People searching for happiness often want to change who they are now. Many of the self-development articles on Medium offer advice on how to change and create new habits. I see this same desire for advice in my coaching clients, who believe that if they can change some aspect of who they are, they will finally be happy.
Guess what? That won’t ever work. The reality is that the desire for change means you’re in a state of judgment of what is — in this case, you.
You are telling yourself that you are not enough just as you are. What is painful, flawed, missing, broken, etc., must change or, worse yet, will never change.
When I recently asked a client what it would feel like to say, “I’m okay, just as I am, even if nothing changes,” tears started to well up. When I asked what feeling was arising, the reply was: “I feel like all hope is being taken away.”
This version of hope — the promise of love deferred — is actually the junk food of emotional inspiration. It’s the version of hope that says, “One day you will be good enough to be loved.”
I don’t mean to suggest all hope — which I would define as the belief in possibility — is wrong. But this negative version propels you to a future where you will finally be lovable, enough, or worthy, because you’re telling yourself the current version of you is not. This version of hope is premised on getting away from yourself, right now, just as you are. It says, “Someday, I won’t be (this version of) me.”
Guess what? That version of hope will always stay with you. It will always find a new part of you to criticize. You will always be on the “change train,” needing to be different, more, or better until you supposedly arrive at the destination where you can finally love yourself.
Why? Because that train has no destination. It’s on a loop. You’ll hear the whistle announcing the next stop: “Next stop: More change!” You’ll start to recognize the landscape never changes, because it’s always a brief moment of elation followed by a feeling of deflation as the hope evaporates and you need to refill it with more tasks, more work, and more effort to change, transform, and become better.
Accepting yourself, just as you are, wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances, is the only way you will ever love yourself and find happiness.
It sounds oxymoronic. Right now you don’t love yourself fully. You’re telling yourself that you’re lazy, a workaholic, too fat, too skinny, too extroverted, too introverted, too giving, too selfish, etc. You think you can change those parts of yourself that you don’t like, and then you’ll love yourself and be happy.
But that’s the problem: The very idea that you need to be different from who you are right now to be worthy of love, especially self-love, is the lie that you’re telling yourself over and over.
Start with Some Mindset Shifts
Accepting yourself starts with a few mindset shifts.
Start by recognizing that there is no one else like you on the planet. No one. The entire universe conspired to make you — the singular creation that you are. So if you have a quibble, take it up with God and complain that S/He screwed up with you. Or, you might start to think of yourself as unique, and in that way, a rare and precious gem, or a misfit vegetable who grew differently in the world’s soil. You’re unique.
But guess what? Your unlovability isn’t. Your pain isn’t unique or special. Everyone experiences it. And if everyone experiences it, including the people you think have their shit together, you might start to realize that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you.
Start with asking yourself the moment you first felt the need to change to please an adult. You might remember some episode or event, a moment in time when a parent or a teacher said something to you, and you felt ashamed or embarrassed. Forgive that person because they spoke unskillfully and, in all likelihood, dumped their baggage on you. Yes, it was a crappy thing to do.
Guess what? They’re human, and human beings make mistakes and screw up.
Recognize that this younger version of you, who is still walking around with you, experienced a moment of being unloved and felt that they had to be different, behave differently, do something else, to get that love back again. This is the karmic burden parents often give to their children: Their wounds become their children’s wounds.
Start by looking at yourself like a friend or a child, and if a friend or child of yours said that they were not lovable because they were too ___________, respond in that same way to yourself. You’ll probably find it a lot easier to be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
What Accepting Yourself Does for You
A funny thing happens when you even think about accepting yourself: The part of you that wants to be better will immediately sound alarm bells. Accept yourself as you are? Then you’re doomed to never change or be happy!
That’s another lie. It’s a lie that keeps you in perpetual judgment, out of fear that if you never changed, you’d always be this sad or pathetic creature that you tell yourself you are right now.
That’s yet another lie because what you perceive in yourself now as a flaw, a deficiency, or something broken only appears that way through the lens of judgment.
Judgment tells you, with a pretense of objectivity, that you’re flawed, deficient, or broken. It weaves an even deeper lie by saying, Just change this one thing, and you’ll be better. Then you’ll be happy and you’ll love yourself. And if you don’t change, you’ll never be able to do that. And if you accept yourself just like this, it means you’re giving up, and you’ll never change, and you’ll never love yourself or be happy.
But all you’re doing with this entire line of thinking is training yourself to be judgmental.
When you practice loving yourself just as you are, your perspective changes. Accepting yourself is not a form of giving up. It does not acquiesce or throw in the towel and say that nothing will ever change. What accepting yourself does is expand your heart’s capacity to love.
Here’s the miracle: When you start to see those damaged parts of you through the eyes of love, they change on their own. That’s because they no longer appear as flaws, deficiencies, or broken parts. They become something else altogether. Ironically, then, the very parts of you that you want to change will be different. But not because you changed them, but because you changed how you see them.
Something else quite magical happens when you start loving yourself. Not only do the parts of you that you saw as flaws no longer seem so necessary to change, but you also begin to alter your entire reason for pursuing change. Because once you love yourself, change isn’t tied to love or, worse, the withdrawal of love.
Judgment sees change as a kind of transactional formula — be a better you, and in exchange you’ll finally get the love you don’t deserve right now. But if you’re viewing change through the eyes of love, change isn’t about improvement so that you can acquire love or happiness. You don’t change because you see the current version of yourself as unworthy, unlovable, or not good enough.
You change because you want to experience life differently. Change viewed through the eyes of love is about pursuing adventure and wonder. It doesn’t operate in an economy of bartering change for love. You change in order to experience.
Do you want to lose weight? Fine, do it because you want to feel what it’s like when you give your body different food and more exercise, not because the thinner version of yourself will entitle you to more love or you’ll be happier. Because that’s not what happens. You’ll lose weight, and then you’ll decide that you can always be thinner, or change some other part of your body.
Want to be more productive? Why? Maybe there’s a habit you have that ends up causing you all sorts of grief. Perhaps you procrastinate, and then work doesn’t get done, and then you face stress. You want to do things differently? Accept that you are a person who procrastinates. Why do you procrastinate? Maybe there’s something really helpful in your procrastination that fuels your creativity, or maybe you are just putting off unpleasant tasks. The point is that you procrastinating has nothing to do with whether you’re lovable or worthy of what life has to offer.
Develop a new habit of productivity so you can decide if you enjoy what it feels like to complete a task or finish a project. Once you find out, then you can decide whether you actually enjoy that life better. But notice that you’re not on some trajectory to being “better.”
Here’s something to try: For the next 30 days, every day, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, again and again, for at least a full minute, that you love yourself completely and totally, just as you are. Or, if that’s too much, just focus on the aspect of yourself that you want to change, and love that part of yourself.
Throughout the day, every time you catch yourself judging yourself, feeling bad about some part of you, or trying to “change” it, repeat this process (without the mirror, depending on where you’re at). If your heart feels restricted and you’re finding it hard to muster a lot of love for yourself, start by thinking about all the people you deeply love in this world, even just one cherished person. Fill your heart up, and then turn that love over to yourself.
When your 30 days are up, what have you noticed? Let me know.