By Lori Montry
Time and time again, I hear people say that they simply cannot accept themselves as they are. They may say, “I can accept myself after I’ve lost the weight,” or they may think they will be able to accept themselves when they have learned to control their shopping, drinking, gambling, or any other undesired activity that they’re convinced makes them unworthy of true self-acceptance. The truth is, every single one of us is deserving of complete acceptance regardless of the fact that we may have unmet goals.
What is self-acceptance? Self-acceptance is being able to embrace all facets of yourself, not just the positive aspects. True self-acceptance is unconditional and comes without any qualifications whatsoever. It isn’t that you don’t see your limitations, or that you think you have achieved a level of perfection, it’s just that you refuse to judge yourself for not meeting some pre-conceived standard.
Here at Nuuaria, we teach people the fundamental principle that your thoughts create your emotions which in turn inform your actions. A person who doesn’t accept themselves may have negative thoughts such as, Oh great, I messed up again; I’ll never be able to change; or even What a loser I am. These kinds of thoughts lead them to feel defeated, frustrated, discouraged, and unworthy. Someone who struggles with these types of emotions is not going to be motivated to take the actions to help them reach their goals. They aren’t going to feel like choosing healthier food, moving their body or participating in activities that feed their soul. They may even turn to food in order to deal with or even suppress their negative emotions.
Contrast this with a person who is willing to accept their current body even if they want to lose some weight. An accepting person will think things such as, Today, I may not be where I want to be; but I don’t have beat myself up; or I am worthy and deserving of respect today, exactly as I am. A person with more positive thoughts will most likely feel more optimistic and eager for their journey. The actions of a person who has adopted this attitude look much different than those of the unaccepting person in the example above. The accepting person approaches his or her nourishment and movement from a place of love rather than of struggle. She doesn’t get caught up in following an overly restrictive regimen, which enables her to make small but meaningful progress toward her goals. The emotions he experiences as he accepts and honors himself will motivate him, making the journey seem so much easier.
One reason people often feel that they shouldn’t accept themselves unconditionally is that they fear that if they do so, they will no longer strive for change. For example, many people consider accepting their overweight bodies as a resignation to staying overweight. But this thinking actually contributes to them not being able to reach the weight they want. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight or setting other goals, we shouldn’t make our self-acceptance conditional upon meeting those goals. Self-acceptance means that you have already achieved everything you need to in order to be okay. No questions asked. Whatever goals you may have are irrelevant to your ability to accept yourself here and now.
Self-acceptance is far from giving up. Accepting yourself is actually the very thing that will help you reach your goals easier and faster! Furthermore, if you want to experience peace and contentment, acceptance that is independent of any external goal or circumstance is essential. The happiness which is dependent on meeting a specific goal is fleeting. The happiness that stems from knowing you are a whole, complete, and worthy, just as you are, is real and long-lasting.
In the psychology field, believing that we’ll be happy once we reach a certain goal is known as the arrival fallacy. This fallacy can lead you down an exhausting, never-ending spiral of unrewarded effort. This is because you can never finally ‘arrive’ at a position of self-acceptance because that would mean having the mindset of nothing else needs improvement.
In order to realize that you are whole and complete as you are, you need only to accept every part of you. That means calling home the parts of you, that you previously thought were too ugly, too weak, or deficient to fully embrace. As long as we refuse to accept those parts of us, we deem not perfect enough, we will continue feel the hole that is left behind by these so-called imperfect parts.
Belief that you are worthy of acceptance is only half the battle. Overcoming the years or even decades of believing otherwise, is not as simply flipping a switch. The judgmental and negative neurological pathways that have been developed over such a long period of time will need to be replaced by more supportive, loving thoughts to create new pathways.
At first, it may be difficult to even identify what you deem unacceptable, but over time you can retrain your brain to catch the negative, unaccepting, thoughts and redirect them to more positive ones that demonstrate acceptance. Before long, you will notice yourself taking the actions of someone who has self-respect and self-compassion. For example, a person that accepts their body as it is will start to take helpful actions such as eating healthy food and moving because they want to honor their body, instead of feeling that they need to whip it into shape.
What can you do to start fostering more self-acceptance? I invite you to start with the following activities. Carve out some time to sit in self-reflection. Doing this for as short as five to ten minutes a day can be all that is needed. Many people find the quiet hours of the early morning to be the best time for this work. Try it for two weeks, and take note of how you feel.
Each time you perform the fourth step, you are reprograming your mind for thoughts of self-acceptance. Soon you’ll notice that your actions are in support of your goals.
The consequences of dropping conditional love for yourself, will also spill over onto others. You will find yourself feeling more and more accepting of others. When that happens, you spread more love and joy throughout your environment. You show up as a more productive, connected, and loving partner, parent, friend and employee/employer. Can you imagine what a different world it would be if more people accepted themselves, and in turn accepted others?
Self-acceptance truly is the way to make a permanent change. Instead of relying on disappointment in yourself as motivation, self-acceptance makes it easier to take actions consistent with the person you want to be.
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