Self Acceptance VS Self Improvement

As a society, we value progress. People like to see the tangible results of their labor and the phrase, “no rest for the weary” is used to motivate a constant state of striving.

Unfortunately we end up being programmed to seek without end and view rest as failure. The truth is, a constant state of striving is unsustainable, and the race for attainment perpetuates discomfort, sadness, and anxiety. Ironically, these emotions add fuel to the “striving” fire and encourage the chase after something bigger and better. Sooner than later, we start to get well acquainted with feeling uneasy and anxious, and in an effort to ameliorate those symptoms, we do even more. Our brain starts to send us messages that if we do “just a little more” we will finally feel accomplished or worthwhile. And, this “just a little more” turns into more and more and more, until there’s an inevitable crash and you find yourself in a state of depletion. Unfortunately, this feeling state is often misunderstood as a sign that we did not do “enough” and alas, we push ourselves to improve so that we don’t have to feel that way again!

Yikes! This cycle of overworking and crashing is destructive, yet we continue to run on the mouse wheel. How frustrating… to be tirelessly running, but in the same place. It’s time to challenge the rat race. What would it be like to stop running? To pause, get off the wheel, and spend a while just ‘being’ before choosing to walk to your next destination. Uh-oh, thinking about hitting the pause button may likely lead to a spike in anxiety since pausing is often seen as doing nothing! However, to pause does not mean to give up or surrender, but simply to be present with whatever is happening. To do this can be very difficult because many of us are not used to actually being present with ourselves! This is a skill that requires self compassion. Self compassion is a form of acceptance-- acceptance for the person to whom something is happening to. If you practice self compassion you actually embrace yourself with kindness and stop struggling to “feel better.” Instead of seeking to add something to your life, you’ll be subtracting. Christopher Germer, PhD, eloquently describes self compassion as giving up the tension we “unconsciously impose on ourselves to control or manipulate our experience.”

So, here’s the gist. To be BETTER, we must learn to be KINDER to OURSELVES. That means practicing saying “no” and engaging in self care. Self care is a learned skill and it helps us find balance so that we can live more meaningful and healthy lives. Self care creates space for us to practice self compassion and move towards self acceptance, which innately translates to an improved sense of self and being. And here’s the irony of it—radical self acceptance is the fiercest action of self improvement.

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