Faith, practice, and our wily demons

On May 15th, I (along with 157 other intrepid souls) launched a 30-day self-love challenge, using my illustrated creative journal, Find Your Awesome. Before I tell you how that went, let me tell you a little bit about my history with self-love and 30-day challenges.

Six years ago, I dedicated all of 2011 to living a more love-filled life. I called it my Year of Fearless Love  and every month that year, I assigned myself tasks intended to get me out of my comfort zone and into the world, building community and spreading love in as big and public a way as I knew how. I blogged about my experiences and over the course of the year, more and more people joined me from all over the world. They were amazing, conquering every challenge I gave them and sharing their stories with me, online and off.

And then came the month when I assigned “self-love.” I proposed tasks like, “take yourself on a date,” “cut yourself some slack,” “give yourself 15 minutes of free time each day,” and “write yourself a love letter.”

That month was a revelation to me. Suddenly all these love warriors – people who’d been right there with me, who’d inspired me with all the creative ways they were able to choose, practice, and spread love on a daily basis – were struggling. They didn’t know how to show themselves the kindness, patience, and acceptance they so readily gave to everyone else. One woman sat down to write herself a love letter, and wound up instead writing me an email about why she didn’t deserve to get a love letter.

It was heartbreaking.

Fast forward a few years, to when I discovered Matt Cutts’ Ted Talk, Try Something New For 30 Days. In his talk, Cutts says that 30 days is the perfect amount of time to try something new because it’s not so much time that it’s overwhelming, but it is enough time to decide if you like a new hobby or activity.

I would add that it’s a perfect amount of time to start a new practice.

Which is the whole idea behind Find Your Awesome. The book is written as a 30-day challenge because I believe that if you spend 30 days mindfully committing acts of self- kindness, generosity, acceptance, and forgiveness, you will in essence be creating a daily practice, not unlike yoga or meditation. And the great thing about daily practices is that they tend to become habits. My goal is to make self-love a habit, everyone’s default setting, the place where we live, not the place we visit when we remember or when it’s easy.

I’m a zealot on this. I believe it with all my heart because I’ve lived it. You become better and better at anything you do every day.

That said, doing “30 days of self-love” in a group was eye-opening. I saw where people did well and where they struggled, and I learned some uncomfortable truths about myself. Here are my three biggest takeaways from the challenge.

1. Sometimes self-love is a leap of faith.

I realized about halfway through the challenge that there were people following along who were simply incapable of engaging with themselves in a playful, supportive way. I don’t just mean that they fell behind (I fell behind), I mean that their circumstances were so personally painful and difficult, that it had changed their perception of themselves. They looked at themselves and couldn’t find anything to love. (More than one person told me, publicly and privately, that they simply couldn’t “find their awesome.”)

I’m familiar with that feeling. I was in that very place when I launched my Year Of Fearless Love. I embarked on that journey in part because I felt discouraged and disappointed in myself. During the challenge, when people told me that they didn’t feel loving toward themselves, I told them that, of course, it is when we’re feeling it least that we need self-love most. I realize now that, while those words are true, they’re only half of what I needed to say. The other half is this: Trust the process.

Daily practices take time to become habits, and it takes time to reap their benefits. You don’t get fit after a single workout, or enlightened after a single meditation. In the beginning, there is a lot of time when it seems like nothing is happening at all… until it is. At some point in every successful practice, we become the thing we set out to be – more fit, more mindful, more productive. Until then, it takes commitment and trust in what you can’t feel or see. It takes faking it until you become it.

2. There are No Rules. Really.

In hindsight, I’d probably change the subtitle of Find Your Awesome (a 30-day challenge to find and fall in love with your most playful, imaginative, and colorful self) because no matter how many times I tell people that it’s not really a challenge, and they don’t actually have to finish it in 30 days, they still stress out and feel guilty if they fall behind. There’s not a lot more to say on this one, except that if you’re embarking on a self-love journey and at anytime you find that you’re chastising yourself for “not doing it right,” you might be missing the whole point, yeah? Relax. Cut yourself some slack. That may, in fact, be the very definition of self-love.

3. You define what self-love means for you.

As part of the challenge, I set up a Facebook group so that we could all encourage and support each other through the 30 days. I’ve never run a Facebook group before and, honestly, I found it to be pretty stressful. Because I had fewer than 250 members in the group, each post and every comment had a “seen by” number, which when clicked would show you all the people who had seen your post. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to see that a post was seen by, say, 50 people, but “liked” by only 10 or 12 (and commented on by even fewer than that). I spent quite a lot of time in the beginning of the 30 days trying to find the magic formula that would engage more people, and then feeling discouraged and disheartened when I was unable to do so.

And then I had a revelation. This was MY self-love journey too. I could spend my time feeling bad, sure that my inadequacy was the reason only a small percentage of members were actually engaging, or I could accept that I have no way of knowing why people engage or don’t. And since I have no way of knowing, I can choose to assume there’s something wrong with me, or I can choose to assume the problem isn’t me, focus my energy on love, and get as much out of the challenge as possible. I chose Option 2 – though, in the interest of full disclosure, it did take a few days and some messy battles with my own wily demons to get there.

But that’s okay; messy’s okay. In fact it’s probably necessary.

You know how I feel about love as a practice…