play from anywhere in the world. I am compassionate and kind to others and myself. Instead of asking what I can get, I ask what I can give. I am grateful and turn all my expectations into appreciation. I meditate or do positive affirmations daily. I printed out this list and mounted one on my vision board and carried the other one around with me in my purse. This became my guiding light forward. By having a daily Me Matters list I was able to stay focused and accountable. This helped me stay honest with myself as well. Ask yourself, “What does my ideal day look like?” I am not talking about the win-the-lottery, travel-the-world “ideal” day; I mean your practical, current lifestyle ideal day. How do you want to show up for yourself? What do you want to do daily to take care of you? That becomes your go-to list to show yourself that you matter. The Me Matters list worked for me. Each day I made a promise to myself to show up more fully for me. This meant taking time to prioritize self-care. Each day, one moment at a time, I would check in with myself and ask myself what felt most joyful and healthy right at that moment. This led me to take midday power naps, workout more, and change my diet to more organic, healthful meals. Think about your own life and how your body has been trying to talk to you. It might have a message for you; what is it saying? Let your body be your friend as you move forward. But also define self-care for you. Self-care is personal; it is not an easy-to-follow routine that is the same for everyone; it is not cookie-cutter. I once had a roommate who was extremely healthy by society’s standards. She was obsessed with cooking her own meals and removing all pesticides from fruits and vegetables. As soon as she bought her food she would soak everything for exactly one hour and then cook everything in bottled, filtered water. She did yoga every day and meditated as often as she could. This seemed extremely healthy and to her it meant self-care. But she still got sick and often had digestive issues. On the other hand, at that time I wasn’t eating healthful, organic foods; I was ingesting a lot of sugar and highly processed foods. We were opposites, but we could learn from each other. She taught me how to prepare foods in the healthiest manner possible, and I learned about organic foods from her, and I showed her that being strict one hundred percent of the time does not actually prevent you from being sick, because she actually got sick more than I did. Self-care is an individual expression. It is not one-size-fits-all. The goal is to feel healthy and happy, and you do this through self-care. No matter what your self-care routine looks like, the entry point is through the body. What we put in our bodies and on our bodies matters. Even the environment we live in matters. Self-care is a holistic, 360-degree approach to taking care of you. Self-care can be about what you eat, what you wear, where you live, what you say, and what you think. It is all of you and how you relate to the world. Start showing up for you in new ways by being intentional about your self-care routine. Today my self-care routine is all about balance. I listen to my body—when it says it’s full, when it says it’s thirsty, when it says it’s tired, I honor its needs. In turn, by listening to my body and making body care part of my routine, my skin has cleared up. I have more energy and I have even lost a little more weight. It all comes back to love and taking loving action through self-care. And the reasons I was able to see results early on in my Self-Love Experiment is because I was letting love lead the way. I was taking clear action steps, such as working out more, traveling more, writing more, eating more organic food, all things on my Me Matters list, all these things that brought me joy. I did them all through the lens of self-love. Experiment with allowing self-love to guide you through your self-care practice; it certainly helped me. While I was in my Self-Love Experiment I discovered something I was unaware of. I was settling. I was settling in a body I felt uncomfortable in. I was settling in an environment that wasn’t comfortable. I was settling in my singlehood status, for I wanted a romantic partnership so badly, but I was scared of admitting that. I was settling in almost every area of my life. The more I took care of myself, the more it began to dawn on me: I had been settling. Through caring for myself more, I naturally raised my standards. The more attention I gave to myself, the more attention I realized I deserved. Saying this is not egotistical. This is about value. And I didn’t value myself before. I was just going through the motions in life and trying to survive. I realized through my Self-Love Experiment that the added weight on my body, the choice to hide away from the world and remain single, was a protection mechanism. My ego was trying to protect me. I had at some point shut down emotionally and put up guards. My overeating and my lack of self-care before my experiment were a result of my giving up on love and, in some aspects, on my own life. I was afraid to look at the areas of my life that felt unfixable, unlovable, and unapproachable, and so I had been ignoring them. The Self-Love Experiment taught me how to breathe life back into the parts of me that I’d abandoned. I left a part of me in my childhood, the little me who never felt accepted or loved for who she really was, and I was stuck replaying that same scenario and story as an adult. We do this from time to time. If we really want to reach self-love, we have to let go of that story and the wounded inner child still affecting our adulthood and learn how to bring ourselves back to life. We can do this by showing up for ourselves. One moment at a time, one step at a time. One choice at a time. Each day I took action to prioritize self-care. I went back to the wounded child inside and said, “I love you, dear little me. You are enough as you are.” This small dedication to my healing transformed my entire experience of life. I raised my standards and started living more intentionally. Ask yourself, “What part of myself have I abandoned? What part of me needs love and care?” Visit your childhood wounded self and send little you some love. And today as you read this, start to think about ways you can prioritize your own self-care; your future self will thank you. The Magic of Self-Compassion DURING THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT, I realized I had to get honest about the mental abuse I was bestowing on my body. My first step was to treat it kindly with words. Instead of emotionally