I believe we are all here, in part, to learn how to love ourselves unconditionally.

It’s easy to love yourself when you succeed at something, achieve a goal, or do something nice for another. But how about when you fail? Do you still love yourself when you feel inadequate or unworthy? When you get stuck in ego and your shadow self flairs up, do you still love yourself?

Self-love is something I’ve been strengthening in my own life for more than a decade. It has taken not only time and plenty of missteps, but dedication, introspection, intention, trust, courage, resiliency, and self-compassion to get to the place of self-love I find myself in now.

I’m certainly no self-love expert, and I’m definitely not at the end of my journey, but I have learned a thing or two along the way. If you’re ready to start treating yourself with more loving-kindness, here are 4 things you should know.

1. “Fixing yourself” is not self-love.

Before I found my way into the world of spirituality, I was sucked into the world of self-help. As an adolescent and young adult, I was deeply ashamed of my self-proclaimed flaws. I wanted to squash my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and unworthiness, so I turned to self-help books in an attempt to “fix” myself.

My desire for self-transformation stemmed from self-loathing, not self-love. I wanted to be someone else—someone better—instead of embracing who I was. I thought that once I fixed XYZ, I’d be that better person, and THEN I could finally love myself.

That’s entirely backwards. You can’t judge, criticize, or shame yourself into reaching your potential and bringing your best self forward. You need love to lead the way. Self-love sets the foundation for shedding the layers that no longer serve you so that your highest expression can emerge.

2. Self-love is an action.

It isn’t just something you feel, it’s something you do, over and over again. Every time your ego starts hurling judgments your way, every time you doubt your worthiness, every time you feel ashamed, you have an opportunity to step in and show yourself some love. In each moment, you have the ability to tear yourself down or lift yourself up. Consciously choose to show yourself compassion in whatever situation you find yourself. The more often you do this, the more natural and automatic self-love will become.

3. Self-love can be surface-level and soul deep. Both are important.

Regular self-care is a primary component of loving yourself. Pampering yourself with massages, quiet time, enough sleep, tasty, nutritious food, and other physical pleasures helps you stay balanced and feel good in your body. But, as author Sara Avant Stover says in The Book of She, “no amount of external pampering can nourish our depths when we’re feeling depleted, afraid, overwhelmed, or insufficient.”

In those moments, self-love becomes an internal practice where you simply hold space for yourself. You meet whatever is present—irritation, insecurity, doubt, hurt, grief, fear—with loving-kindness and allow it to be as it is. No judgment. No resistance. Just 100% allowing that gently and simply says, “I’m here for you.” This kind of inner self-love soothes (and heals) your deepest, darkest pain.

4. Self-love doesn’t make you soft, it makes you strong.

When you start practicing self-love, you inevitably venture into new, uncharted territory. It takes courage to go against the grain and invest time and energy into something that some see as self-indulgent or even cheesy.

It takes a strong person to take a stand for themselves, to own their worth, to have their own back, to declare I AM worthy of unconditional love. Deep self-love is for those who are ready to experience and know the truth of who they are.

When love starts running the show, fear falls away.

You begin to live life more courageously, with an inner strength and a fire that can’t be easily extinguished. You hold yourself and others with more respect and compassion and are much quicker to forgive. You roll with the punches, embrace the mess, and see life from a new, more fulfilling perspective.

As you shift, your self-love creates positive ripples not only in your own life but in the lives of those around you. You become a model of empathy that starts within and radiates out. Imagine how our world would transform if we all practiced more self-love and taught our children how to do the same. Let’s not just imagine it, let’s do it. Starting today.