Do you like who you are? Do you like who you've become?
When I ask people these questions, the first response out of their mouths is generally, "Yes." But when I ask them what specific aspects of themselves they like, I can see their expressions change. This is where it gets trickier, where the impact of the question sets in, where the deer-in-the-headlights reaction switches on.
Typical human behavior focuses on negative qualities. A quick response, like the one above, lacks full consideration and understanding. But it's this impulse reflex that allows us to tap into our depths, into what drives us. It tells us truthfully what we really want to feel, but it also allows doubt to set in. And with more doubt comes more negative thoughts. And more negative thoughts can quickly become reality.
The brain uses different hemispheres to sort through negative and positive information, says Clifford Nass, in the book he co-authored, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What We Can Learn About Ourselves From Our Machines. In a New York Times interview, Nass - a professor of communications at Stanford University - explains, "Negative emotions generally require more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones." The extra brain power that's required to process negative emotions means we spend more time contemplating the bad stuff and less time on the good stuff.
We all want to feel good. But how can we possibly feel good if we're constantly inundating ourselves with the bad? We've been programmed to fixate on the negative feedback on the first slide of a presentation, not on the accolades on the last slide. We don't know how to feel good even when we experience good events, and that's a problem.
Self-Esteem and Negative Thoughts
In 1959, psychologist Carl Rogers wrote about unconditional positive regard and how important it is in personal development. How we think about ourselves impacts both our psychological health and our future goal achievement. In his research, Rogers posits that a person with high self-worth faces adversity and thrives anyway, while a person with low self-esteem cannot truly function in the world.
A successful person is someone who experiences challenges and accepts failure and unhappiness as a part of life. They are open with others and generally have positive feelings about themselves. Rogers believes that this is what it takes to be a functioning person in this world. It is this kind of person that can more readily get over negative thoughts without chasing them down the rabbit hole.
On the other hand, an unsuccessful person avoids challenges and refuses to accept the pain and unhappiness life produces. They are often defensive as a result of negative feelings about themselves, and they can't escape these negative thoughts. Negativity rules their world in a destructive way.
What does self-acceptance have to do with it?
It makes sense that self-esteem stems from self-acceptance. This means that you need to accept who you are and not who you think you're supposed to be. This also means that you need to accept your good qualities and your bad ones. And yes, everyone has both good and bad qualities.
This is a place people get stuck - not being able to admit they have flaws and, once they accept their flaws, not being able to live with these flaws.
Further research shows that high levels of self-acceptance can lead to less focus on negative aspects of oneself and a higher likelihood of engaging in acts of self-love.
So, how can you improve your self-acceptance and live a fuller life? You can start by asking yourself this question: How close is the person you are to the person you want to be?
Don't answer quickly. I want you to take a deep breath and analyze where you are in your life. Analyze who you are in your life. What is your dynamic with the people you're around most? What is one of your defining qualities? What is one of your best qualities? Do these things align? What would your friends say about you? What would an acquaintance say about you? What would your family say about you?
Do you like the answers to these questions?
A long road to discovery
Self-acceptance isn't going to happen overnight. It takes extensive work and considerable dedication. But learning how to love yourself right and treat yourself well can impact the way you live your life and the things you're able to accomplish.
Here are eight ways to jumpstart your journey to self-acceptance:
1. Be kind to yourself.
It's time to accept the fact that no one judges you more than you judge yourself. You can be your own worst enemy, but you need to get out of your way, and start developing patience. Be patient with yourself, and accept your flaws.
2. Confront your fears.
We all have a history that includes some bad, devastating thing. We all have baggage to go with that bad history. We're human, and we're bound to be hurt by something. But it's the fear of the unknown that keeps us trapped. We're so afraid to experience something unfamiliar that we allow ourselves to become stuck in what we know. It's important to take baby steps to create change. Start by making a list about things that scare you. Start with one small thing, try to face it, and understand why it's not so scary. Then move onto the next small thing, and so on.
3. Stay positive.
Surround yourself with goodness. Write yourself sweet notes. Hang up posters with positive affirmations. Download an app on your phone that will send you inspirational quotes on a daily basis. When you feel insecurity and doubt creeping into your thoughts, turn to one of your good things. Tell that little defeating voice inside your head to be quiet and that you refuse to go to that dark place!
4. Accept imperfection.
Let go of the ideal. Let go of what you think perfection looks like. Life is perfection in all its imperfections. Don't let an obsession for perfection slow you down in accomplishing your goals. Good is good enough.
5. Don't take it personally.
If something offends you, stop and ask yourself why you're offended. Make a conscious effort to stop assuming you know what people mean. Don't get defensive about something you've internalized. Chances are people don't want to hurt you to begin with, but they might not know how to communicate effectively either. Things get lost in translation. If you're not clear on the meaning of a specific comment, all you have to do is ask.
You can't grow without forgiveness. But know that it's a process, and it will always take time. Forgive others for things they didn't mean to do. Forgive others for things they didn't know they did. Forgive yourself for mistakes you think you've made. And forgive yourself if things don't change quickly enough.
7. Believe in yourself.
You are capable of accomplishing great things. Believe that you can do anything because you can. You are a strong and powerful being, and you can deal with any challenge that comes your way. Remember, you've already survived the worst thing you've experienced in your life.
8. Don't give up no matter what!
When you fall, you need to get up and keep going. It's in our failures, not our successes, that we learn the most about ourselves. Figure out what motivates you by celebrating something you are bad at. It's in these intimate moments that life's precious lessons are learned.
You're worth it, and you deserve to be happy.