Your relationship with yourself spills into all of your relationships, period. We’ve all had moments in our life where our relationship with ourselves was more responsible for our real-world outcomes, whether or not we want to admit it.
An inability to be alone can push away partners and friends because of co-dependency. We blame other people for the problems in our relationships when we’re really seeing projections of ourselves in others instead of seeing them as they are. We think people are treating us a certain way because of their behavior when really we’re influencing them to treat us that way because of the way we see ourselves.
This is all tricky stuff. Can you ever truly ‘know yourself’? Hell if I know. I’ve learned these lessons about building a better relationship with myself because of my own struggles to do so.
Let’s take a look at some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
If you don’t have someone to do something with when you want to do it, do it alone. If you want to get a nice meal at a restaurant and none of your friends are available, go by yourself. Pick up new hobbies on your own. If you really want to take things to another level, travel alone.
Prior to the pandemic, I’d gone on a handful of trips by myself. Most were to events where I ended up meeting people, but I didn’t go there with anybody I already knew.
I’m not the type who naturally does well with big groups of people, but putting myself in those situations forced me to grow. Without the crutch of other people with me, I had to take actions that ultimately boosted my confidence and self-esteem. In my downtime, I had to entertain myself.
When the world ‘opens up’ I’m going to go on trips alone where there are no events, just me and whatever adventures may come. If you can learn to not just be alone without needing other people, but actually entertain yourself, you’ll be more entertaining.
You can get in touch with the things you like to do, the hobbies you enjoy, and the experiences you want to have. Once you have that solid relationship with yourself devoid of others, it’ll make your interactions with other people that much better.
Blaise Pascal has a quote:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
The first point was about being physically alone. This point is about learning how to be mentally alone — without distractions, without entertainment, without all the other things you use to run away from your own thoughts.
Was it just me, or did a lot of different stuff come up from your subconscious during the initial months of quarantine? For many stretches in those days, I found myself truly thinking and reflecting.
I’ve always focused on self-reflection through meditation, but being forced to sit alone in silence more than usual taught me a few things about myself, things you might find out about yourself if you take time to pause and really think, too:
Think, monitor your thoughts without judgment, repeat.
About that last point — have you ever tried to fully answer the question “What do you want? It helps to take the time to not just think about, but write down and structure your thoughts on who you are, what you want, and who you really want to be?
Do you ever get that feeling of anxiety that comes from this feeling that the way you’re living doesn’t quite add up to the way you want to live? You can’t actually pinpoint it, though. It just hums in the background — that tension between what you’re doing right now and the vague sense of wanting better.
You’re not going to learn everything you need to know about yourself through reflection because your personality will change over time based on both your experiences and your interpretations of them. But you can start by trying to paint an accurate map of what you really want and who you really want to be.
Seriously think about and write down the answers to questions like:
With a lot of self-reflection and action, you’ll come to find there were things you thought you wanted but didn’t actually want and things you didn’t know you wanted that you now know you do.
I used to think I wanted to be filthy rich. Now? I know that I just want to be free. I used to think I wanted fame. Now? I know that I want my messages to reach the right people. I thought I valued materials most but ended up realizing I wanted better connections with people.
If you take the time to actually get an idea of what you want, you’re primed to spot opportunities to have it in the real world.
There’s that cliche quote:
If you had a friend that you spoke to the same way you speak to yourself, how long do you think that person would allow you to be your friend?
Although it’s a cliche, there is something to be said about treating yourself the same way that you would treat a friend. This is going to sound strange, but try to become your own friend.
I’ll level with you. Sometimes I will go so far as to literally have conversations with myself. Just like everyone else I have doubts, fears, and areas where I lack confidence. And I genuinely go out of my way to be my own cheerleader just like I do for my friends.
On my way to achieving a bunch of goals that scared me I’d ask myself questions and say a bunch of affirming statements:
I’ve written down affirmations and even said them to myself in the mirror — anything to help overcome the struggles and doubts that we all feel. All of these little insights and exercises lead to the ultimate way to build a better relationship with yourself.
This simple statement is one of the keys to self-confidence, productivity, and an increasingly positive self-image. It’s so innocuous, mundane, and yet profound.
Keep the promises you make to yourself.
It’s not so much that failure to follow through with something you said you were going to do is bad in and of itself. But it’s the underlying subconscious statements it implants in your head:
The remedy to this? Be very mindful of the promises you keep. Be mindful of the things you literally say you’re going to do. Keep the promises to the level you can keep.
Don’t tell yourself this tale of how you’re going to rule the world next year. Make a promise to yourself today and keep it today, e.g., “I’m going to write for 10 minutes.”
Yes, this seems like banal basic self-improvement stuff but all the keys to a solid relationship with yourself as banal and basic.
Every time you keep a promise to yourself, you start to think of someone who keeps their promises. The identity shift that causes makes you think more highly of yourself and builds confidence in the long term.
As you go throughout your life, especially when you’re trying to improve, you’re going to need time for self-care. But, what does self-care actually mean? I wrote a chapter in my book that talks about what I believe to be a counterproductive form of self-care.
In this form of self-care, you reward yourself regardless of your behavior. On the one hand, you don’t want to burn yourself out. But, on the other hand, you can suffer just as much from inaction.
Too many people use self-care as a guise to absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions. When you start rewarding yourself for counterproductive behavior, you just reinforce that behavior.
Self-care is best used as a reward for challenging yourself. And challenging yourself is a form of self-care. There are certain things you’ll never learn about yourself until you push yourself to your edge.
Everyone’s edge is different and it changes over time, but you want to stretch yourself from time to time not so much for the outcome, but for the process, you have to go through to get the outcome.
Try to be ‘on’ when you’re on and ‘off’ when you’re off. Most people can’t truly relax because they know they weren’t fully on, to begin with. Then, when they try to be ‘on’ they’re worn out because of the anxiety and guilt the ‘faux-relaxing’ causes.
Challenge, rest, repeat.
Ultimately, one of the most important things you can do is remember how much you already like yourself. You forget that when you find yourself in situations that cause you to feel self-doubt, challenge your ego, make you feel embarrassed, etc.
There are already some things about yourself that you like. Think about them. Focus on them. Even write them down.
It’s a tricky battle. On the one hand, there are some things you’d like to improve about yourself, but the entire idea of self-improvement comes with the underlying assumption that you lack something.
Technically, you don’t lack anything. You could build a well-spring of confidence based on who you already are right now. But you still have that need to level up. So, you start that process by trying to remind yourself that you already have some things going for you.
You wouldn’t daydream at all if you thought you were totally incapable. Think about that. In your imagination, you’re seeing yourself unlocking the tools you know you already possess deep down. Sure, you doubt yourself, but you also have a sense of grandeur. The challenge is focusing on the right part of yourself.
I don’t have an exact prescription for this, but try to remember in the back of your mind that even though you’re trying to reach new levels in your life, you already have everything you need, you’re already good enough. Use this weird paradoxical method of feeling like you’re already successful then also doing the work to reach your goals.