CIP #079: Finding Balance Between Self-Acceptance and Self-Improvement
I’ve been wondering for a while now, whether this podcast and all the work I do as the Creative Introvert, is in the intention of self-improvement OR self-acceptance.
Because, I’m a fan of both – I love experimenting with ways to level up, grow or become a better version of myself… but I also know the value of settling into who I am, and maybe even loving that creature.
The problem I come up against is… which is it? Can You have both? How?
How can I love who I am right now, as I am – and also want to change or grow in some way?
Maybe you’ve run into this same dilemma. Maybe you’ve flitted between the two. On the first of January, you’ve been all about the self-improvement. Come the 15th of Jan, you’re all about self love and self care.
You might scroll through Instagram seeing messages advocating self-acceptance, love at any size, shape, colour, ability… and in the next moment, you encounter someone living their best life, in impossible luxury, with absurdly ripped abs and looking far too happy with their fiancee.
It’a a bit of a mindfuck if you ask me.
Are we destined to pendulum between the two? Or do we have to pick a side?
I’m going to be thinking out loud as I tackle those questions today, and hopefully by the end of this podcast, we will have worked out a way to find a balance between self-acceptance, and self-improvement.
The case for self-improvement
A realisation I had long before I picked up – and chuckled at – my first book on self-improvement is that if you are complaining about something you have to options: either stop complaining and accept the situation, OR CHANGE IT.
For whatever reason, the latter appealed to me much more, in most cases. Feeling a sense of autonomy over a situation, and having something to create or enhance – not to mention the satisfaction that went along with knowing I’ve made a positive change in my life or others – well, that’s a really addictive pursuit.
If I’m feeling down in the dumps, or snappy or if I start getting sick, I take a look around. What have I been doing recently? Or not doing? What actions, or lack of, have led me to this less-than place?
If I was only to accept the way things are, things could not improve – that stopped happening after I stopped being entirely dependent on my parents to wipe my bum or feed me or whatever else.
We have a responsibility: our lives. We don’t have the right to complain if we haven’t even attempted to improve our situation. So with the example of me being in a crummy mood, I might notice I haven’t meditated in a week. Or I haven’t left the house all day or spoken to a loved one recently. I might try to change one of those variables, and see how I go.
That’s all self-improvement is. Paying attention to your state of being, to your actions, and adjusting accordingly. It doesn’t need to be a palaver.
But I’ll admit, it’s not always easy. And it has it’s problems…
The problem with self-improvement
What if you were to tell a child, over and over again, that no matter what they did – they were utter failures? That they were incapable, stupid, clumsy and overweight? Pointing out only their weaknesses, and never telling them how naturally wonderful they are?
I cringe to think about it, but I’m sure you can imagine this kiddo is going to give up on themselves pretty fast. Without positive encouragement, knowledge of their strengths and – ideally – unconditional love regardless of what they do – they have no incentive to grow, let alone get out of bed in the morning.
The problem with self-improvement without self-acceptance is that it’s quite easy to spiral into despair. If you’re treating yourself like that poor child, berating yourself for every misstep or misplaced hair – you end up with no motivation to improve. If you can’t please you, why bother?
The self-improvement world is wonderful when we’re on the up… when we’re checking all the boxes, waking up before our alarm, hitting the gym… but when we fuck up? When life happens? When we listen to our intuition that tells us: mate, you need some rest… how do we treat ourselves then?
Another problem with constantly striving for new heights, is that we often fail to recognise how far we’ve come. We never let ourselves stop and soak up the thing we’ve been striving for… we just keep on chasing. And whilst I do believe on some esoteric level we’re here to experience the new and to evolve… it seems a bit of a wasted life if we never get to look around at the view from each and every peak.
I remember when I was in Japan, climbing up some god-awful mountain on Miyajima island, just off the coast of Hiroshima, I was told that there would be this amazing view of the ‘floating Tori gate’ – an illusion that gets created when the tide is in and you look down from the mountain to see this epic red gate.
So I ploughed ahead, never looking back, just focussed on my destination which I believed was the top of this mountain, to see this epic view.
And when I got to the top, I was met with utter disappointment. The views were nice, yes – but I’d MISSED the view I wanted, which was further down the mountain. A view I might have seen IF I’d taken the time to stop and look around.
This also works for a handy analogy to this self-improvement stuff: remember to look around on your way.
The case for self-acceptance
Let’s start by defining self-acceptance, which I’ve come to see as fully embracing who you are in the present moment.
Acceptance is not only for the perfect parts of us – if indeed we can spot those – because perfection is irrelevant. Who are we to judge what’s perfect anyway? We’re lousy judges. What is perfect one day, can be pitted with flaws the next.
What I love most about self-acceptance, is that it’s honest. It takes stock of who we are, what we are and where we are. It isn’t looking to the right or the left, above or below – it isn’t playing the comparison game with our neighbour, colleague or friend.
In self-acceptance, we can find an honesty. It asks us to look inwards, and get really honest before making any judgement calls. We don’t have to fight against our flaws, or pretend we’re something we are not: we can literally accept ourselves as we are. We can be ok with ourselves, no matter what.
And that is a powerful place to be in.
The problem with self-acceptance
The biggest problem I see with self-acceptance is that some people confuse it with waking up one day and just loving every little thing about ourselves, every crack and every flaw. You might have been sold this possibility, and maybe shelled out money for products that make you think it’s possible.
Unfortunately, as nice as that would be – it’s really fucking unlikely. Drugs help, and I’m sure some enlightened beings do feel that kind of ecstatic self-love 24-7… but to maintain that level of self-love is quite unrealistic for the vast majority of us.
On the flipside, self-acceptance can lead us to stagnation. If we pull the blanket over ourselves and disregard the world falling down around us, sooner or later, the house is going to cave in on us. Not good.
Danger lurks when we get complacent. If you’ve ever ignored a rotting piece of food at the back of your fridge, you’ll know what lurks one day when you come to face it. Self-acceptance does not mean pretending everything is fine and dandy, when it ain’t.
So…We’ve looked at both sides of the coin now… My conclusion? we need both, in the right doses. Taken to an extreme, neither self-acceptance nor self-Improvement are going to help us live the best, most satisfying lives we can.
In that case, what can we take from either side to create one, well-rounded practise? Maybe we could call it… Self-Acceptprov?
It seems that we need self-acceptance to take stock of our situation, and determine what we want to accept and what we want to change. From there, we can get our self-improvement caps on and get to work. Regardless of the outcome, we always have self-acceptance to rely on. It’s a warm base to come back to. Knowledge that we’re always going. to be works in progress, and that’s ok. Because the progress IS the fun bit. As long as we stop to take a look around, see how far we’ve come – we get to enjoy all of that. Warts and all.
How to balance Self-Acceptance and Self-Improvement
Lets end with a few tips to round this up:
- Get clear on where you’re at. Acknowledge what’s working, what you wouldn’t change for the world.
- Now think of what parts of your world do you want to improve? What in your life could be better?
- Next, get clear on what you’re willing to sacrifice for that change. It’s useful to think of this in terms of time, because that will likely be a factor in most improvements we want to make. Some sacrifices aren’t worth our desired outcome. Sure, I know that when I eat cheese, I get rewarded with a nice big pimple on my chin, approximately 24 hours later. Do I sacrifice cheese? Most days, yes. But occasionally, no. The parmesan is worth the pimple.
- Whatever you decide to change, make sure you take it in incremental steps. Too big a change, and you might run out of steam. And eat ALL THE CHEESE. But incremental changes, coupled with patience from accepting where you are at each step, really add up over time.
- Finally, remember to set reminders to yourself to stop, take a look around and acknowledge how far you’ve come. Accepting where you’re at, maybe even loving where you’re at. Maybe.
We all have growth spurts and fallow periods in our self-improvement journey. What doesn’t have to change is our acceptance of the here and now, and our knowing that we can create meaningful change.
I’ll end with a quote from the Dalai Lama:
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
Before I go, I just wanted to tell you about something new I’ve created. It is a foundation on what we’ve been talking about today: the foundation of self-knowledge. It’s a Masterclass, which is made up of four mini-classes, all online + ready for you to consume at your convenience.
Each mini-class has action steps to go along with it, to really help you delve into the material and really start to understand yourself; who you are, where you are and what you want. From there, like I said, you can take the first steps toward making improvements, in the areas you decide.
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