Welcome back to Self-Acceptance, Discovery and Growth, along with a special guest; compassion. Hopefully Part 2 helped you identify some of your important insecurities so that you can keep watch on them. What I didn’t write about was how to go about minimizing these insecurities, but today I’d like to cover a key concept that must be in place before any healthy changes can be made. Healthy change / improvement absolutely ties in to self-acceptance and it isn’t coincidental that self-acceptance and discovery are before growth in my title. We must accept and discover ourselves before we can grow in a healthy way. Why not skip to growth, you may ask? Because if you haven’t discovered your inner workings nor accepted who you are at a fundamental level, your growth will be hindered. Without discovering why you feel insecure and without learning unconditional acceptance, my personal experience is that growth is either forced or given up on (or often both, as in one after the other.) The growth I refer to in that context isn’t very healthy; it’s a forced and desperate one born of self-hatred that can result in unhealthy / misdirected goals. For example an attempt to improve in a certain way can be undertaken without acceptance of mistakes and setbacks. As for the potential to give up, the desperate efforts we may put in can lead to disappointment, shame, decreased confidence and finally a sense of futility regarding trying to improve at all. Personal testimony: My relinquishing of control and power to improve healthily was replaced with something else I could control, which was my weight. Hence, a very unhealthy goal. In short, beginning with growth is putting the cart before the horse.
Unconditional, huh? How does that work when we feel like complete failures, impotent and undeserving of self-compassion and understanding?! I feel you. My response in therapy was always that I’d accept myself and be a little more compassionate once and only once I’d do well enough to deserve it; I’d have to earn it. This made complete sense to me and I’m still very hard on myself and feel like I can only be kind once I succeed enough. I’m working on it but it’s a real challenge. One thing that made me question this notion of deserving compassion was the process of respect. We’ve all heard that respect is earned, not granted, right? It makes sense but I think it’s a little incomplete. I believe that people should be shown respect from the start and only lose it if / when they have demonstrated that it’s not deserved. If however the person earns more respect, the level obviously increases. How on Earth does this apply to self-acceptance and compassion? Because perhaps we should be doing the same thing with ourselves! Take a look at my little graph to illustrate the point. (I promise there’s no test later!)
The graph for respect is just as I described; respect begins at a certain level and either increases or decreases over time. It doesn’t start at zero. Now more importantly, let’s look at my second graph. The red line illustrates a certain degree of acceptance and compassion that keeps decreasing with the onset of mental illness and then stays very low. I also split up acceptance and compassion and you’ll see why. Acceptance in general should stay even as in you always accept who you are. The ups and downs merely reflect the times where there’s something you’ve done or something about yourself that you don’t accept and want to change, as well as the things that you’ve improved on / done differently that you’d like to incorporate. I made this aspect variable and separate from compassion because it’s something that will realistically change with events. Compassion however has a continuously increasing trend, no matter what happens. This line should not dip, ever, because everyone deserves self-compassion. We are human, flawed and imperfect, but compassion is something we still merit despite our errors. If you search up self-compassion, Wikipedia begins with; “Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.” I like this. I try to keep it in mind and I recommend that you do the same. The reason for compassion increasing and not staying constant is that to me, the more we learn and experience the more we learn about human weakness in general as well as our own. This realization involves patience and understanding of the human condition and that self-love is not an ego problem but rather a healthy view and value that keeps us healthily balanced and objective. In short, self-compassion / acceptance and self-improvement are not mutually exclusive, but rather help us go about personal change in a ‘non-self-defeatest’ way.
The Fewer the Merrier
What is she taking about now…? Well, I’m talking about economizing your energy in conjunction with the above concepts. Personal Example: I need to raise my r-score so I have to excel in all of my classes so I can get accepted by McGill and Concordia. I need to lose some weight / get fitter. (In a HEALTHY way, thank you very much!) I need to work towards being capable of getting a job so I can make money to support what I have to buy. I need to be more independent, proactive, in control and minimize the costs of my parents. I have to manage my time better and be less lazy. I really need to stop being so sensitive to criticism and lashing out; it’s not helping anybody. I also have to listen more instead of being stubborn and, according to Aaron, defiant. (He’s not entirely wrong…) It’s essential that I increase my strength of mind, feel safer and manage unexpected mood changes better, and I have to move on and let go of the past. Not forget, but forgive, accept and ensure positive progress with no backslides. Oh, I thought of another one…(they seem endless), I need to minimize jumping around with projects and hobbies that result in a a short-lasting obsession that extinguishes when I lose interest / feel like it’s pointless because I’ll never be good enough.
These are some current examples and as you can see that it wouldn’t be very healthy for me to attack them all at once. Devoting all of your energy + more that you don’t have but scrounge up out of desperation, is another recipe for burning out, giving up, hating yourself, etc. We’re back to prioritization and realistic expectations. You’ve probably heard of setting goals with the ‘SMART’ system. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I will never discount that concept because it’s…well…smart! But I want to stay in this realm and context of acceptance and compassion first because once you have those, your SMART goals are comparatively simpler. I’m not saying easy, but simpler.
Here are my steps for working on myself / goals while remaining self-compassionate and accepting.
- Select 2 of your most urgent personal goals. (These can be insecurities, or anything else really.)
- Select 2 of your most urgent exterior goals. (They can involve personal change too in order to accomplish.)
- Write for each goal the reason why it’s a priority and so important to you. Explaining the situation to yourself even if you already know is a big motivator and reminder.
- Record what isn’t working in your current reality and all the negative impacts.
- Write down the positive impact the change will have on your life and don’t spare any details. This too is a key to motivation.
- Plan your steps, which is where going through the ‘SMART’ process can come in. Spend some time thinking about how you can go about making realistic and attainable changes within a certain time frame. Of course, avoid making the goal very broad.
- Reread and visualize upon your desired changes on a daily basis.
- Track and recognize your progress; even if you’ve only made a small change / improvement. Celebrate the little victory and try to be happy. (I know, it’s not easy…) If you like visual reminders / lists, you can make a progress chart of smaller steps within your larger goal that you can check off once accomplished / improved.
- Expect mess-ups, slips, setbacks and obstacles. Something I’ve learned in psychology recently, and it makes sense because I’ve experienced it first-hand, is the following: If we mess up and do something we’re trying to avoid / stop and believe this mistake to be due to a personal weakness, lack of control, strength etc., we are more likely to give up on trying. We learned this in the context of substance abuse, but it can apply to many other things. This is why one of the most important things is…you guessed it! Self-acceptance and compassion. It’s a short way of saying that we need to understand that we’re having a hard time and we’re trying to correct something that isn’t easy or solvable overnight. A slip up is understandable and we MUST forgive ourselves for them! Please don’t beat yourself up even more because you had an event, day or circumstance that was less than ideal. Just like binging because you already had too much cake at a birthday party while on a diet, try not to let that reaction happen after you’ve made a mistake. Consider using some positive self-talk instead; “I made a mistake with this but I’m human and it isn’t an easy thing to change. From when I started to now, I have seen progress and that can continue. I’m not a failure or a bad person for slipping up. Next time I can try to do _________________ instead of ____________. If that doesn’t work, maybe I could ____________ before I get to the point of ___________. I am proud of myself and my progress even if it’s just the beginning. Just the fact that I want to change this and am choosing to work on it, is a big step in itself!
- Change your reaction to nay-sayers, AKA people who are not supportive, are minimizing your efforts and successes, putting you down for slip ups, etc. Please don’t allow their view to corrupt your progress and diminish your hard-earned view of having done better. Remember that these comments often come from lack of understanding, or, misdirected / miscommunicated positive intentions. If you’ve already tried to explain yourself but it isn’t working, don’t waste your valuable time and energy trying to change the other person. Keep yourself aligned with your goals and feed the inner fire of wanting to achieve your desired outcome(s). As my Dad says, “quiet, inner resolve is key!”
- Whenever you achieve one of your goals, celebrate the victory and absorb the sense of accomplishment and success. Try not to minimize it, discount the positive or focus on how much you have left to work on. Take some time to let it sink in and maybe even write down how you feel now that you’ve accomplished the goal.
- Write down what worked about your approaches to change. What methods had the most success? In which situations was it hardest to stay on track? When was it easiest? Who supported and motivated you and who didn’t? What self-limiting beliefs did you face and how did you work around them? In other words write up a recipe for next time of what worked for YOU, because that’s what matters most. I could scream suggestions ’till I’m blue in the face and it could end up not working for you at all!
- Remember your success the next time you believe that you can’t do something! Each success builds confidence in your abilities and keeping that momentum going is extremely valuable. However if you succeed at one thing but have more trouble with another, try not to let it discount your prior successes, discourage you and lower your confidence. Once again, see it as part of the natural process towards self-improvement and actualization. After all, it really is!
I hope this blog has helped encourage and motivate you to be kinder towards yourself, and perhaps pick out a few feasible adjustments / goals. If you missed the previous articles on this topic, here is Part 1 & Part 2.