“No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.”
― Robert Holden
In the medical world, we often spend time discussing what is sick, what is dysfunctional, and what is painful. Furthermore, we are frequently reviewing what changes you can make, what you can do better, and which of your habits are contributing to ill-health. There is obviously value in such discussions. After all, one major goal healthcare is to discuss patients’ concerns and complaints and implement plans to alleviate them. Additionally, educating patients how to institute healthy behaviors in a world that virtually forces the opposite is one of my core missions.
Discussions of change, while important, should not invite feeling of self-judgment or condemnation. I heard a statement in parenting class years ago that always stuck with me. The lecturer was commenting that as parents you are doing the best you can at any given moment. That doesn’t equate to being a great parent at any given moment. You might be hitting all the top-10 things you are not supposed to do in parenting; however the factors of your day, your life, and your physical and emotional states brought you to this point where your doing the best you can, even if the result is less than optimal. I like to extrapolate that line of thought to many of the changes we try to implement, especially around nutrition. If you are eating a bag of Doritos, it’s not likely because you believe it’s the ideal food. However, at that moment, it’s the choice you made and many factors contributed to making that choice. Avoiding self-denigration after the fact is crucial because at that moment, you were still doing the best you could. Recognizing that fact, and accepting it, will allow the mind to think more clearly in the future, and potentially put you in a different position where “the best you can do at that moment” might be a different choice.
“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn
One way to accomplish the clear-headedness that allows for good decision making is to step back and simply accept where we are in the present. We must embrace ourselves as human beings and all the thoughts and emotions that come with that. Focusing on the present allows us to fully experience our lives as they happen, rather than being paralyzed by self-judgment of the past or anxiety about the future.
This does not mean giving up goals or dreams. This does not mean ignoring past experiences and the wisdom that comes from self-reflection. This does not mean avoiding personal improvement or attempting change that may benefit your long-term health and wellness. What it does mean is that the these thoughts and feelings shouldn’t detract from the experiences or conversations you are having, from the work you are doing, or the hobbies in which you participate. Set aside time for self-reflection and use that time, not to belittle yourself, but to set goals for the future. Then move those goals outside your immediate focus and immerse yourself in your experiences as they occur. There will be time to return to your thoughts.
There are many factors that contribute to long-term health and wellness. We put so much focus on what we’ve done “wrong” and what we need to do differently in the future. We cannot, however, truly attempt to evolve until we’ve accepted who we are at the moment and appreciated all the experiences that led to this point. Self-denigration will never lead to positive and lasting change. Awareness and appreciation of all that we experience is a crucial step in long-term happiness and and well-being.