Learning to Love Well: Love Yourself First | Background images shows yellow and blue circles blending into one another.

Learning to Love Well: Love Yourself First (episode #21)

Sep 01, 2022


Joy Lab Podcast (episode 21)

Way back in episode #6, we introduced the 5 lessons of loving well. These are powerful little strategies, so we wanted to get into each a bit more. So, that’s what we’ll do for these next 5 episodes. The first lesson and the focus of this episode is “Learn to Love Yourself First.” We'll talk about why this really matters and how you can build up your love and self-acceptance in realistic ways.

Side note: We'll start releasing weekly episodes in September! Tune in every Wednesday for new infusions of joy. Be sure to subscribe/follow the Joy Lab Podcast on your favorite podcast platform so new episodes appear in your feed. And please give us a top rating/review on that platform to help spread more joy. 

See key takeaways from this episode and the full transcript below the video.


Key Takeaways:

  • There's a deficiency in self-acceptance and it plays out in a lot of ways that harm us all. 
  • We were born with self-acceptance, but need guidance to sustain that healthy self-identity. If you lost it, it can be recovered.
  • A key strategy to love yourself more is mindful self-acceptance.
  • Key steps for mindfulness include: See what is, Accept what is, Act wisely. We use these steps a lot in the Joy Lab program.
  • Self-acceptance continues on and on, it gets easier, but we're always practicing this art. 


Links Mentioned:


Full Transcript


Learning to Love Well: Love Yourself First

Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at

Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons.

And I'm Aimee Prasek. So welcome to Joy Lab where we infuse science with soul, to help all of us uncover more joy. And each month we focus on one of our elements of joy, which are the emotions and positive inner states that really are those key building blocks that can help you create a more joyful life.

So our element for this episode, and actually the next five episodes is love. And I'm really excited to share as well that [00:01:00] not only are we dropping this episode today, but we will start, our new podcast schedule this month where we'll release a new episode every Wednesday and we'll have a few holiday breaks.

But with the exception of those, we'll build our elements of joy together every week now. Also, if you're a member of our Joy Lab program, then you can use these weekly episodes as sort of extra boosts to help you move through your experiments, sort of stretch those experiments into your real life and continue to uncover more joy, step by step.

Yes, we're just really happy to be offering more episodes. And you may also notice that they might be a little shorter than what you're used to, but, uh, by spreading them out, we can really dig into the monthly themes by focusing on one aspect of that theme every week.

Aimee: Yeah, we'll try to keep 'em shorter.

Hopefully, [00:02:00] Henry and I can keep it tight. So way back in episode six, as we dig in here, we introduced the five lessons of loving well, and I just love these. We only touched on them just a bit in that episode. So we wanted to get into each some more, and that's what we'll do for these next five episodes.

We'll do one each time. So the first lesson and the focus of our time together today is to love yourself first. So now maybe like others, I kind of flinch immediately with this lesson. I know it's true. I absolutely do. But it just makes me think that I'll be a narcissist or something it's perhaps that Minnesota nice.

I've adopted that gets frosted with like a heavy dose of passive aggressiveness, when it's not anchored in some self love or self respect. I can unpack those issues in a private session with you, Henry. But, um, anyway, perhaps you can talk to us a little bit more [00:03:00] about this, without giving that, little metaphor of, putting your oxygen mask on before helping others.

So can you explain a little bit more about, you know, why loving yourself first is so important?

Henry: Dang. I was gonna use the oxygen mask.

Aimee: I know, don't!

Henry: Well, the short answer is, that it works. It works to, put the focus first on ourselves. You know, I think that there is just this, this huge deficiency in our country and really a lot of places around the world, a deficiency in self-esteem or you might say positive self-regard or self-compassion. I just don't think we are very good at loving ourselves.

There's kind of a familiar story that gets told about the Dalai Lama. When he first came to the United [00:04:00] States, he could not understand this idea that people had low self-esteem, or that people didn't like themselves. They're just were no words for it, even in his language. So it took several conversations with psychologists from the west to, to really help him understand it.

And when he realized what they were saying, the story goes, he felt so sad about thinking that, that there were so many people here who actually disliked themselves. So I don't know that it really matters that we learned to love ourselves first. In other words, I'm not sure the order is, as important as we're making it sound.

But I think wherever you start, if you start with someone else, that's great. If you start with something [00:05:00] else, you know, like even a pet or a beloved, uh, object of some sort by all means, do that. Anything that you do to open yourself up, to break down the walls of separation it's going to help you learn to love well. And that's the bottom line. I do believe that to become happier and more joyful, you have to learn to love yourself, or at the very least to accept yourself. You might as well start at the source. I just think it makes everything else come more easily.

Aimee: Yeah. It's an interesting idea to think about a national deficit and self-esteem. That language and it's all the sort of economic distress right now that resonates.

And I think it can also express itself as an inflated ego, when that happens. It's sort of easier to talk bigger [00:06:00] and fuller to push harder and faster when we feel emptier. And with self-esteem I automatically think of my four year old as like my mentor for it, like healthy self-esteem. So just the other day she did her own hair and it looked hilarious.

I mean, objectively hilarious. Burettes and clips and ponies everywhere. And she just looked at herself in the mirror and said, "I'm beautiful." She was really proud of her work. She hadn't really done her hair fully before, all by herself. And so she had done it then, and, all by herself, she worked so hard and she just circled around in the mirror, just admiring.

And I watched her as she kind of spun around looking at every angle of her hair. And it was a moment for me. And I was like, yeah, you are, you worked hard for something. And it's part of you. And, and that's your true wisdom, your deepest self, you're embracing your beauty. And I think we all had. At one point [00:07:00] early in our lives, we all knew that we were beautiful.

And so is everyone else, right? We weren't judging everyone's hairstyles. We were just loving our own. There's a shift there, a big one. But Henry, how would you say maybe the world kind of pulls us away from ourselves and how can we come back to our own wisdom of self-love and self-acceptance that I think we all had at one point?

Henry: Well, that's such a powerful image of your daughter. Just loving how she looked.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: Even if we can't remember ourselves doing that, It's just wonderful to see a young child who is so delighted with themselves. Wouldn't it just be great to help a child hold onto that?

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: That make a good future podcast, Aimee. I think talking about parenting for joyful kids.

Aimee: Absolutely.

Henry: So, it's [00:08:00] possible for kids to grow up with natural, positive feelings about themselves. Even to delight in themselves like your daughter did. There are cultures where that's more the norm rather than the exception. But I do think we live in a culture of competition, of scarcity.

We compare ourselves to others. We even compare ourselves with our friends. And we see what we think are ideal versions of others that, that they present, you know, on social media or whatever. Very few adults are able to really survive all of this with self love still intact. Just think [00:09:00] how hard it is for kids who have no real guidance in this to create and maintain a healthy sense of themselves.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: I just really wish everyone could look in the mirror and say, I'm beautiful. but it, can even be more simple, more basic than that. We can learn to just accept ourselves as we are, even though we acknowledge that we can use some improvement. You know, there's an accessible, gentle practice for doing that,

that is really kind of prevalent nowadays in various forms of psychotherapy. And it's called mindful self-acceptance.

Aimee: Yeah, let's get into that more, um, mindful self-acceptance. So that first part, mindful or mindfulness, we talk about that concept a lot here. I know it's buzzword. You hear about it everywhere.

But I think the opposite of [00:10:00] mindfulness is helpful to name because we can probably all nod with the familiarity of the experience. Which is essentially when we're not mindful, the lights are on, but nobody's home you know, we can sort of be mindless all day, I've totally been here, and still accomplish stuff.

We've got the lights on so we can either catch up on or get ahead of chores. Uh, we can go through a day's work, can be at work, we can be parenting kids, but that's it right? There's no awareness. So our day's activities don't really feel a part of us. They don't feel meaningful or purposeful. It's sort of like when you're driving down the road and you kinda look up and you're like, "God, I don't remember the last minute and a half."

That experience. Um, Without meaning or purpose.

Henry: Yeah. I think that what you just said is really important. That how we go about our days [00:11:00] can be meaningful and purposeful.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: We can all pay attention once in a while, we've already got that ability. Even those of us who have a little bit of ADHD. You know, if we got a deadline or something else that puts a little pressure on us, or if it's just something really interesting or important to us, we are able to focus.

That's just one really helpful tool that comes with having a human brain. But there is another part of our brain that can add meaning and purpose. And when we can do that, we can do a routine activity and turn it into something that's really rich and really useful. I'm thinking about that simple

definition of mindfulness that I heard John Kabat-Zinn use, 30 plus years ago: [00:12:00] mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, from moment to moment without judgment. It is so simple. But when we take charge of our own awareness like that, when we own it, we can use it to do some pretty wonderful and healing things.

Aimee: Yeah. I like this saying, I say this a lot to myself, "chop wood, carry water, chop wood, carry water." Just linking back to the idea of turning routines into meaningful work. When I feel like I'm going on autopilot with my day is kind of say to myself, chop wood, carry water. Be attentive.

You've got an ax in your hand. Metaphorically, or if I'm in the garden. I unfortunately don't have any idea of the origin of that saying, but, this little message, like, "Hey, wake up!" There's little things that matter. All of these things can be rituals. So [00:13:00] another necessary quality of mindfulness that's often discussed in the research is acceptance. And acceptance allows us to be aware of and really open up to the joy,

the stress, the sadness, the comedy, the everything sort of, of this life without so much struggle. So let's put this all together here, Henry, this idea of mindful self-acceptance. How can we use it to help us practice this lesson of loving ourselves first?

Henry: So I'm gonna, I'm gonna share a bit of our teaching that we do in the Joy Lab program.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: Cause I think it's helpful. We talk about these three aspects of mindfulness. Number one: see what is. Second: accept what is. And third: act wisely. And, and [00:14:00] I think I really like that, those kind of simple ways of understanding that this is something very accessible and yet very powerful. I think it's helpful to remember that paying attention, while it is really important and really great,

it's not enough by itself. A lot of us are already really good at seeing what is particularly when it comes to noticing the things that are wrong.

Aimee: Right.

Henry: For example, things that are wrong with us, you know? And so, of course, if you, if you go about looking for flaws in yourself, you're going to find them. And we've all got 'em right.

So that second step to accept what is, is just so important. I would go so far as to say that when it comes [00:15:00] to learning to love ourselves, acceptance is just about the whole thing.

Aimee: Mm-hmm.

Henry: So here's an example. Um, taken it from my own life, uh, of what this might look like. So let's just say that I am feeling impatient.

It's easy for me to notice impatience in myself, because by now it's a pretty familiar, um, unpleasant feeling that has that sort of restless agitation.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: A lot of people can also relate to that. Now I could choose to pile on myself and be hard on myself for being this way.

And then criticize myself for just being, you know, labeling myself. Maybe I am such an impatient person. But, since I'm trying to be more self-accepting I can just notice that feeling, [00:16:00] even though it's unpleasant, I can notice it, and then just let that extra mental chatter pass right on through. Just not give it any mind.

Now I've learned that if I don't engage those self critical thoughts, they, they still might arise in me, but they just quickly pass right on through. And if I can keep my awareness on the feeling, just touching it very lightly, not, not getting stuck in it, but just lightly touching it. Just accepting that,

okay, right now at this moment, I feel impatient. If I can do that, it almost always gets softer. It might not go away totally. But then I can accept that. That it hasn't gone away totally. That right now, you know, it's still [00:17:00] there a little bit. As long as I can stay present to my experience of feeling impatient, but not judging myself for it

it will slowly but surely dissipate. Now, one of the beauties of this is that there are just a million opportunities to practice. It's not something you do once and then you've got it. You can't just say, okay, I have accepted myself as I am and that's the end of it.

Aimee: Yeah.

Henry: Because you just keep cycling through these things, again and again. I know I do. And each time it does give you another chance to accept yourself a little bit more fully. And then, let it go. Now, it is important also to remember the third step to act wisely, self-acceptance does not mean that you don't ever do anything to change [00:18:00] yourself. So I might realize that I, I just don't like being impatient so often and, and do something to change it. Like maybe taking some things off my plate so I don't feel so much time pressure. Cause that really does influence my level of restlessness or impatience. So acceptance is the key, the turning point, but it makes that wise action possible.

Aimee: Yeah, I love that step-by-step approach. See, accept act. And when you noted, Henry, this cycle continues to go moving through those steps, reminded me of an example, I'll share as well, a little story. So this week, I was late with my daughter getting her off to preschool. Which is a common struggle I know for folks. And I was a hundred percent sure it was because she moves at the pace of like a snail that gets distracted, like a squirrel.

You know, it's [00:19:00] just, this terrible combination. I don't know what to do with it, but anyway, that's another problem. But on top of that, the weekend had been super busy, we were moving my mom into a new place, whereas she's receiving more support for her Alzheimer's. So I had tons of task lists, stuff I was worried about, concerns about her,

my brain was just all over the place, it was in the past and it was in the future. It was absolutely not in the present. And so of course, I kept forgetting stuff as I was trying to get us into the car. We're already running late. And I had to keep going back into the house like five times, cause I forgot a shoe or I forgot a water bottle.

And I was getting progressively more irritated with myself, and the world, every time I had to go back into the house and unlock the house and lock the house. And so, um, you know, I'm irritated and I'm sort of reactive. And then of course, because I keep forgetting things and Alzheimer's is in my world,

now I start thinking, oh my God, I have Alzheimer's too, that's why I'm forgetting everything. I have young [00:20:00] onset. So clearly I'm spiraling. It's getting bad. But I actually started to laugh because I saw myself spiraling down this thought drain and I was like, oh my God, I need to pause. I'm spinning out of control.

I probably don't have Alzheimer's, this isn't about me right now. So I took some deep breaths in the car before we headed to school. And just acknowledged that, yeah, this is tough. I validated for a moment that I'm having a lot of emotions and there are a lot of logistics, and really, it's not a big deal if we're a little. It's just this really great moment of sort of seeing and accepting. I felt like I had a smoother handle on what was happening. So we get to school and we're only three minutes late and I'm very proud of myself because I was able to calm myself down, sort of use mindful self acceptance to reset my day.

I'm totally enlightened. Feeling really good. And then about an hour later, I [00:21:00] get a text message from my daughter's school saying that she really needs to be here on time, and any future incidents would incur a late fee. And right away, I feel my throat get tight, and my fist clench I'm like, are you really gonna come at me right now with this after my week?

And my morning? You're gonna ruin my day after I fixed it. After I used mindful self-acceptance. And I felt, you know, I just felt the reaction rise up. I'm so grateful for all we do here at Joy Lab. Cause then again, I stopped for a moment, back into the cycle, and again, I started cracking up cuz now I'm realizing that I'm imagining like this personal vendetta. They knew I had an early morning success and they're just trying to put me down a peg or something.

Right? I mean just this, this, these silly thoughts that were sort of going through my mind. So I come back into the mindfulness cycle. I see what is, which was I was having a, an inner adult tantrum really. [00:22:00] And when I saw that, then I could open up to what might actually be the case, which is that her school doesn't want

a bunch of wacky four year olds strolling in at all hours, they wanted to create a mindful morning ritual. Just this beautiful thing, and it has nothing to do with me. Nor did that text message have anything to do with me. It was just a simple ask. But I think if I had not paused, I may have responded with a nasty passive aggressive text.

Guaranteed. Or I would've just stewed on it for days. Thinking God, those people just don't understand, which I think we can relate to, you know, sort of going on ruminating over how we felt hurt or disrespected or something. But, when I paused, when I made space, I, I saw.

See, what is. I began to accept what is. I also realized that I'd been laying in bed for like 20 extra minutes every morning. And since I started doing that, we're consistently running 20 minutes late. So actually it wasn't my daughter's [00:23:00] pokiness, or the stress of the weekend. It's just this habit I'd picked up of laying in bed for 20 extra minutes.

Not doing anything. I was looking at my phone, mainly. So now I have this wise action that I actually feel good about, which is just, I'm gonna get up 20 minutes earlier, like I used to, and we won't be late. So, I don't know, hopefully the point of my story is that this process: see, accept, act; it can happen in so many little ways. And I, what I love about it as well, the insights you get can really grow into kind of interesting things.

And also into wise, meaningful action and behavior change that supports us uniquely, cause it's built on what you saw on what you accepted. So your actions are built on your own needs and what resonate with you. So my simple behavior change of course is to get up earlier. But I'm actually less stressed about my mom's move now just through that simple process.

So I suppose before we close, [00:24:00] there's a related concept. That I feel like, sort of wants to be talked about and you referenced it just for a moment, Henry, which is self-compassion. And I think it's another skill, another strategy to cultivate self-love, but we're going to get into that next month. And I just wanted to call it out, cause those will be some great episodes. But next episode we'll actually dig into the second lesson of, um, seeing the innocence in others.

I think it's a perfect follow up to what we've gotten into here. But I don't wanna leave you all hanging on that boring closer though, or my funny story. So I think instead we can look to poet, Mary Oliver, who can offer a bit of love-wisdom here. So I'll end with just a piece of her poem, "Wild Geese."

"You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."[00:25:00]

Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit Joy Lab dot coach to subscribe for your monthly infusion of joy, and to learn more about the full Joy Lab program, be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.


Discover your Resilience Type with the Resilience Quiz

After completing the quiz, you can get your free tailored mini-course, full of integrative practices and supplement ideas to help you reclaim your most resilient self.

Learn more
Resilience Type Quiz: A person wearing a white t-shirt and green pants is shown holding up falling beams.

Learning to Love Well: Listen Deeply (pod #24)

Sep 21, 2022

The Power of Plant-Forward Eating

Sep 20, 2022

Sympathetic Joy: Happiness Goes Viral

Sep 18, 2022

You're Wired for Compassion (pod #7)

Sep 14, 2022

Helpful support delivered right to your inbox.

From the tangible ways you can reclaim your joy, calm, and focus—to new workshops and special offers, we’ll make your journey to wellness easier.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice and is not a replacement for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Consult your doctor or other qualified health professional regarding specific health questions. Individuals providing content to this website take no responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. It is also essential to consult your physician or other qualified health professional before beginning any diet change, supplement, or lifestyle program.