Would you rather lose 10 pounds that will probably be back by springtime, or would you rather gain a new perspective that will last for a lifetime?
This may sound like an unfair question, but it speaks to the difference between the permanent, life-changing process of learning to accept yourself, as opposed to achieving one or two superficial goals around the beginning of the new year.
Can you imagine a friendship or a romantic relationship in which one party says to the other:
“You know Sally (or Barry). Your teeth need to be whiter. I think I could like you or even love you IF you get your teeth whitened by next Tuesday. ”
The answer is not very likely because you know that by the next time these two come together, another request would emerge.
“You know, I’m happy with your teeth now. But you are definitely carrying a few extra pounds and your laugh is kind of weird. I know these are harder to deal with so I will (generously) give you a whole month to change. Then, I might really like you or even love you”.
Could you imagine yourself saying this to your friends and loved ones?
Of course not, but that is exactly how we treat ourselves. We decide that we can only be happy and love ourselves if we make changes to our body or finances (or whatever) and we make resolutions to do so.
Making New Year’s Resolutions like this is not only potentially problematic with our psychological health; it also has very little chance of success.
Although 40 to 50 % of the population makes New Year’s resolutions, only 8% ever achieve their goals. These successes were probably short attainable goals rather than lofty long term goals. Experts like psychologist Lynn Bufka recommend setting manageable goals, so we have a better chance of succeeding.
It’s totally OK to improve yourself. It’s wonderful to create better habits and buff up and be healthier, but it is so much easier and holistic if you start with an acceptance of yourself.
How Do We Do That?
1. Find the Good Within Ourselves and Be Thankful For It
This includes parts of our personality and activities which we can think about and can make a list of. For example, “I care about the environment. I’m a good cook. I can run like the wind.”
Yes, write it down, make a list and be thankful for it. Research has shown that gratitude is linked to better relationships and healthier habits.
2. Be Realistic About Our Limitations
Recognize that everyone is totally unique and has a different function in life. Everyone, including you, is doing their best given the circumstances. I like this short affirmation by Farnoosh Brock: “I accept myself. I love myself. I forgive myself for what I didn’t know until I learned it.”
3. Be As Compassionate and Forgiving to Yourself As You Would Be to Others.
If your friend was feeling bad about not getting top marks on an exam, would you berate them for it? That’s exactly what we do to ourselves. Be a good friend to yourself every time self-judgment or criticism come up in our mind. Give your friend (you) the benefit of the doubt.
4. Watch for the Inner Positive Feelings
We have many positive thoughts and feelings and experiences during the day but we tend to remember the problems since they have to be dealt with and often require attention.
This is why gratitude is such a powerful habit to culture. Psychologists like Harville Hendrics recommend picking out all the good things that you are grateful for in yourself or another person at the end of every day.
Even if looking at a “bad” experience closely can reveal some good.
You will notice you would not be angry, or hurt or afraid if you did not care about the situation. It simply would not make an impression. If you didn’t care about the environment or that homeless person you would not even notice them.
That “caring” is an expression of the deeper inner you. That caring is just another name for love. That caring shows that you have the potential for happiness.
5. Focus and Don’t Give Up
Learning to accept yourself could happen quickly but usually takes time and effort. Setbacks where we don’t feel so good about our situation and start judging are just chances to NOT get frustrated at the process and ourselves. It’s a chance to have compassion for yourself.
Even if it does take some time, the benefits are worth it!