Mary thinks she’d be happy if she could just change her weight, her looks and her job. Sean believes that he’s an okay person except for certain personality traits, such as anxiety, impatience and his quick temper. Yolanda’s shelves are bulging with self-improvement books; she’s read them all but she still hates herself.
Who among us doesn’t believe that with a little tweaking, we could be just right—self-realized, self-actualized and self-helped to just short of perfection? But, the problem for many is that all the books, self-improvement tips and positive affirmations don’t seem to make us any happier. Worst of all, the minute we “fix” one ugly piece of ourselves, another nasty monster rears it head and starts screaming for attention.
When does self-help become self-hell? What would happen if we simply started by realizing how wonderful we already are?
As the pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers once wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,” writes Tara Brach, in her book, Radical Acceptance. “The more we anxiously tell ourselves stories about how we might fail or what is wrong with us or with others, the more we deepen the grooves—the neural pathways—that generate feelings of deficiency.” She lists common ways people try to manage this pain of inadequacy:
• Anxiously embarking on one self-improvement project after another.
• Holding back and playing it safe rather than risking failure.
• Withdrawing from our experience of the present moment.
• Keeping busy.
• Becoming our own worst critics.
• Focusing on other people’s faults.
“Convinced that we are not good enough, we can never relax,” Brach writes. “We stay on guard, monitoring ourselves for shortcomings. When we inevitably find them, we feel even more insecure and undeserving. We have to try even harder.”
Accepting ourselves does not mean self-indulgence or being passive. Rather it means turning off the shameful, negative, self-loathing tapes within ourselves and just relaxing.
The blaring voices of our culture certainly don’t help, with promises that buying something, owning something, achieving something will make us better people, that success is measured by looks, wealth or possessions. A healthier life finds deeper meaning and greater satisfaction in self-love, compassion, intuition, taking responsibility and forgiveness (particularly of ourselves).
Sometimes it is our so-called faults that can actually lead us to a healthier life. Pioneering psychologist Carl Jung called it our “shadow side,” that part in all of us we are ashamed of and that we often reject. Understanding and accepting that shadow side can lead to enormous freedom and self-acceptance.
Science and research has revealed much about what we can and cannot change about ourselves, according to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author and Director of Clinical Training in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Some of what does change is under your control, and some is not,” he writes in his book, What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Self-Improvement.
Seligman lists some characteristics that are easier to change, such as everyday anxiety, specific phobias, panic, anger and certain beliefs about life. He advises people to discard the notion of changing that which hurts the most (for example, your extra weight) and instead concentrating on those parts of yourself that will respond most successfully to your efforts to change them (for example, your shyness or impatience with your spouse).
In the end, all the energy we put out to change ourselves may just take us back to where we started—to ourselves. And if we can truly accept ourselves as we are, that’s the best place to be.
Five Ways To Love Yourself
1. Stop criticizing yourself. When you criticize yourself, your changes are negative. When you approve of yourself, your changes are positive.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Praise yourself and support yourself.
3. Love your faults. Acknowledge that they fulfilled a need and now you don’t need them anymore.
4. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body in the ways that please you
5. Do it now. Don’t wait until you get well, or get sick, or lose the weight or get the new job or the new relationship. Begin now. And do the best you can.
—from Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
PRAISE for my bestseller book, Cultivating Joy is rolling in:
“The sweet spot of your joy rests between the worst day of your life and the best day of your life. It is the e-ticket to your truth, your highest calling, and your authentic self. Cultivating Joy eloquently shares passages of spirited women authors’ brave moments of tragedy to triumph. Linda Joy has an uncanny way of bringing poignant moments in our lives, gift-wrapped in her book, where you will discover the “how” to your true joy.”
– Jackie Ruka , America’s Happyologist; author of the best-selling book, Get Happy and Create a Kick -Butt Life! And Founder of the GetHappyZone.com
“This collection of stories will ignite a new sense of wonder and awe, helping you reconnect to your best self with joy as your inspirational compass.”
–Shannon Kaiser, the Joy Guru and best-selling author of Adventures for Your Soul
ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY> www.CultivatingJoyBook.com
“Connecting with other people through the stories of their inspirational journeys is one of the most uplifting blessings I can think of—and Cultivating Joy is a beautiful resource that does exactly that. Linda Joy has a talent for compiling stories that touch, comfort, and inspire, and I have no doubt that Cultivating Joy will help many on their journeys.”
– Dina Proctor, best-selling author of Madly Chasing Peace: How I Went from Hell to Happy in 9 Minutes a Day and creator of 3×3 Meditation
“Cultivating Joy shares touching and triumphant stories from women of all ages. This book shows us that joy is available in every moment and situation if we only open our eyes and behold its beauty. Read this book and be uplifted.“
–Amy Leigh Mercree, author of The Spiritual Girl’s Guide to Dating: Your Enlightened Path to Love, Sex and Soul Mates
ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY> www.CultivatingJoyBook.com
“With warmth, humor, and courage, the stories shared in Cultivating Joy will touch your heart and transform your life. No matter where you are on your journey, the deeply personal stories shared in this book will inspire you to invite more joy into your daily routine. Infinite love and gratitude to the extraordinary women who contributed their stories to Cultivating Joy.”
– Shann Vander Leek, Transformation Goddess, Best-selling author, Award-winning podcaster, and producer of the Divine Feminine Spotlight Series and Goddess Talk Sessions.
Even more praise can be found here. And you can meet my co-authors too!
Angela M. Joyner, PhD is the Founder of The Wonder Loft, a positive leadership coaching practice for women. Through her writing, teaching, and leading curated workshop experiences, Angela helps women discover their unique brilliance, have more confidence and flourish. Her mission is to nourish the minds and souls of women around the world. Learn more at http://www.thewonderloft.com.