The very notion of ‘self-improvement’ can often imply a deep dissatisfaction with ourselves and with life. This is rather unfortunate, because such an attitude can be pretty counterproductive if we want to change ourselves! Let’s first explain how accepting ourselves does not mean giving up on improving ourselves; in fact it makes the whole process of self improvement much more joyful:
- We get to set our own standards for self-improvement: Often we are unhappy because we judge ourselves by some unrealistic standard, which has often to do the expectations set by other people and society. By accepting some external guideline for what constitutes self-improvement, you are in effect comparing yourself to others. Accepting ourselves allows us to judge our self improvement not by criteria set by others, but by our own previous marks.
- We get to focus on the positive: Often we spend so much time poring over our faults and failings that they occupy our entire mental space, leaving no room for us to appreciate our good qualities. By constantly ruminating on our weaknesses we give them a kind of power and we feel more and more helpless to overcome them. However by accepting yourself as you are, warts and all, you can then focus on increasing and expanding your good qualities – you will notice that your weaknesses will decrease in strength as well. Indeed, the most effective way of reducing your weaknesses is not by focusing on them, but by invoking its opposite positive quality instead.
- We live in the moment: Self acceptance means accepting whatever you did in the past, no matter how deplorable, is done and there is nothing you can do to change it now. Any time and energy spent wondering what might have been is therefore pointless. You have to start from where you are, here and now, at your current state of development, with what you have at your disposal.
- We change our attitude to the world: A poor self image leads to problems relating to other people, and excessive time wondering how others perceive us. However if we are happy in our own skin, then we begin caring less about what people think about us, and more time caring about people.
So how do we go about cultivating a philosophy of self acceptance? Here are a few tips:
- Create space to acknowledge your good qualities. Our mind often seems automatically geared to think of only the bad about ourselves, you have to consciously shift the focus to the good. Even a simple five minute daily exercise of writing down the good things you did (no matter how small), or positive thoughts and inspirations you have had helps enormously.
- Don’t identify with the mind. We often see our minds as the final arbiter over our behaviour, and take anything it tells us very seriously, especially when it tells us something bad about ourselves. However a practice of meditation can help you access a deeper part of your nature, and take your thoughts much less seriously.
- Compete with yourself rather than others. Whether it be work, sports or any other field of endeavour, try to set your challenges not so much as achieving a fixed goal or competing with others, but more about transcending your own personal best. This relieves the pressure of outside expectation, and you will get tremendous joy from knowing that you have gone beyond anything you have previously done.
Photo: Jowan Guthier, Sri Chinmoy Centre galleries