When we see someone fall short of their mark, we willingly offer this kindness: "No worries! Nobody's perfect!" It's easy to offer compassion to others, but more difficult to offer the same compassion to ourselves in similar circumstances. When we catch ourselves in a slip, we often spend our energy comparing our "insides" to other people's "outsides."
The nagging and merciless feelings of not being enough prove to be physically, mentally and emotionally debilitating. The skill of learning how to accept ourselves, with our haloes as well as our fangs, is critically important in order to embrace all of life, no matter what it throws our way. Learning to respond with self-kindness when things go wrong, or when we fall off the wagon of our healthy lifestyle practice, will ensure that we do not lose our way because of a temporary detour.
In his book The Myth of Self-Esteem, world-renowned psychologist Albert Ellis described two choices regarding self-acceptance. One choice is to accept ourselves conditionally -- only if and when we meet certain criteria. The second choice is to accept ourselves unconditionally -- under any and all circumstances. Dr. Ellis asserts, "The first choice is deadly."
The first choice is based in self-judgment while the second choice is based in self-acceptance. Self-judgment rests on how well we perform. In this conditional model, when we experience perceived success, we judge that we are better than others, evaluating ourselves as superior. Likewise, when we experience perceived failure, we judge that we are less than others, evaluating ourselves as inferior. Self-judgment focuses solely, conditionally and myopically on what we do, neglecting completely who we are.
Being enslaved to external performance will result in dis-spiriting exhaustion and burnout. Additionally, evaluating ourselves as superior or inferior will contribute to feeling distant and separate from others. This conditional acceptance is a prescription for increasing self-abandonment and loneliness.
Self-acceptance is based on the unconditional valuing of self, regardless of external circumstances. It includes the validation of gains achieved, but also includes a forgiving appreciation for setbacks suffered. It eschews the blame and shame that could accompany a perceived failure. Instead, it embraces the ups and downs of life as a normal and expected part of this human experience. Setbacks are viewed as part of the dynamic process of learning -- a sign of the courage it requires to take the risks necessary to grow.
Action For Happiness is an organization, based in the U.K., that aims to inspire people to get in touch with what really matters to them and subsequently, to make positive changes in their lives-within their families, schools, workplaces and communities. They identified self-acceptance as one of the top ten habits that contribute to happiness and well-being. However, their research also revealed that self-acceptance was the habit that people tended to practice the least.
Dr. Mark Williamson, the director of Action for Happiness, writes:
Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. If we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we're likely to be much happier. Our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.
To get started with positive actions to increase self-acceptance, Williamson suggests the following:
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
- View your mistakes as opportunities to learn.
- Notice things you do well, however small.
- Ask a trusted friend or colleague to reflect to you what your strengths are and what they value about you.
Practicing self-acceptance will strengthen us for the rigors we must expect when committing to the practice of a heart healthy lifestyle. In addition to our devotion to our professional and societal obligations, our energies must also be dedicated to our personal, daily, robust investment in our nutrition, exercise, stress management and the giving and receiving of support. Given the magnitude of these responsibilities, self-acceptance is vital and without it we could easily become overwhelmed, discouraged and even debilitated.
Self-acceptance is the primary ingredient in the recipe for well-being. It is the unconditional voice of love within that firmly yet compassionately reminds us, "If ever you grow weary as you work your way forward, and you fear that you cannot go on, turn around and look how far you have come. You deserve your own patience, love and compassion. Go easy now, you're doing great."
What does your practice of self-acceptance include?