Foundation habit 2: Pursue self-acceptance.
NB: This article forms part of a series about habits for happiness to help you live your best life. The initial three habits focus on foundation habits of happy living. These set the framework for 12 habits of happiness.
last week, I wrote about self-compassion, which is an action we take when we make a mistake. This week I go deeper to a state of being, or a way we see ourselves. I am talking about how self-acceptance makes you happier.
There is a common message we pick up as we go about our lives, especially in a success driven world. It is stated overtly within culture, work and advertising or quietly in our heads. The message is; work hard, study, succeed at work, earn good money, live somewhere stunning and inside something stunning, achieve credentials for respect, and keep going no matter what.
There’s a part of me that loves goal focused living. I like to study, work and progress in life as much as anyone else. I enjoy my to do lists and weekly planning. Part of me survives busyness because of this planning. But there’s a problem with this. What happens when things aren’t going so well?
In the problems, we need a better way to joy
What happens when someone treats us badly or we just wake up feeling lazy or unmotivated (as we all do sometimes)? How do we bring the motivation back and feel ok to get going? We need self-acceptance to construct happiness and flourish in life.
We have self esteem from our accomplishments. We work hard and achieve great things. But to stay strong when life gets hard, we need self- acceptance. Self acceptance is constructed differently to self esteem. Much like two iconic buildings standing together, self esteem and self acceptance can live together. But self acceptance is a taller stronger construction that stands in the storms with less sway.
Transform a common path to happiness to create a more beautiful one
As I mentioned earlier, there is a proposed path to happiness we commonly see around us. This can be thought of as a simple equation:
Achievement + motivation + effort = Happiness and Success
But there are no brackets in this equation. To illustrate this, here’s the real equation we sometimes face as busy professionals:
Achievement + (overwhelm from tasks) + motivation + (tiredness and lack of sleep) + effort + (missed items and goals not met) = Happiness + stress + frustration + some success and some failures to meet goals + satisfaction + self doubt + guilt + worry.
A better path to happiness looks like this [a more helpful equation]
High self esteem from our accomplishments + total acceptance of self = joy even in the stress + ability to pursue goals and press on despite the messes.
But what is self acceptance really? And how does it relate to greater success in life?
Self acceptance is freedom and instant success. Self-acceptance makes you happier
Courtney Ackerman wrote an article  about self-acceptance, including a definition:
Self-acceptance is “ embracing who you are, without any qualifications, conditions or exceptions”.
In other words, you make the daily choice to see yourself as having worth and value, despite what you achieve or don’t achieve.
Self esteem vs self acceptance and why this matters
Another article  at Psychology Today emphasises this unconditional acceptance of yourself as the defining feature of self- acceptance. Self esteem is different. Self esteem is essentially feeling good about what is good in us and our achievements. The trouble with this is, when we make a mistake or fail, or meet our shortcomings when we don’t feel like meeting them, what do we do then?
See your whole self and accept it. Then you can change things you don’t like and stay motivated to succeed.
Self-acceptance is affirming your worth and value including your strengths, successes, innate worth, mistakes, personal values, and faults. This may seem a bit depressing to notice your downsides, but this is freeing and powerful. Here’s how…
The benefits of accepting your whole self
- By seeing yourself as a whole, with many parts of strength and vulnerability, you enter humankind as a united group of success and failure. You aren’t living lonely as either all “good” or “ bad”.
- The less “good” parts of ourselves allow us to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable and imperfect connects us to other people and creates intimate connection and friendship.
- If we don’t accept ourselves, we feel less happy and stop paying attention to our strengths and achievements. When we accept our weaknesses, we pay less attention to them and start to notice what we do well. We live aware of the fullness of who we are.
- Self acceptance of our own faults gives us humility, patience and empathy for other people. We relate to the pain people feel and experience. We live our lives focused on compassion and kindness. In short, we are nicer to be around.
Want to live free from self criticism and be your most confident and happy self? Here are 4 ways to cultivate self- acceptance as a conscious daily habit
First, before we look at four things to try, it may help to become aware of any unhelpful thoughts, emotions, or beliefs about yourself. It’s not suppressing them or being hard on yourself. Try instead taking a curious “this is interesting” outlook toward yourself.
For example, you’ve planned to be a more patient parent. The day has been stressful at work and you arrive home tired. One of your kids is being difficult. You snap an angry word or two. The thought comes… “I’m a bad mother. How could I do that?” Then comes the guilt. The alternative is “I’m a good mother. A good mother has good and bad days and i’m a bit prone to snapping when I’m tired. I can apologise”. You have a hug and everyone is happier, you included.
4 tips for living with self- acceptance
- Choose self-acceptance to grow your happiness. This is unconditional positive regard for self and comes from humanistic psychology and foundational to person-centred therapy . This approach emphasises empathy and unconditional acceptance of the person, which allows the person to be self-directed and hopeful. This is powerful when we offer it to ourselves.
- Note the parts of yourself you don’t accept. How can these aspects can be turned into strengths? For example, you speak loudly and take over meetings with your input. This could mean you are a friendly extroverted person with lots of ideas. When you accept this about yourself, you are more positive and able to add goals such as listening more to others and affirming their ideas during meetings. You are looking at your vulnerabilities with openness and curiosity and using them to facilitate your strengths.
- Visualize weaknesses and strengths as two separate continuum’s, not opposite ends of one line. If you see it as one line and you have a bad day, you might see yourself at the extreme end of the line as a failure. It’s possible to be vulnerable on the weakness line and concurrently high on the strengths line. For example, you’re feeling unmotivated and slept in when you planned a productive day, but you have completed a dreaded project before noon. Success can co-exist with imperfection.
- Try asking yourself “ is this really a weakness?” As we grow up, we can receive messages of our worth being conditional on our performance. The message is “Do well at something and you’re ok but if you fail you’re not ok as a person”. Is this thing you think is a weakness really holding you back?
I want to encourage you this week to look at self-acceptance as a daily habit. Journaling is a great way to become aware of what we don’t accept in ourselves.
- What is one weakness you see in yourself that may hindering total acceptance of who you are?
- Write a few sentences on how you can transform the view of the weakness you see. For example (from my life): I am an introvert and I have viewed this as being not outgoing or confident. I am using self-acceptance as a habit by reframing this as “I am an introvert and this allows me to think deeply and care about people”.
Next article in the happiness habits series: A Brief guide to living a life of purpose and direction
Join me next week to look a bit deeper into finding your strengths (an assistant to self-acceptance), and how this process helps you to do three things:
- Live with purpose
- Design your preferred future
- Set goals you are passionate about and live with expectation and hope.