Relationships. You have them with your partner. Your boss. Your buddies. Your dog. But when’s the last time you worked on your relationship with… yourself? Never, you say? Self-help only sounds woo-woo; it actually has a remarkable impact on your mental health and well-being.
Here’s what it entails: “Building a healthier relationship with yourself means having a relationship with the parts of yourself that you like and the parts of yourself you don’t like,” says Avi Klein, LCSW, a New York-based therapist who specializes in men’s mental health.
It matters, too. “People who have a healthy relationship with themselves are generally happier, experience less anxiety and depression, are more forgiving of themselves, and trust themselves more,” explains Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., director and co-founder of the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy. “They also tend to make better choices, have more satisfying work lives, and experience more authentic connections with others.”
On top of that, with an increased awareness of your own inner workings, you’ll likely be able to cultivate better relationships with all of those other people.
So it’s time to get to know yourself and employ some self-help principles. Here, five ways to do it, according to experts.
Self-help Primer: Check Your Basic Health Boxes
You know how the airlines tell you to fasten your safety mask before helping others? That’s because you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. “On the simplest level, developing a good relationship with yourself initially involves taking care of your basic needs,” explains Lukin.
What to do: a lot of what you’re already likely doing — just becoming more accountable about it.
Eating healthy, staying hydrated, and keeping up with exercise and sleep helps you help yourself—a key self-help puzzle piece in tackling everything your days bring with them.
Keep Track of Your Not-So-Good Traits
Maybe you’re always late. Perhaps you can’t, for the life of you, remember to call the insurance/mortgage/insert-administrative-task-here company when you need to.
Even if it’s in the ‘Notes’ app on your phone, start a running list of things about yourself that you’d like to improve upon (bad habits, problems you’ve been avoiding, constructive feedback you’ve gotten).
“When you make these unconscious things conscious by writing them down, you have more control over them,” says Klein.
Example: If you don’t take a compliment well, that could rub people the wrong way ultimately isolating you from others, but if you can start noticing this within yourself, you can change your actions.
Keeping track of your ‘improvables’ on a regular basis can also help you notice ‘triggers’ or times that you tend to slip up or act in ways you’re not proud of. This helps you act differently in the future.
Tally Up Your ‘Wins’
You likely dole out all kinds of compliments to other people — but it’s easy to overlook our own accomplishments.
Keeping a list of what makes you feel good about yourself (strengths and accomplishments) as well as wins you’re proud of can actually help you get to know yourself better and help you hit your goals.
“Taking time during the day to notice like things you feel proud of helps you take risks and do harder things,” says Klein.
Not to your house or apartment—to those places/things/times that help you feel most comfortable (the middle of a long run, a trip somewhere new, a get-together with your best friends).
Making time for the things that help us feel most like ourselves can be grounding, explains Klein.
Without it? Your other relationships suffer. “If you don’t feel grounded, you can’t be there for other people. Making time for yourself is a prerequisite to being generous to other people.”
If you’re just giving and giving, eventually you’re going to burn out—or get angry at others, he says.
It really does work: Noticing your thoughts, what comes up again and again (and again) allows you to get a better understanding of yourself, what bothers you, what inspires you, or what worries you.
Without that kind of information, it’s harder to enact change.