If there’s anything close to a bible in the self-improvement sphere, I’m sure there will be two verses which seem completely contradictory.
1. Accept yourself.
2. Never stop trying to improve.
Acceptance doesn’t seem to mesh well with the desire to improve.
Acceptance gives us the impression that we can be happy with how we are now.
Improvement implies there is something wrong with us and it needs to be bettered. If we accept ourselves and our flaws, then we reduce the motivation to become a better person at the same time.
A large reason why “acceptance” of personal flaws and so on may be taught is because it reduces the amount of needless self-criticism we throw at ourselves. Many efforts to improve ourselves come from a dissatisfaction with how we view ourselves. I’ve tried to show that it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
But, if we accept ourselves, how do we stop ourselves from becoming complacent?
Are acceptance and complacency the same?
I view it as scale. If you have Dissatisfaction on one end and Complacency on the other, Acceptance is around the middle:
Scott Miker makes the subtle difference clear (he uses content instead of acceptance):
Being content means being happy. Being complacent means refusing to work to improve.
There’s more to this than meets the eye – I believe you can accept your situation without being happy but that’s for another blog post.
However, it is helpful enough for now. With the definition above, complacency implies reaching a comfort zone and taking it for granted. We may even see something that we dislike about ourselves or the external situation, but because we are just comfortable enough, we refuse to do anything about it.
We can liken it to choosing to stay in bed all the time, while disliking the idea that we aren’t being productive.
Acceptance on the other hand is an active emotion. It involves gratitude and honesty. And, quite frankly, it can be incredibly difficult to accept things. It’s normal to resist things that don’t go 100% our way even if all it causes is more mental anguish.
Acceptance is tough because it forces me to see the limits of my days and the limits of my abilities (at the moment).
We don’t always realise it but failure to accept things is often a problem with the ego. “I don’t want to accept that I am finding this more difficult than expected.” Really, there isn’t anything wrong with that and it might help us to address these problems if we accept they exist first.
Returning to the main topic:
Improvement is just what you do.
To understand what it is like to mesh acceptance with self-improvement, imagine yourself as a plant.
Plants just grow. They look at the sun, ask “hey can I have some food”, then stretch as much as they can to get it. The sun says “yeah sure, just give my human friends some oxygen” and bam, the plant grows.
If the sun is taking a day off, the plant chills for a bit. It’s just fine being a plant.
I may be off with a few details. I haven’t taken biology since 2011.
The point is, you can accept yourself at each stage of your development while continuing to grow and better yourself. It’s just what you do.
Self-improvement (and I’d hope, improving the world comes along with it), does not need to stem from negativity or hatred centred around a particular aspect of your life. It often starts that way, but it doesn’t need to continue that way.
Like a plant, you can just enjoy being a plant.
Like a plant, you can also just keep on growing.
I’m going to leaf the plant analogy alone now…
How can I accept myself without becoming complacent?
Now we can appreciate what it means to practice self-acceptance without becoming complacent and never choosing to improve.
What does this look like in practice?
1. Leave the ego at the door
Your ego will tell you, in all sorts of ways, that you’re perfect and shouldn’t find things difficult.
It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in some kind of narcissism. You can prevent yourself from improving because you refuse to see yourself make mistakes. It’s safer to never try if you never want to make a mistake.
We’re all working drafts. Making mistakes is often fine.
2. Focus on the process, not the goal.
The end goal doesn’t always define you. Sometimes, they’re out of your control. What you can control to the best of your ability is the process you use to reach your goals.
If I’m trying to lose weight, I can set a goal but place all of my attention on ensuring I have a good diet and workout regime.
If I’m trying to become a better writer, I can set a goal of some kind but I can make sure I sit down and write every single day. When I write every day, I can make sure I keep on challenging myself.
3. Take time to be grateful
Intertwined with acceptance comes gratitude.
You can find something, however small, to be thankful for. So despite our challenges and moments of difficulty, we can still find people, events or things we value deeply.
It helps us stop becoming overly disappointed with every tough time we experience and blame everything either on ourselves or something external to us. When we do this, we yearn for our comfort zone because it’s the easiest place to be. It shields us from potential failure and criticism.
Yet, when we take the time to be thankful for something, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to acknowledge something we want to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.
A person who keeps growing.
Acceptance to me is seeing the limits you have at the moment and using them to your advantage.
Complacency is giving up in face of them.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
What progress have you made towards accepting your flaws?