The most important relationship of them all

Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, romance, weekends away, candle-lit dinners, schmaltz? Or yet more social pressure, another marker for women’s success or failure?

Perhaps you are a total cynic who thinks it merely a ploy to help restaurants and florists overcharge horribly, or a romantic who delights in the ritual or like me someone who makes a point of looking huffily in the other direction until the whole thing is over. Whatever our response, it strikes me that there is something we could learn from this tradition…

What are the good bits? Telling someone you care about what they really mean to you, having quality time together, slowing down, being grateful, noticing what’s good…

So, forget the romance and the focus on someone else, who could also benefit from all these things?

YOU of course! The primary relationship in all our lives is with ourselves, and yet it is the one we so often neglect.

It is an age-old cliché to wonder ‘how to be your own best friend.’ How many of us truly practise this?

In my role as a leadership coach who specialises in helping women at work, I hear women express their thoughts every day. I am frequently struck that they would never dream of speaking to others in the way they speak to themselves.

I hear highly successful women in leadership roles tell me they are not good enough to take the next step, that they stop themselves speaking their minds in meetings for fear of getting it wrong, that they are crippled by self-doubt, constantly comparing themselves with others and finding they are wanting. If you saw these women walking down the street you would think they had it all worked out; they appear completely confident, assured and in control.

So, what’s going on?

It’s that little voice of doubt. You know the one. When you’re looking at a job spec, it points out all the things that aren’t quite a match, rather than all the parts that are. It is the voice that tells you the person who yawns during your presentation is utterly bored, rather than just dismissing it as someone who had a late night. It is the voice that tells you only perfect is good enough.

It isn’t just the voice of doubt that undermines our relationship with ourselves. How often do you take time to do something that is going to make you feel great? Most of us are pretty good at drinking wine and laughing with our friends (yes, I do believe that is a legitimate hobby). But what else? Stop and think. What else is there that feels great in the long or short term that you could do more of?

Here are some things that occur to me, maybe you can think of more?


When was the last time you had quality time with yourself? How about making the time to go outside at lunchtime? We grab a sandwich and eat at our desks feeling there just isn’t time to do otherwise but walking outside and seeing a natural shade of green (if you can find some at this time of year) and breathing fresh air are proven to increase endorphin levels, improving mood and even cognitive function.


There are things we do every day that can feel like a drudge, but with a little thought and preparation, we can turn those moments around, boosting our sense of well-being and optimism. Listening to beautiful music or an inspiring podcast on the train or your walk to work shifts your thinking. Creating positive feelings as part of your day helps you see things in a more creative and resourceful way.


There is a lot of talk about the practice of gratitude and there is a good reason for that. It changes the way we see the world; the evidence shows it helps us to see the positives even when we aren’t trying. Download a gratitude app and take five minutes to think of what is good every day. The important thing is taking a moment to really ‘feel’ it rather than robotically writing a list without connecting. Perhaps start with the basics? Do you have running water, food in the fridge and clothes to wear?


This is my favourite facet of the Kouzes and Posner Leadership Model. It is something all great leaders do. Think about the effect listening to Obama speak has on you. How often do you encourage or praise your friends, partner, kids or colleagues? Now by comparison, how often do you do the same for yourself? Be your own leader, look for things you did well and take time to notice and enjoy your small and large everyday successes.

We tend to accept that we can change our behaviour by thinking about things differently. However, there is now also a great deal of evidence that changing your behaviour shifts your thinking. Acting in a positive way towards yourself will, in fact, quieten the voice of doubt and allow a more positive, hopeful, optimistic mindset to prevail. This, in turn, gives you increased resilience and happiness.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

P.S. Don’t forget, you can buy yourself flowers 🙂


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