What’s the myth: In recent years, the idea of self-acceptance (“You are good as you are,” “You are enough”) has certainly gained its moment in the limelight.
Unconditionally embracing the people we are—both on the inside and on the outside— seems to be the solution to many of our inner struggles. It’s the magic bullet for becoming more confident, happy, fulfilled, and lead our dream life.
Why it doesn’t work:
At first blush, it appears that absolute acceptance of who we are is exactly what many of us need, in order to become who we want to be and achieve the things we aspire to do.
So far, so good.
But, as I mentioned in a previous post, self-acceptance is a bit like a Catch-22 situation. On one hand, being too self-accepting may mean that you like the status quo and may not be too interested in changing the Current You. On the other hand, though, being too self-criticizing is not great either– it may throw you into a perpetual battle with yourself– to do better, to always strive for perfection, to never be satisfied with your achievements.
The idea that we don’t need to change ourselves, anticipating that people will love the wonderful person we just happen to be, can be a dangerous notion to embrace (regardless of what the romance novels try to convince us). Of course, the opposite—excessive self-judgement— is certainly not healthy either.
But then—to play devil’s advocate—if you don’t give yourself a kick from time to time, how can you truly improve then? Because if you believe you are “good as you are” and too content with Me Now, it’s often challenging to find the motivation to do better and become more.
So, what options does this leave us with?
What to do instead:
The first thing to remember is that you should not stay stagnant. You need to change, evolve, improve.
As Tony Robbins eloquently puts it: “If you are not growing, you are dying.”
But pushing yourself too hard to measure up with friends and peers can sometimes tip you over the edge. You may open the door to a myriad of other issues— eating disorders, depression, sense of worthlessness, unwarranted self-consciousness.
How can we combine then self-acceptance and self-compassion with the need to grow and improve?
It’s a tough one to juggle.
Here is my advice:
Self-acceptance is truly about acknowledgement—that you are not perfect (and that no one else is), that you are work in progress, that your final draft is yet to be completed. We all have yin and yang—light and darkness, good and need-improvement qualities, flawless and flawed parts, virtues and foibles. And this is what makes each one of us unique.
Self-acceptance is also about minding your inner dialogue. It’s good to nudge yourself—it’s actually a proven way to change your behavior. But you shouldn’t say to yourself things as: “You are so stupid. You are not worth it. No one likes you.” This is not the right way to motivate yourself. It will have the opposite effect—and research supports this over and over.
Self-compassion is about self-kindness—that is, instead of judging yourself, talk to yourself like to your best friend. Be nice, be polite, be understanding.
Finally, think about it—what good does intentionally putting yourself down do anyway? Disliking yourself makes you lose self-respect and self-confidence.
2. Constructive Criticism
Excessive self-criticism, on the other hand, is counterproductive. We often think that persistently pushing ourselves will fast-track us to the success we seek. In fact, research shows that it’s exactly to the contrary.
“Being hard” on yourself has an adverse effect on motivation, it makes you procrastinate more and actually slows down goal progress.