We hear so much about self-improvement – but what about self-acceptance?
Ah, January. The month when gym memberships soar, salad sales go up, and we’re swamped with encouraging messages of “New Year, New You”.
Just before sitting down to write this column, I scanned social media to see several posts on self-improvement: “This is the year when I finally become the best version of myself,” read one.
Don’t get me wrong, I think self-improvement is great. In fact, I’ve signed up to a new gym this year, with the intention of undoing much of the damage my sweet tooth has done over the past few months.
Positive change is definitely something we should consider making, wherever it’s needed. But sometimes, I wonder if it can all get a bit too much? Is it any wonder so many people are dissatisfied with themselves when we’re expected to be constantly self-evaluating?
We need, we’re told, to be better students, to be more attentive parents, to be model employees, to upskill, transform, to keep pushing. If we’re not utilising every minute of every day in the most productive way, it’s not good enough.
Inevitably, it all ends in frustration and fatigue as we compare our own successes to others around us, or worse, to the glamorous highlights that are found on social media accounts. It’s little wonder that a lot of us feel tired and inadequate when we try to match up to the PR versions that people present of themselves online.
Self-improvement and change are healthy pursuits when they’re directed towards areas in actual need of improvement. For example, I’ve committed to scheduling more meditation sessions. In the last few months, I’ve not given nearly enough time to my practice as I’d have liked, and I feel the drawbacks that come when I don’t meditate regularly.
Meditation is something I really enjoy, and I experience many benefits from the practice. Therefore, it’s sensible that I should give more time to it.
On the other hand, when we spend time dwelling on all the many ways we feel we need to change, we treat ourselves as a problem to be fixed, rather than to appreciate the many good qualities we possess and the contributions we make.
I wonder what would happen if, rather than pushing ourselves to make several changes, we took the time to appreciate how far we’ve come over the past 12 months and beyond.
What if we dedicated more time to being kinder to ourselves, to accept that we’re good enough in this moment? What if we didn’t view everything we did through the lens of necessary change, but rather as actions that enhance who we already are?
In his bestselling book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing, we may only go in circles…”
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Every year, many of us make the same promises to ourselves to make this change and that change. By mid-January, that earnest resolve dissolves into the half-hearted resignation that we can try again next year.
But what if we started from a place of self-acceptance? Every single person reading this column has different strengths, weaknesses, virtues and flaws. None of us is perfect, and none of us can be.
What we are – all of us – is good enough. We all try our best. We have good days and not so good days, and we support our friends and family when they’re not feeling at their best with comfort and reassurance. Why is it so difficult to extend that same kindness to ourselves? What would it mean if we placed a premium on being compassionate and patient, not just with others, but also with ourselves? How would our New Year unfold with that kind of perspective?
Some might argue that it would make us lazy and accepting of whatever situation we’re in. There’d be a lack of motivation, nothing to push us forward. On the surface, it seems like a valid point. But the research, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggests otherwise.
Just as our friends can feel a renewed sense of strength and purpose when we lend them our encouragement, we would benefit from that same rejuvenation if we could be aware enough to allow ourselves some room to grow.
So long as we see ourselves as a problem to be fixed, rather than a person of worth who’s deserving of our own kindness, we’ll always view self-improvement as a chore to be done for someone who’s not worthy of the results.
On the other hand, if we take a gentle, compassionate approach to who we are, then we’ll see ourselves as someone who deserves to be the best they can be. As a result, we’ll likely go out of our way to give ourselves whatever help and support we need to get there.