We live in a world that tells us we should be “getting better” all day every day. We then find ourselves constantly striving at work or perhaps on a never-ending mission to change our appearance.
There is nothing wrong with having life goals to move towards but, at this point, even positive habits like meditation or exercise can be rife with comparison and feeling “less than”.
One thing we rarely hear is that we need to accept ourselves the way we are. This is likely out of a misguided fear that if we accept ourselves the way we are right now, then we will never change.
But the reality is, quite literally, the opposite. When we hate ourselves into changing, we might accomplish the external goal but at a great internal cost. That is why so many so-called successful people struggle with addictions, low self-esteem and mental health issues.
However, if we find things to love about ourselves, we don’t have to feel terrible before we reach our goals. While trying to accomplish our ideas for our life, we can either walk beside ourselves as the critical harsh coach who is never satisfied, or we can befriend ourselves at the compassionate guide that has vision.
Both can get us where we need to go, but only one of those journeys is enjoyable.
Life is hard enough already and it takes time, persistence and determination to reach our goals. We might as well enjoy the process rather than de-valuing ourselves until we get external validation.
How To Accept Yourself
1) Radical Acceptance
Radical Acceptance, a term from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), means accepting things as they are because it takes way too much energy to resist what is.
Let’s say you want to increase the amount of exercise you do each week. Accepting ourselves fully would mean saying “Right now, I am someone who hasn’t exercised in weeks. That’s fine. I can choose something different today”.
This is very different than the typical mind chatter that says “I can’t believe I haven’t exercised in weeks, that’s terrible, I know it’s good for me, but I don’t do it. What’s my problem?”
Once we berate ourselves, it’s like we’ve place a heavy boulder inside ourselves and everything gets more difficult.
Essentially accepting that this moment is exactly as it is and not pressuring yourself to make it different (because you can’t) often leaves us feeling lighter and more hopeful.
2) Loving Kindness
The loving kindness practice (metta meditation) helps point to a universal truth. We all want to be happy.
Nobody wants to be stuck in an addiction or constantly frustrated in relationships.
Loving Kindness meditation is about wishing ourselves well and the basic assumption that we deserve love, unconditionally, no questions asked.
You can practice closing your eyes and saying to yourself:
May I Be Well
May I Be at Peace
May I Be at Ease
Notice how it feels to say these things to yourself.
It may feel cheesy but if you can get past that initial discomfort, it likely will just feel good and true.
You can wish them for yourself everyday regardless of outer circumstances.
You do not have to wait to be “successful” to have peace, ease and wellbeing. It’s good to remind ourselves of that.
Kristen Neff popularized the term self-compassion which originates from Buddhist teachings on love and self-acceptance.
Basically, we used to think that to have psychological health, that we needed self-esteem. But we often get self-esteem from comparing ourselves to others or from being “special” which can actually increase negativity about yourself.
Self-compassion only requires focusing on yourself and what you are going through.
If you want to be compassionate towards yourself, you can say something to yourself like:
“I’m experiencing _____ (difficult emotion) right now. It’s hurts. It sucks. I don’t like it. (Pause)
But others are experiencing this right now.
There’s somebody else out there who has felt this way.
May I be kind to myself in my suffering.
May I wish wellness to others who are suffering”
Again, when we just accept what’s happening in the moment, often we feel better.
And when we feel better, we do more. It’s like momentum.
Think of a day when things were going well, you probably had more energy and you felt more confident.
That is a great starting point for any day and we don’t have to wait for something “good” to happen.
Just accept things as they are today, and then you can change.