Over the past year of being less of a teacher and more of a student, I’ve had the privilege of watching lots of different trainers and coaches lead groups and classes, and try to figure out what kinds of motivational teaching methods do and don’t work. What connects with people? What serves as valuable motivation? How do we connect people to a visualization of their goal that helps them smash through it?

Something I heard a lot, was this talk about “loving yourself.” “You have to love yourself enough to commit to it. You have to value yourself enough to do it. You have to respect yourself enough to avoid these bad things.”

As a matter of fact, I feel like I’ve been hearing people talk about “self love” and “self-respect” for a long time throughout my journey. And it literally never connected with me. Not once.

When we grow up, we pick up so much of our understandings of what it means to “care” for ourselves from our parents. We watch the parent with identify with the most very carefully—how they put on their makeup, how they relax after a long day, how they tackle difficult tasks, how they handle stress, how they get ready for bed. Our parents teach us so much without actually teaching us, and it sets the foundation for the things they actually say to us. My mother would try to get me to go exercise when I was younger, but I didn’t know what I was doing—not only had I never seen her do it, I’d never seen anyone do it. I didn’t live in an area where I was constantly surrounded by runners or exercisers in general, and I definitely didn’t feel comfortable in a gym… I generally felt like I didn’t belong in there, especially not knowing what I was doing.

Growing up, my understanding of “loving myself” revolved around “caring for myself” in very specific ways. It was the hair salon—it was a place where I had community around a common goal: being around other sistas and, frankly, looking good. Dressing nicely. Making sure I presented myself in a way that positively represented my family. Showering. Brushing my teeth. In no way, shape, or form was “loving myself” connected to having a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. That was a connection that I had to force together on my own, and that was long after I had lost my first 100 or so lbs.

I think we have to acknowledge that many of us who are new to active lifestyles are also new to the idea of making it a part of who we are, and that includes making exercise a part of our self-care. If, like me, you learned to think of “self-care” as what happens in a room full of sistas as you commiserate over how long you’ve sat under that dryer and laugh at the shade you saw in the latest copy of Essence, then that’s the exact opposite of sweaty, dripping, heavy breathing, exhausting self-care. Shoot, if you straighten your hair, then you’re definitely not trying to sweat up a storm.

I guess what’s rubbing me the wrong way is the idea of “loving yourself enough” to do something also implying that you don’t love yourself enough if you don’t exercise, and that’s weird—especially when you’re talking to people who never learned to connect exercise with self-care, normally because they’ve never had an experience with exercise that left them feeling positive feelings. So many people go hard with working out but don’t have all the variables calibrated for success—are you eating the right amounts? are you eating too much after you workout? are you fueling your workouts properly?—and, after not losing a single pound, quit… thereby developing a negative relationship with exercise. How could something that has left you feeling so disappointed become a part of self-care, a reflection of self-love?

We have to think less about telling each other to love ourselves, and think more about encouraging each other to redefine their understanding of loving and caring for themselves. Telling me “You have to love yourself enough to…” sets me—and yes, I mean me, personally—up to just be like, “What are you talking about? I love myself just fine!” and puts me on the defensive for something I’d never even heard of, before. What’s more, but it asks us to look our habits over the course of our day and see if there might be anything else we do regularly—that pint of salted crack caramel ice cream, perhaps?—that might be standing in our way. We have to do less finger-pointing, and more encouraging, more question asking, and listening—both to ourselves, and each other.

We all define self-love (and self-care, for that matter) differently and, as we age, our definition has to shift. We have to encourage ourselves and each other—as girlfriends talking to one another and accountability partners—to recognize when our needs require a shift in our focus. Maybe we should spend less time passively implying that people don’t “love themselves enough” to work out, and more time acknowledging that the way we define “self-love” no longer aligns with the goals we have for ourselves, and it’s time to readjust.

Consider this me asking myself, but also asking you—how do you care for yourself? How do you define “loving yourself,” and is this definition serving you and aiding you in achieving your goals? Most importantly, are all of your behaviors throughout the day reflective of that self-love and self-care, or do you have habits that are damaging that you need to address?

Questions, questions.