If you’re on the path of self-improvement you can often hear a lot of confusing advice. From these, the most profoundly confusing advice that seems to go against the very nature of self-improvement is to accept yourself. But if you accept yourself, why would you want to improve yourself? In this episode, I’ll show you that self-acceptance and self-improvement are not opposites but complementaries that can’t exist without one another.
So here’s the classic dilemma: on one side, there is your level of satisfaction, and on the other, your level of capabilities or personal qualities. Most people start out by being dissatisfied with themselves, and they want to change something to avoid some kind of pain or solve some kind of problem. The goal then is to close the gap between the two levels, to erase the inner tension created by this inequilibrium.
So it seems you basically have two choices in this case: you can either accept your current qualities, or you can try to improve your capabilities to a higher level. Either way, once the gap closes, your motivation for improvement fades away, because you’ll feel satisfied at where you are. However, this dichotomy is only a false dilemma created by one-sided thinking.
I want you to first consider the other options. What about those who feel bad about themselves, yet don’t work to improve themselves? Of all the four options I’m about to list, this is the worst place to be. No self-acceptance combined with no self-improvement leads to a victim mentality, and a totally negative self-image. The person not only feels bad about his or her original qualities, but on top of that also feels guilty for not changing them. If you are of this type, please watch my episode on victim mentality.
The second option that we already mentioned is no self-acceptance combined with self-improvement. In this case, the negative self-image provides the motivation for change, and your inner critic gets a huge role in the process. The problem with this option is that you’re constantly feeling bad about yourself, and perhaps you’ll never reach the perfect ideal you are dreaming of.
But if you do become satisfied with yourself, the other weakness of this attitude kicks in: you’ll immediately stop improving yourself. And the moment you stop improving something, it starts declining, and soon enough you’ll feel bad about yourself again. This leads to a vicious cycle, a so-called yoyo effect, as your motivation goes up and down in time.
The other side of the same coin is the third option: self-acceptance combined with no self-improvement. Although in this case you can feel constantly good about yourself, you lack the motivation to amount to anything in life. You become lazy, complacent and unable to change things when it’s really needed. You may not even believe that everything is okay with you in the first place, and this attitude can easily turn into an excuse for your incompetency, and a barrier to improvement.
In all of the scenarios mentioned so far, you can achieve only satisfaction at most, but never excellency. Not feeling bad about yourself is very far from being great. Striving only for the average will produce only average results. Thinking like ordinary people will make you ordinary too.
But what if you could constantly feel good about yourself, while at the same time constantly improve yourself? To me, this fourth solution is the only viable option. It is truly possible, only one small thing is needed: you have to switch your negative motivation to a positive one. Positive motivation is the key to dissolving the false dilemma of self-acceptance versus self-improvement.
Unfortunately, your parents probably raised you mostly with the help of negative motivation. They wanted you to behave, to learn, to improve, but they selected the wrong attitude. They tried to make you feel guilty, feel bad about yourself, feel ashamed of yourself, all in an effort to make positive changes about yourself. But not only did this fail to work, it even backfired.
Due to the lack of positive encouragement, and the bombardment with negative messages, they built up a negative self-image in you. You then internalized their critical attitude, and even as an adult you try to motivate yourself with your inner critic. But what didn’t work for them, won’t work for you either.
So the first thing is to accept yourself as you are with all your faults and weaknesses before trying to do anything else. Stop blaming yourself and start loving yourself! Don’t look at yourself as a static statue, but a masterpiece in the making. You’ll never be perfect, yet you’re never inferior either. You’ll never be complete, yet you can accept yourself completely. You can always achieve more, yet you’re always enough.
Treat yourself as if you treated a baby growing up. Would you shout down a toddler because he’s not able to walk on his legs at the first try? Would you deem him a failure without giving him another chance? Would you criticize him for how lame he is? I guess probably not. But then, why are you doing it to yourself?
Do you think you stopped growing? Maybe physically yes, but not mentally or spiritually. Your growth stops only in the grave, until then, there’s always room to improve. Be just as loving, encouraging and empathic to yourself as if you were towards an innocent baby. Forget about negative motivation, because not only is it limiting, it is also psychologically unhealthy.
Focus on your strenghts instead of distracting yourself with your weaknesses. Celebrate the big wins and learn from the mistakes. Be proud of how far you already came, but also consider how much further you could still go. You are already good, but you can become even better. Don’t stop until you realize your full potential, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride in the meantime.
Instead of seeking problems in yourself, notice the opportunities for growth. Instead of just passively avoiding pain, actively seek pleasure. Instead of feeling guilty about the negative reality, feel passionate about the positive future. Have a clear understanding of who you’ve become, and be grateful for it every day. Have a clear vision of who you want to become, and strive for it every day.
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