Bode writes: I’m a teenager and I’m confused by what I have read in some of the self-help books my Mom has. The books are all about self-improvement: be happier, fitter, smarter, nicer, and richer. And yet, they say you should love yourself as you are. That doesn’t line up. It’s sort of like my life (the life of a teenager). I constantly hear “advice” about I need to change – act better, try harder, and achieve more. Yet my parents tell me how talented I am (right after they criticize me.) Can you clear this up?
Great question. It’s what I call the self-improvement trap. The jaws of the trap are this: The motive for changing yourself, self-improvement, rests on one simple belief: I’m not okay as I am.
Adults are often unhappy because we are not the way we should be. Happiness lies somewhere in the future — it will be okay when . . .
So we embark on the path to self-improvement. When it comes to our unacceptable parts, we want to hide them, lock them away, pretend they don’t exist, “transform” them, or annihilate them out of existence.
But it never works because our inner judge is a Demon of Perfection. The demon judge says: “No matter what you do, no matter what you achieve, no matter how good it gets, it will never be good enough.”
There is another way.
If you want to be happy and learn from the actions that haven’t given you the results and sense of well-being you desire, being overly critical of yourself and vowing to banish the “bad” parts of yourself won’t help and actually supports that awful belief: There is something wrong with me.
Have you ever seen the symbol of the Tao? It is circle with two intertwined teardrops. One black and one white. Where the black one is wide (growing) the white one is thin (diminishing). Yet in the widest part is a small circle of the opposite. Where the black teardrop is wide there is a seed of the white one. Where the white teardrop is wide there is a seed of the black one.
The Tao is an ancient symbol that represents the dance of LIFE itself. Never ending, conflicting yet in sync in mysterious ways. A marriage of opposites.
Breath in and say to yourself, “I want to learn, I want to grow, I want be better, and I want to learn more.”
Now, breath out and say to yourself, “I am okay in this moment just as I am. Everything is perfect.”
Seems contradictory, right? Not really. Breathing in is ACTION. Breathing out is RELEASE. The Tao in motion. It is the perfect circle of LIFE to put into action a change, and then to release and accept the moment as perfect.
What if you view the changes you’d like to make as self-love rather than self-rejection? What if you view the changes you’d like to make as a gift to yourself rather than a condition that must be met before you can accept yourself?
When good enough is perfect, change is an act of self-love. A pledge to treat yourself with compassion rather than criticism. A motivation to change that says: I love myself, rather than I’ll love myself when I change.
Ray Dodd, author – The Toltec Secret to Happiness