A couple sharing a meal together

Are you ready to give up negative self-talk?

As Lent progresses, I’m reminded of what I gave up for Lent seven years ago and how that 40-day period of abstinence changed my relationship with myself and paved the way to a healthy and loving relationship with my now fiancé.

On the eve of Lent in 2011, I had an epiphany. It dawned on me that I’d been having horrible thoughts about myself, my body, my appearance and my achievements ever since I could remember, and I committed, for 40 days, to abstain from negative self-talk.

My first instinct as Lent approached that year was to give up chocolate, crisps or bread (I was always trying to diet), alongside the Starbucks coffees I’d decided to abstain from so I could give the money to a good cause. But it became clear that self-criticism had been doing me much more harm than the occasional chocolate bar.

For decades, I’d been judging my body harshly, prodding at my waist or my thighs, saying nasty things when I saw myself in a changing room mirror or in the window of a car. Yuk. Disgusting. Yes, I actually used such words. And not just about my body, about my complexion and my hair too. My critical voice also extended to my actions – nothing was ever good enough.

If I made a mistake, I was a mistake. That’s what I thought.

You might not be quite so extreme but I wonder if you can relate to the idea of judging yourself, your appearance or your actions harshly. Do you engage in self-talk that’s a little cruel or unkind? Do you criticise yourself when you make a mistake or do you forgive your imperfections?

And during this period of Lent, alongside whatever else you have decided to forego, would you benefit from doing your best to silence the destructive chatter that goes on inside your head, as I did all those years ago?

If we can do this, I believe it will increase our chances of success as we date and boost the odds of us falling in love.

Dating can be difficult for some of us, especially online. We put ourselves up there for others to judge. We post our best photographs and write thoughtful profiles, hoping people will take the time to get to know us rather than judge us on our looks. Dating can make us feel vulnerable – we might enjoy someone’s company on a date, only to receive a text when we get home saying ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ or words to that effect. Ouch. It can hurt.

If we’re not careful, we can start picking ourselves apart, blaming our lack of dating success on the fact we’re not pretty or handsome enough, our hair is thinning or we’re carrying a few extra pounds. Or we can beat ourselves up for that bad joke we told, for talking too much or for spilling our drink all over the table.

That’s why we need to give ourselves a head start, by refraining from negative self-talk to the best of our ability and by believing, deep down, that we are enough.

That period of Lent seven years ago was a milestone on my journey to self-love. Without it, I’m not sure I’d be planning my wedding today. For those 40 days, I stopped poking my body and groaning at myself in the mirror. And when those negative thoughts came about my appearance or achievements, I sent them packing. Thanks, but no thanks. You’re not welcome here.

I shared my mission with others, blogging about my progress every day on a site I called Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self-Acceptance. It was a profound and cathartic experience. I was being real and vulnerable in public. I was sharing my pattern of cruel self-talk with others and committing to being kind to myself in my words and deeds. I was determined to change and I was accountable to my readers. It made a huge difference.

I turned 40 during that period of Lent in 2011, without a partner and without any children.  That brought up its own feelings, which I shared on my next blog, From Forty With Love. But I felt a new sense of compassion towards myself, a new sense of self-love and a new sense of hope.

Those 40 days helped to form a new habit and to lay some really solid foundations that I built on in subsequent years. While I still struggled with low self-esteem at times and continued to date some people who weren’t good for me, I was growing stronger and more confident all the time.

I also found that the more I loved and accepted myself and the more I refrained from negative self-talk, the easier it was to fully accept and love the man in front of me, rather than judge him, criticise him and deem him not good enough, as I’d done before.

So as you read this post, take a moment to ask yourself if now is the time to change the way you speak about yourself; if now is the time to love, accept and celebrate yourself rather than being judgemental, critical or harsh.

Not all of us need to spend so much time learning to be gentle and kind to ourselves in order to find love. But I know from my coaching work that some of us do.

If you are one of us, then why not start today.

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