How we get Valentine’s Day (using anatomically incorrect hearts and prudish tea roses cultivated with abusive labor and environmental practices) from the martyring of an early Christian priest to signify lasting love is a great mystery. (In my graduate school program, the answer to everything was “follow the money.”)

Whether you have a honey or not, chances are you could still use a bit more loving in your life. (Sometimes that honey is in a bitchy mood, no? Or maybe you’re the one that needs more than sweet talk to kick-start your dopamine.)

Here are some simple practices I’ve used to be a little more loving to the one I’ll be with the longest. (The first one involves cultivating a loving state for myself, the second creating that in my environment, and the last three, learning to listen.)

(1) Every night before I go to bed (or the next morning over my first cup of warming deliciousness), I do a list of things/people/experiences for which I’m grateful or which I acknowledge that I have done reasonably well.  I’ve done this for years and have assigned this to most of my coaching clients.  While everyone is different, we’ve all observed that when we do these consistently, we begin to notice what we love about our lives or make changes to love it more.  When we’re not so consistent, noticing — and therefore loving — seems to dry up. Recommended: a buddy with whom you share your list, daily if possible, to keep you accountable.  (It’s also nice to hit the snooze button and think of what you’re grateful for.  But writing it down makes it possible to look at when you’re not feeling the love.)

(2) About seven years ago, I started to use the principle of energy exchange to help me make better decisions about both personal and professional relationships.  I don’t remember where I discovered it (maybe it was my own invention?), but I understand and explain it simply: every single relationship should give you as much energy as you put in.

(Perhaps the only exception to this rule are very small children — but they can give you oodles of happiness, no? And I suppose people in deep and utter crisis, such as life-altering illnesses, although again, I have discovered that some people are just into habitual drama. Along the same lines, my acupuncturist suggests that you can pull one person out from a pit each year; the rest you can throw a rope to. Genius!)

When I started working with this principle, I was doing a lot of work for free, because it was “important” work and needed to get done, and done well. It also (of course!) was work that I didn’t particularly like doing.  It finally dawned on me that work is like any other relationship and it should give energy as well as demand an investment — that kick you get when you learn something new, or feel you’re getting some marketing miles out of late nights, or nurturing relationships with like-minded folks — or, even, fair financial compensation.  It took some time, but I made serious changes, including saying yes more often to volunteer work that I really loved with communities I wanted to be a part of.  I also started saying no a lot more often.

Next, I was ready to apply the same principle with all my “advisers” — and wound up breaking up with several long-term relationships — including my dentist, my doctor, my ob-gyn, and my accountant.

Finally, I was able to view personal relationships through the energy exchange lens, and decided which ones to cultivate, and which ones to step away from, even temporarily.  I highly recommend doing an annual assessment of who you’re spending your time with, where you’re spending your money, how you’re earning your money, and if it’s making your life richer or if you’re emotionally or physically exhausted. Nothing says happiness like having the energy to do what you love with whoever you love — or by yourself.

3) Love is an act of deep listening, and your super smart inner voice can barely get a word in above the din of your mind’s attention to everyday logistics.  But the more you practice silence, the deeper you can go, usually pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. Soon, the more easily you’ll be able to discern which voices in your head to listen to and which ones to put in the corner. David Lynch uses Transcendental Meditation to catch what he calls the big fish, the creative ideas that he trusts (and we can say loves, or at least loves playing with).  You can use any kind of meditation, or yoga, or nature walks or Quaker meetings — just listen. The added plus?  Meditation is like a miracle drug — if your sugars are high, it lowers them, if your T-cells are low, it gets them up, if you’re anxious, it helps you gets centered, if you’ve got trouble managing your anger, it’ll chill you out.  Study after study shows the difference mindfulness make on your wellness. If that’s not self-love, I’m not sure what is.

(4) Once you’re listening, you will know when you need to bring in some balance and if what you need is energizing or relaxing.  (It’s the same principle I use when I teach — do my students seems to be pumped up or half-asleep? Should I go with the flow and fight fire with fire or bring it out to the other side? There’s no right answer, but it is something you learn to play with over time, especially in relationship to your students.)  Just know that when you’re feeling a wee bit off, you probably are off. A loving thing to do for yourself and others is…..something. Pretend that you love Valentine’s Day and have a wee bit of mood-altering very dark chocolate  Now. Is anything more important?

(5) Listen to the sounds and stories all around to remind yourself how rich life is and can be.  Some of my favorites:  Story Corps, a repository of oral history, DC Listening Lounge (check out their audio resources on the right), and This American Life.

Would love to hear what works for you when you need a bit more love in your life.  And happy Valentine’s Day!

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