The Celebrate Yourself Exercise: Self-Love With a Partner

By Adam J. Pearson

Artwork by Michael Tyka / Google

Artwork by Michael Tyka / Google

The Fear of Shining Bright

Every day, we find ourselves inundated with images of people who excel. Our popular media glorifies athletes, business moguls, and wealthy musical performers. Our advertisements favour the most beautiful and handsome models to showcase their products and set up standards of perfection, which unconsciously influence us even though we may passionately deny it (Markman, 2010).

We grow up in consumerist cultures that offer countless products as miracle cures for all of our insecurities, symbolic tools that companies promise will help us shine as the great people we are meant to be. Of course, studies have repeatedly shown that trying to compensate for our insecurities by buying new products only ends up making us feel even more miserable than we did before (Morin, 2015).

In short, our culture praises the charismatic individual who lets their strengths, talents, and beauty shine. And we feel naturally drawn to be expressive in this way. It’s part of our yearning for self-actualization, our wish to grow, and unfold, and be our boldest, most fearless, and most creative selves (Olson, 2013).

We yearn to shine and hunger for perfect self-expression. And yet we sometimes find it incredibly difficult to do so. Why? Many factors sometimes seem to hold us back. Anxiety. Shame. Feeling like we lack the resources, time, and talent that we need. Perhaps the most powerful factor of all, however, is the fear of shining bright — the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassing ourselves, and the fear of being seen as pompous and thus, being disliked by others. Moreover, as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) points out, behind every fear, there is a thought, a story, that may or may not be true (Boyes, 2013).

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Artwork by Michael Tyka / Google

Facing the Thoughts Behind the Fears

If you find that any of these fears are holding you back from excelling in your strengths and fully expressing yourself, I would invite you to see if there’s a thought behind the fear that you can investigate. For example, in my own case, I noticed that one reason I was holding back my own self-expression was that I was afraid people would see me as arrogant and wouldn’t want to spend time with me as a result. Behind this fear, I found a thought that said:

“If I don’t downplay my strengths, I’ll be arrogant and people won’t want to be around me.”

I had long believed this thought story to be true, but had never really investigated it, so I decided to subject it to some honest inquiry. As you read, see if any of these answers to the inquiry questions resonate with thoughts or feelings inside of you.

Is the thought “if I don’t downplay my strengths, I’ll be arrogant and people won’t want to be around me” true?

It certainly feels true, but can I absolutely know that it’s true? If I’m being honest, I have to admit that no, I can’t. It feels like an assumption that many people have told me, but that I never questioned, a piece of ‘conventional wisdom’ that I simply accepted on face value.

How do I feel and react when I believe this thought?

I feel less passionate, more held back, more restrained, less free to boldly express and be myself without inhibitions. I feel like i’m turning down the dials on my self-expression and best qualities so as not to annoy or offend others. I feel afraid of really shining in my authenticity because I don’t want other people to see me as arrogant or pompous. I don’t want them to see me as proud because if they do, then they won’t want to be around me (this is good old shame, the fear of disconnection). So, I hold back and feel constricted and inwardly contracted instead.

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Who would I be without this thought?

I’d feel more free to just flow and be myself, more at ease to express and share with others, more open and authentic, and less held back by an inner pressure to contain my creativity.

Can I find a single stress-free reason to hold on to this thought?

No, I can’t. The truth is that this thought stresses me out unnecessarily. Just because we’re being creative and authentic doesn’t mean we have to put other people down and make them feel inferior in the process. We can encourage each other and cheer each other on to be the boldest, most creative, and most self-actualized people that we can be. We can follow our bliss together, each in our own unique ways and root for our collective success without sacrificing our integrity.

Can I see a reason to drop this thought? And we’re not being asked to drop it.

Yes. I’d feel less restrained, more free to be myself and ‘do my thing’ boldly and authentically. Doing that might even inspire others to follow their own passions and play with their own creativity. It might help me create things that others enjoy or find helpful too.

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Now, take the original thought and turn it around to its opposite.

If I turn around the original thought, I end up with this new one:

“I can let my strengths shine without being arrogant and people will still want to be around me.”

Is this new thought as true or truer than the old one? Yes, it is even truer than the original thought. There are many great artists and performers and achievers in the world who boldly let their talents shine while remaining humble and people are not repulsed by them; indeed, they tend to be drawn to them and inspired by them.

If you find a thought behind a fear is holding you back from fully expressing yourself, I’d invite you to try write it down, ask the questions above about it, and turn it around. See if the turnaround might be true or truer than the original thought. Inquiring is a way of revealing the truth or falsehood of our beliefs if we’re willing to question and see things in new and refreshing ways.

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Background to The Celebrate Yourself Exercise

Byron Katie’s inquiry method, which I exemplified above, can be a helpful way to investigate the thoughts that hold us back from truly excelling, expressing ourselves, and shining as we are meant to shine. Another exercise that I have found helpful is the Celebrate Yourself Exercise.

Because of thoughts like the one we explored above, we may feel reluctant to really let ourselves be honest about the things that are good and valuable about ourselves. If shame is the belief that we are fundamentally bad, deficient, or not enough, and therefore, unworthy of love and belonging, then it’s worth seeing the ways in which we are, in fact, good.

Listing things that we like about ourselves isn’t always the most intuitive activity for most of us, but Dr. Jennifer Vilhauer (2015) reports that she has found the practice to be tremendously effective at fostering a sense of well-being and reinforcing the freedom to express ourselves. The version of the exercise that she recommends to her patients in therapy is the following:

  • Keep a pad of paper next to your bed and every night before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
  • In the morning, read the list before you get out of bed.
  • Do this everyday for 30 days.

These don’t have to be big things, like I am a kind person; they can be simple, such as I like that I held the door for my co-worker, or I like that I didn’t lose my temper in traffic today, or I like that I am making the effort to try this exercise even if I’m not sure it will work…

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This is a particularly helpful exercise for people who suffer from depression and “spend a good deal of time thinking about what they don’t like about themselves” (Vilhaueur, 2015). However, it’s helpful to all of us. Dr. Vilhauer explains how here:

Research also shows that it requires more attentional effort to disengage from a negative thought process than a neutral one.(2) This simple-to-do but nonetheless effortful exercise essentially helps you build the strength to disengage from any negative thought stream; redirects your attention to positive aspects of yourself; and retrains your selective attention bias.

As you do this, you not only start to become aware of more of your positive attributes, they become more available to you as you interpret events around you. Compliments become something you can hear and accept because they are more congruent with your new view of yourself. You start to interpret events occurring around you in a less self-critical way. If you stick with it, over time this has a compounding effect that elevates your overall sense of self-worth—and, subsequently, your well-being.

I have found this exercise very helpful as well. In addition, though, there’s another version of the exercise that can produce a very deep and different experience because it adds a social dimension to the practice. I call this practice the Celebrate Yourself Exercise. It can be done alone, but it’s most rewarding when done with a partner.

Artwork by Michael Tyka / Google

Artwork by Michael Tyka / Google

How to do the Celebrate Yourself Exercise

Here are the steps of the Celebrate Yourself Exercise. This exercise can be done either while:

  • (1) sitting or standing with a partner in person,
  • (2) talking with a partner on the phone,
  • (3) talking with a partner in a video call, or
  • (4) typing to a partner via texting or a form of social media such as Facebook messaging.

The first option is the most physically intimate and the three that follow involve progressively less visual contact, and thus may feel progressively less vulnerable. Begin by choosing the option out of the four with which you and your partner feel the most comfortable.

It is easiest to do this exercise with a friend, lover, or family member, with whom you already feel safe and trusting, but it can be a powerful exercise to do with a coworker as well, in a respectful workshop setting, for example. In any case, begin by choosing your partner and agreeing with your partner on the one of the four communication options given above. With the logistics made clear, you can proceed to the steps of the Celebrate Yourself Exercise.

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Overview

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1892)

This exercise is elegantly simple. We will begin by telling our partner in as much detail as possible, what we like or love about ourselves. We will then listen while they do the same about themselves. And then we will debrief about how we felt doing it and thank each other for listening and offering us a safe space in which to practice the power of vulnerability.

We normally don’t list our positive traits to others out of a fear of annoying people by ‘bragging,’ but showing off is not our intention here. We’re not just “tooting our own horn,” as my grandfather used to say. Our intention is to find as many things that we like about ourselves and share them in as much detail as possible in the presence of a witness, a caring partner. We are going to temporarily drop the thought that it’s impolite to celebrate ourselves and we’re going to go all out as we look inward for as many things we can find to love about ourselves. This is an exercise in self-love unfolding in a nonjudgmental social context, which gives it even more power and makes it feel even more real. 

When your partner is sharing, it is very important to be supportive and caring and not mock them or ridicule them for what they are sharing. If you feel so inspired, you can even reinforce the points they share when you recognize them to be true by celebrating them yourself with comments like “yes, that’s true!”, “yeah!”, “yes, I notice that about you too,” or “yes, I value that about you.” It’s important not to try to refute your partner’s claims here; we’re just trying to offer each other an encouraging, nonjudgmental ear. As you will find when it’s your turn to share, listing things we like about ourselves can be a vulnerable experience, so it’s important to make your partner feel safe enough to do so just as you will want them to do for you. It may feel a little awkward and silly at first and if so, that’s okay. Get your giggles out and keep going. There are no wrong answers so we can relax into the practice.

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The Steps of the Celebrate Yourself Exercise

Now, let’s get started:

  • Step 1: Partner 1 lists as many things that they like about themselves as they can in the form “I like ______” or “I love  _____”During this time, Partner 2 listens supportively, either nodding silently or offering encouraging comments (e.g. “yes, that’s true!”, “yes, I notice that about you too,” “yes, I value that about you!,” or “yes, I like that about you too”).
  • Step 2: Partner 2 lists as many things that they like about themselves as they can in the form “I like ______” or “I love  _____”During this time, Partner 1 listens supportively, either nodding silently or offering encouraging comments (e.g. “yes, that’s true!”, “yes, I notice that about you too,” “yes, I value that about you!,” or “yes, I like that about you too”).
  • Step 3: Debrief with your partner. Talk about how you felt while doing the exercise. Did it feel positive? Was it empowering? Did fears or worries arise? Did it feel awkward?
  • Step 4: Thank your partner for listening and sharing and offer a handshake or a hug if you’re together in person.

In short, the steps are: share and listen, share and listen, debrief, and thank. Celebrate yourself and listen to your partner do the same; in this way, you get to celebrate each other and practice self-love with a real audience. This gives it a real social dynamic that can feel very empowering and thrilling despite the fear that may arise.

“Happy Two Friends” by xcitix

Examples of Sharing from the Celebrate Yourself Exercise

You have options in what you choose to share in the Celebrate Yourself Exercise. For example, you can share a specific thing you did on one occasion (e.g. “I like how I remained calm when my boss was yelling in my face today”) or a general quality that you find in yourself (e.g. “I love how I really try to listen to people and take an interest in what they are saying to me.

You can also choose to share things that are more or less personal and vulnerable, depending on your comfort level with your partner (e.g. “I like how I’m open to trying new foods” versus “I love how I learned to set healthy boundaries after I was sexually assaulted”). Naturally, the second sharing involves more vulnerability than the first and may require a greater sense of safety and trust with your partner.

Finally, you can go into more or less explanatory detail. You can be more or less precise about what you like and love about yourself.

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Here is a list of actual examples of authentic sharing from the Celebrate Yourself Exercise from some of the courageous men and women with whom I’ve done this powerful practice:

  • “I love that I have a great listening skills & most of the time I can help others. I love that people come to me for advice on almost anything because I’m honest and I don’t hold back when asked my opinion.”
  • “I love my great observational skills. I see things most people don’t, things that go unnoticed.”
  • “I love how I’m a loving father who always puts his children first.”
  • “I love how I have pushed through the limiting norms of patriarchal masculinity and found my own masculinity that is authentic for me. I love how I’ve embraced physical strength and courage and assertiveness and reason. And yet I also like how I’ve embraced ‘feminine’ values like compassion, empathy, listening, clear communication, and caring. I love how I can embrace my masculinity without having to control or put down others.”two-friends-images-pictures-photo-wallpapers-friends-wallpaper-love-valentines-grass-photos-glasses-smile-girl-child-children-kid-happy-kids-fortunately-copialrie-happynes-friendship-d
  • “I love owning my own femininity and sharing it with people, daring to know it’s there and that others can enjoy it too, men and women alike, and seeing how that shows up in them too.”
  • “I love how I can approach anyone and talk to anyone because I welcome people with an open heart, an innocence, and a blank slate for them.”
  • “I am happy I can now laugh properly and enjoy it, the sensation of it that feels so good, and actually enjoy things, whereas before I was in too much pain to do so.”
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  • “I love how I used to feel like an alien in a body I hated, too skinny, too short, and too weak. And now I have learned to love my body, to develop it through exercise, and to see myself as handsome and lovable rather than hateworthy and unlovable as I once did.”
  • “I love how I’ve developed my writing style from murky and unclear to as crystal clear as I can make it. I love how I feel moved to share what has helped me with others all around the world. And how alive I feel when I’m in the process of creating something, adding something new to the richness of the world…”
  • “I love my sense of humor because I can laugh at myself and can find humor in almost anything. I love making people laugh because seeing someone laugh brings me great joy. I love that I can make myself laugh as well.”
  • “I love how I’ve grown into a person who is not afraid to express what he really thinks, values, and feels to strangers I’ve just met. And who loves to include people and make them not feel left out. I love how I used my own outsider feelings to help me relate to and embrace ‘outsiders’ of all kinds. I love how I can encourage shy people to open up and share and feel like part of a group because I embraced my own inner shy person.a4bea2a02a8a415858054bc6e9993067
  • “I love how I embrace my fears and see them as teachers and doorways into greater freedom.”
  • “I love how I’ve made peace with myself. That I can be myself no matter what society expects of me as a female. I don’t care anymore and this has lifted great weight off my shoulders.”
  • “I like how I am able to hold space for people when they need holding and how I have learnt and am cultivating an ability to be there for them without trying to change them, just loving people. And I’ve noticed that this brings more people to me who need help with being nurtured. I love nurturing people and I don’t want to leave anyone behind. I love embracing everyone, every last part of someone.”
  • “I love how everyday I grow and learn and I’m more at peace with myself. I can be alone and happy. I understand things more and more on a deeper level and a blanket of tranquility and peace covers me.”
  • “I love how I was brave enough to move to a different city to pursue my passion.”

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    Photo by Len Bernstein

  • “I have a beautiful voice and when I am singing freely I feel so gorgeous and shiny and alive in my body and I sparkle inside. I love communicating with people that way and expressing that beautiful feeling of aliveness. I like how my voice has some body to it, but also sparkly overtones. I feel like that represents me well, depth and also energetic spaciousness, a fiery aliveness”
  • “I love my passion for nature and my excitement for it, how fascinating I find it to be.”
  • “I love how I let my interests guide me to learn new knowledge and skills. I love how I embrace myself where I am, and yet keep moving forward without stagnating.”
  • “I love how I’ve learnt to not care what others think because I am the one living my life and they aren’t. I love that I’ve grown into minimalism, it has made be grow as a person.”sexually-empowered-women
  • “I love my sensuality and love for sex. My openness to many things and what others enjoy. I love adapting to their sexual preferences because I learn from them and take enjoyment in theirs. I love that there is no stigma in me.”
  • I love how I don’t pretend to be perfect and admit that I have flaws, fixations, limitations, fears, and vulnerable feelings, yet how I embrace these and inquire into them and work through them and investigate them without self-judgment.”
  • “I love watching how my mind weaves meaning out of everything that it encounters, how it synthesizes and brings together and unifies and integrates so beautifully. I love how I welcome the insights of scientists and mystics and aboriginal animists and postmodern philosophers alike. I feel like everyone has something valuable to share regardless of their background, education, or any other factors, something to teach me, something to help me heal and grow and become more integrated. And I love that I’ve learned to see that. Everyone gets to be right when I’m not trying to make them all wrong.”
Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman.

Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman.

Final Words: The Celebrate Yourself Exercise for Building Intimacy

As a final note, the Celebrate Yourself Exercise naturally tends to help build a stronger connection between the two people who practice it because it involves offering one another a safe space in which to be emotionally vulnerable. However, to enhance its intimacy-building potential even more, you can add two final steps to those listed above to produce this

Intimacy-Building Version:

  • Step 1: Partner 1 lists as many things that they like about themselves as they can in the form “I like ______” or “I love  _____”During this time, Partner 2 listens supportively, either nodding silently or offering encouraging comments (e.g. “yes, that’s true!”, “yes, I notice that about you too,” “yes, I value that about you!,” or “yes, I like that about you too”).
  • Step 2: Partner 2 lists as many things that they like about themselves as they can in the form “I like ______” or “I love  _____”During this time, Partner 1 listens supportively, either nodding silently or offering encouraging comments (e.g. “yes, that’s true!”, “yes, I notice that about you too,” “yes, I value that about you!,” or “yes, I like that about you too”).
  • Step 3: Debrief with your partner. Talk about how you felt while doing the exercise. Did it feel positive? Was it empowering? Did fears or worries arise? Did it feel awkward?
  • Step 4: Now, we turn our attention to the other person. Partner 1 lists as many things that they like or love about Partner 2 as they can while Partner 2 listens.
  • Step 5: Partner 2 lists as many things that they like or love about Partner 1 as they can while Partner 1 listens.
  • Step 6: Thank your partner for listening and sharing and offer a handshake or a hug if you’re together in person.

In closing, the Celebrate Yourself Exercise is very simple, but also very powerful as well. I’d recommend that you give it a shot with someone with whom you feel comfortable and see what happens. You just might find yourself discovering things about yourself that you never really appreciated before. In addition, if you try the Intimacy-Building Version of the Celebrate Yourself Exercise, you might find yourself feeling surprisingly closer to a loved one after only a few minutes of open sharing, a small investment for a considerably large and valuable reward.

Frank and Ollie.

Frank and Ollie.

References

Boyes, Alice. (2013). Cognitive restructuring: six ways to do cognitive restructuring. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201301/cognitive-restructuring

Markman, Art. (2010). What does advertizing do? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201008/what-does-advertising-do

Morin, Amy. (2013). Why you should embrace your insecurities and not mask them. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201506/why-you-should-embrace-your-insecurities-and-not

Olson, Ann. (2013). The theory of self-actualization: mental illness, creativity, and art. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-and-psychopathology/201308/the-theory-self-actualization

Vilhauer, Jennice. (2015). One exercise sure to make you feel better about yourself. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-forward/201501/one-exercise-sure-make-you-feel-better-about-yourself