The New Year, with its resolutions and motivation and promises of your best self yet, can be a truly exciting and invigorating time. But the huge effort you put in can also make you feel like you were just not good enough…and you have to strive to become better: thinner, richer, more successful, healthier, fitter, more loving, more loved, better read, more creative, have perfect skin…and the list goes on. After thinking this way it’s hard not to feel like the you in 2014 was somehow “less than.”
I too have a lot of goals for self-development this year, and it’s made me wonder about just how happy I am with my present self, without any further “improvements.” The truth is, I have a hard time accepting that I am already enough as is. Without that understanding, the striving for a better me leaves me feeling like all my efforts are never enough–and that there is always something more to be done. I know this isn’t just me: one of my friends, who is talented, intelligent, conscientious, and one of the loveliest people I know, is *constantly* finding ways to improve herself, even in areas that hardly seem necessary. I can’t help but wonder if she can see how amazing she is just now.
This doesn’t mean I’m against proactive self-improvement: on the contrary, I believe the best and most holistic self-improvement comes from first accepting yourself the way you are.
If you also feel this anxiety, here’s how to remind yourself that you are enough.
1. Think of self-development as a journey, not a race.
We are conditioned to think of self-development as a to-do list. Like writing down our office tasks in an agenda, we set our goals specifically and give it deadlines (“Run a marathon by October,” “Save $xx by December”). Setting specific goals and due dates help keep you accountable, but also can make you feel that you are incomplete until you’ve reached the finish line. Instead of viewing your goals as a race to be run, see it as a journey where you are enjoying yourself throughout. See the stages of your progress as beautiful scenery to admire along the way. If you’ve ever traveled anywhere, you know that the end of your journey doesn’t validate or ultimately award you happiness–it’s the whole process that you take with you.
2. Be in love with who you are now, rather than who you’ll be one day.
We often think so much about our “ideal” selves that we forget to appreciate who we are today. For instance, I’m always thinking ahead to the Juhea who is so much wiser, more hard-working, and has higher integrity that I almost begin to feel uncomfortable in my present skin. If you’re working on becoming fitter, you might lose respect for your present body. Perhaps thinking about where you want to be, career-wise, makes you lose steam over what you’re doing now. Visualizing your goal is of course helpful–but not if it takes you out of love with your present self. The truth is that the “real you” is always the present you, and this is the one who needs your love.
3. Ground yourself by turning to your “source.”
Trying to change yourself for the better can take you far and wide from your comfort zone. This is critical for your breakthrough–but can also make you feel a sense of loss or confusion about who you’re truly supposed to be. Turn to your source, that which has always inspired and sustained you through your life. This could be music, books, family, love, loyalty, integrity, experience, freedom, independence, nature, even change itself. Then think of your life as a theme and variations on this source. Doing this creates a continuation of your past, present, and future, letting you know that you needed all the experiences you had to be where you are today–and to take you where you want to go next.
4. Remind yourself that you are lovely the way you are.
There are a lot of results that self-improvement projects can yield: you can become smarter, more erudite, faster, stronger, leaner, more flexible, more balanced, more creative, more productive, more successful, and yes, happier. But you don’t need self-improvement projects to become lovelier than you are just now. You are just as deserving of love, from yourself and others–without changing yourself for the better.
5. You have been–and are–doing the best you can.
We are our own worst critics, jumping to doubt our own level of effort. If you’ve ever scolded yourself for missing a fitness class, or not sitting down at your desk after a long day at work to do extra creative projects, ask yourself whether you’d think your best friend were “lazy” or “cheating” or “not trying hard enough” in the same situation. Would you tell her to beat herself up? (Probably not.) Almost 100% of the time, what we do is exactly what we are capable of doing at that time, and no worse. I know that some of the choices I’ve made in the past were not in line with my stated goals–but I also know that at that time, that choice was the one I could make, given my mental and physical energies and will power.
You have always been doing the best you can–and that’s why you’ve come so far (here today!). And you are still doing the best you can. So be gentle to yourself. You are enough already.
How do you like to remind yourself that you’re enough? And do you also ever get frustrated with your current self the more you try to “become better”?
Photo: uneduex via Flickr