With the start of a New Year we often find ourselves making lists of resolutions, goals, and commitments to improve and change ourselves. Be healthier: lose ten pounds; go to the gym three times a week; eat more vegetables. Be kinder to others: have more patience with my children; volunteer in the community; call my mom and dad once a week. Be a better employee or student: get to work earlier; stay more focused; read more; study harder; earn more money. The lists go on and on.
The competitive culture in the United States shapes us. It moves us to believe the path to happiness is paved with hard work and goals. But what if it’s not?
In no way am I suggesting that wanting to grow and change is a negative thing. I am, however, asking you to consider the impact that belief has on you. The little voice in your head that tells you, “Be different! Work harder! Be Better!” Isn’t the underlying message that you’re not enough exactly as you are?
Years and years of telling yourself you need to change can lead to high self-criticism and low self-love. What if happiness is more connected to self-acceptance? How do you accept yourself AND continue to challenge yourself to grow?
acceptance and change
I believe that you cannot actually change until you’ve truly accepted yourself exactly as you are. This isn’t to suggest that self-acceptance is a means to an end. If that’s the approach you take, you’re simply trying to trick yourself into changing. It’s like the Trojan Horse, on the outside you’re saying you’ve accepted yourself, but on the inside there’s still the desire to change.
True, deep self-acceptance, on the other hand creates space for growth. Consider, for example, someone who views herself as unorganized. It’s a quality she hates about herself. Each year she sets a resolution to be more organized. But she hasn’t taken the time to embrace the messy part of herself.; the part that allows for spontaneity, creativity and freedom. As she spends all of her time trying to change, she’s stifling the beautiful mess inside of her. If she’s able to truly accept that part of her, perhaps she’ll find that she’s already more organized than she thought. Or she’ll find ways to work with herself to become more organized!
one obstacle to self-acceptance
If accepting ourselves were an easy task, everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to acceptance.
Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as a way of treating yourself. She suggests that, “instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.”
According to Dr. Neff, the three elements of self-compassion are:
Being kind to yourself: treat yourself as you would treat a friend.
Recognizing common humanity: remember you’re not in this alone.
Being mindful: experiencing reality as it is, without judgment.
For those of us who have a history of expecting ourselves to be perfect, these are not simple qualities to embody. However, if you work to open your mind to self-compassion, self-acceptance may not be too far behind.
an invitation for self-compassion in 2017
As we enter into 2017, I invite you to consider setting an intention of self-compassion. If you’ve already decided on resolutions or goals, you don’t have to let them go, instead allow yourself to practice self-compassion when you falter or when you fail. If you’re willing to accept the challenge of being kind to yourself no matter what, you may be amazed at the growth you experience in 2017.