The greatest misconception about loving yourself
A few weeks ago I had an epiphany. I realized that a large part of my behavior is dictated by the fact that I don’t believe I am good enough compared to others and compared to who I want to be.
When I make a mean joke, when I try to show that I’m smart, when I criticize somebody for their behavior, when I talk in a condescending way to my friend, I do it because I’m insecure. So I want to make others believe that I’m better than I actually think I am and better than they are.
I thought that I would like to get rid of this insecurity because then I will have a lot more room to express myself according to my reflective commitments instead of my need for validation.
At first I could not even imagine how my life would be if I were relieved from this constraint. But I did some experiments. I stopped myself in some of those moments where I was acting from a place of perceived inferiority trying to position myself above others and I thought: How would I have behaved if I didn’t have to prove anything? Would I have said what I just said? Would I have gotten angry? Would I have gotten jealous? Would I have made that bitter remark?
So I steered myself away from these treacherous waters and I changed my response. Slowly this steering away started to happen more often. I hope that at some point this will be part of my instinctive responses. I will not have to stop and think about it.
But this brings up the question: If I steer away from insecurity and accept myself then will I become less motivated to change?
I want to suggest that the incompatibility of self-acceptance and motivation for self-improvement is an illusion.
Let’s consider this thought experiment: Imagine that you wake up one morning and you realize that you are completely content with the way you are. There is nothing about you that makes you feel bad about yourself.
You look at yourself in the mirror and take a look at your body. You think, “Well I might not be the fittest person in the world (who is that person anyway?) but I feel happy about the way I look”. Maybe you are very fat or very skinny. Maybe you have a big belly or large waist. Perhaps you don’t have that six-pack that you always wanted or the firm ass that you saw at that billboard yesterday.
But right now, you feel happy about the way you are. Somehow you don’t care about how society thinks you are supposed to look like. You think “I have a body that houses my consciousness for the time I’m going to be alive and that is really amazing”.
You realize that you feel the same contentedness about your face, and about your hair. A bit later, while you are talking to a friend, you realize that you don’t feel the need to position yourself above them anymore. While you speak you make a mistake that in the past would make you feel embarrassed but now you don’t find it weird. It’s perfectly ok to make mistakes. Even if people will judge you by those mistakes you don’t care. It’s just their opinion…
So you go on about your day and you feel happy about your new circumstances of self-acceptance. As the days go by and you are by now a changed person you realize that you become more and more used to your new self.
Yes you are still pretty happy about how you are, there is no resentment coming up for any aspect of your character or appearance but now you think, “Well although I’m pretty happy with the way I am, I can still become even better!”
The fact that you don’t feel the pain of self-resentment anymore doesn’t mean that you will not want to maximize your levels of happiness.
In short this thought experiment demonstrates that in a hypothetical scenario where you instantly managed to love yourself the way you are there would be a transitional period where you would be very happy about that fact, only to be followed by a renewed interest for growth and self-improvement stemming from a place of curiosity and enjoyment.
Consequently it becomes apparent that we don’t have to use self resentment as a leverage for improving ourselves.
In fact it is possible that exactly the opposite is true. The more you accept your current self the better you become at improving and developing partly because you worry less about the consequences of failure and thus you are more willing to try novel approaches to the challenges you face or the aspirations you have.
Self-acceptance doesn’t have to be an excuse for laziness.