“Go back to asking: why. We often overwhelm ourselves with things we need to do, things we need to accomplish and if we don’t practice self-awareness, we can get to the point where things start to lose their meaning,” says Sarah Zehan, when asked on her life motto. With more than a decade of experience, she shares her advice on how to start feeling good about yourself.
Why do you think the self-love crisis is becoming more prevalent nowadays?
It’s hard to love ourselves when a lot of our time is spent focusing on others. I know it sounds cliché – largely because it’s the truth – but with social media, we’re constantly watching what others are doing, achieving, having and then comparing ourselves to them, because that’s how our brain functions naturally, causing us to start doubting ourselves: Am I good enough? Why don’t I have what he has? Why am I not as successful as others? And it’s tough to just snap yourself out of it once you start feeling that way.
How do we get rid of the negative mindset?
To begin with, it’s important for us to be aware that our brain does this naturally because it is part of our instinctive behaviour to be as good as – or better than – the average person in order to survive. However, social media often only show us the best bits of everyone’s life, so we always feel like we’re losing out. Our idea of what is normal becomes skewed.
I’d say the first step is to be mindful of the content we expose ourselves to. Ask yourself about the advantage you receive: How does viewing this content benefit me? What does it do to me when I see it? Next, ask yourself the difficult questions: What is my self-doubt really about? Why do I let it consume me? Try to approach it with kindness as opposed to harsh criticism: What would you say to a loved one who is in the same situation as you are?
What do you have to say about the “go big or go home” notion?
I’m again inclined to go back to asking: why. It’s important to go back to our values. The hype about “achievement”, “making it big” – is it something that’s really important, or is it what society – maybe even the social media – tells us is important? And if so, why is it important? And then comes the self-love part: How am I treating myself, my body as I embark on my quest to “make it big”? If it requires my body and mind to achieve the dream, should I not treat and nourish them well? There may seem to be a lot of factors to take into consideration but they are necessary.
Why is self-care so difficult – or is it just as difficult in theory?
I think many people have a self-indulgent view of self-care when they say they don’t have neither the time nor money for it. Self-care does not have to cost anything. I always tell my clients that it can be as simple as remembering to take a deep breath. Another reason why it may seem difficult is because we are less mindful of ourselves and are often distracted by what is happening around us. That makes us less aware when self-care is needed. Remember that self-care is not so much about the oneoff things we do, like shopping excessively, but more about what we can routinely do to maintain our sense of well-being. This includes eating well, verbalising our feelings, finding time to be outdoors, exercising and more.
And lastly, especially for men, self-care, self-love or self-compassion may seem cringey, but hey, even Batman journals. Examining toxic ideas about masculinity is long overdue, particularly since we already know so much about its damaging effects – men are at higher risk of heart disease, they live about five years lesser than women, they are less likely to seek help especially for mental health – and sadly, depression and suicide are the leading causes of death in men.
This story first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Men’s Folio Malaysia.