This is another post in the series relating to the 5 Steps to Happiness. You can find previous posts on the topic under the appropriate heading with the word happiness or happy or something similarly obvious in the sidebar or the bottom of the page.
The previous post on what I believe happiness is and is not is here: 5 Steps to Happiness – What is Happiness?
Step 1 – Adore Yourself!
Adoring yourself is the foundation for all other steps in the search for inner peace or happiness. If you’re not able to embrace yourself it is almost impossible to go deeper and find your inner happy place. I stayed at this first step for a long time – years – before I moved onto the next. It’s a nice step to be stuck in.
I use the term adore rather than love or like because I believe that’s what it takes. Also, like happiness, the words love and like can be easily misunderstood. Ever fallen in love with the wrong person? You can love someone and still not like them (including yourself.) Like is something we tend to compartmentalize into specific events, as in, I like my hair today or I handled that project really well. It rarely incorporates the idea of the whole person. Adore is fairly straight forward in its meaning.
Adoring yourself is a realistic acceptance of the whole uniqueness that is you. This first step is the easiest step, since it doesn’t require anything except an honest look at yourself. It’s also one of the most difficult for the same reason.
There is a Saturday Night Live skit with Bob Newhart as a psychiatrist who tells his patients to “Stop it!” in response to whatever their issue is. Afraid of being buried alive? “Stop it!” You think you may have issues with your mother? “Well, stop. Stop it!”
I love it because of the raw truth it conveys. It really is that simple and that complex to rid ourselves of what we think holds us.
We let our emotions, thoughts, past, worries, and the fact that we wanted a blueberry muffin not a coconut one invade our existence in ways we don’t even realize and at the base of all of this is fear. (I’ve written about fear before as a motivator versus a debilitating bastard.)
I preface this step with these few paragraphs because the amount of time we could take to discuss why people do not adore themselves could fill volumes – it already does in books and almost everywhere else you look. The realization that helped me, and the main idea that I hope you remember from this brief initial post, is this:
Every part of you is worth embracing.
Dislikes Lists (aka I don’t like myself because…)
I think the easiest and quickest way to explain the concept of adoring yourself is to discuss this fairly universal idea that we do have self-loathing tendencies. For the purposes of brevity, we’ll discuss the concept in the form of a “likes/dislikes list”.
Most of us can produce an internal list – and often do – of the things we do and do not like about ourselves. It’s easy. You can probably think of at least one item right now before you finish reading this sentence.
Having a list of dislikes about ourselves is not the problem. It’s how we approach it. A list of whatever we don’t like about ourselves can be a useful tool for potential growth. Unfortunately, it’s more often used counterproductively.
Generally people do one of three things with their self-assessed “dislikes list”:
1) Focus on the dislikes without taking any action. This is probably the most common approach and the most damaging. It’s easier to berate ourselves than it is to accept or change something we don’t like. We don’t take action because we’re comfortable.
2) Examine the WHY behind our dislikes, often going back to childhood. The problem with this is that there is no resolution. Even if we discover the reason(s) behind an undesired trait or behavior, that doesn’t necessarily mean we know how to take action. (Thanks, Freud.)
3) Substitute optimism: Put a positive spin on the dislikes OR refocus attention entirely on the “likes” column of the list. To me, this is self-help talk for secretly (rather than outwardly) loathing whatever we don’t like about ourselves OR ignoring the dislikes all together. Both are surprisingly difficult to do and change nothing.
The key to adoring yourself is to first accept that you have a dislikes list and that you will always have one. That shouldn’t be a depressing thought. You will always, hopefully, find things you want to improve about yourself.
Side Note: I should probably mention at this point that if you believe you’re perfect, well, you’re wrong. On the other hand… Congratulations! You should move on to Step 2 (Gratitude), like, pronto. You obviously have a lot of things to be grateful for as well as some overdue humility waiting for you.
Embrace it all, baby.
If you will always have a list of likes/dislikes, the only obvious and sane thing you can do is embrace it. ALL of it. Everything you are right now, at this point in time.
Some people have been taught there is only one choice regarding the dislikes – either accept or change what you don’t like about yourself and move on. (My mother’s aphorism about a bodily function and a pot comes to mind.) This is a fabulous second step (the deciding not the usage of a pot.)
Taking action is easier said than done because people don’t first appreciate their lists. You must first be able to accept everything that is a part of you; otherwise, deciding what to keep and what change becomes muddled and you’re back to inaction.
I’ll use weight as an example because it’s such a prevalent subject and because I have some firsthand experience. A scrawny child, puberty decided to step in and provide a new reality, “Here are your ACTUAL genes. Have fun with that.” At my heaviest, in my mid-twenties, I was almost 200 lbs and no taller than I am now at 5’ 1”. Admittedly, I had a whole host of other issues then (who doesn’t at that age), but appearance was something others were able to focus on, so I did too. Body image reigned supreme at the top of my dislikes column.
The constant inner turmoil of something you don’t like about yourself can be relentless. Eventually, out of exhaustion from the battling and berating, I came to a realization: maybe someday I would change, but not right now.
Then that thought sunk in even further. Someday wasn’t right now. Why was I waiting for someday in order to like myself? It wasn’t a defeatist or a “let it all go” mentality. It was acceptance. For me, accepting the number one item on my dislikes list as part of who I was at that point in time was the catalyst to embracing everything else on the list.
Accepting = Clarity
That didn’t mean concerns about my weight were removed from the dislikes list. Not at all. The difference was that I was okay with it being there. I didn’t like it, yet it was undeniably a part of me. I could dislike parts of me, yet still like – even grow to adore – myself.
With this realistic self-acceptance approach I was able to address the dislikes on my list from a place of clarity rather than self-loathing. In my late twenties I lost the weight. Not because of any goal setting or peer pressure or health conscious epiphany or psychological revelation or even because I didn’t like what I saw and felt. No, it wasn’t a magical intervention either. Because I liked myself I knew what I wanted myself to be, dislikes or not.
Yes, I joined a weight loss program, watched what I ate, got up off the couch more often… blah, blah blah. Those specifics are the how not the why of the decision.
Adoring myself – my whole self – allowed me to concentrate for the first time without bias. I was able to determine what I truly needed and wanted without all the external and internal noise from the shoulda/woulda/coulda peanut gallery inside my head.
Picture: http://www.peanutallergykids.com (Isn’t it cute?)
Someday Needs to be RIGHT NOW
We all have the potential to be more than what we are at any given time. If you’re waiting for perfection before loving yourself, you’re going to have a very long wait in a very unhappy state.
You must embrace everything about yourself and NOT want to change anything first. Only then can you make a clear decision on whether you’re willing and able to accept or change the specifics on your list. I chose a physical trait as an example, but you could easily substitute impatience, anger issues, shyness, disorganization, that instrument or language you never learned – you name it.
Adoring yourself by embracing all that you are right now in the present allows you the freedom to look at what you do and do not like about yourself objectively. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
All the “dislikes” must be acknowledged and accepted into the whole. You can have any number of dislikes on your likes/dislikes list, yet still adore yourself. Embrace the entire package rather than just the pieces you currently deem worthy as being in the “likes” column. You will grow to appreciate, maybe even enjoy, some of the dislikes in an offbeat sort of way. You will most certainly realize that you wouldn’t exist without them. ALL of you is worth the effort.
I believe that adoring yourself in your present state is the ground level step in finding the inner peace. If you can’t acknowledge and appreciate who you are as a person it’s difficult to go any further inward and find your inner happiness.
I realize this only scratches the surface. I’m working on a book that incorporates all the five steps of happiness and will discuss this particular step in much greater detail, including the most common obstacles we impose on ourselves as well as some specific exercises that I found useful.
There is also a ton of information out there on the specific subject of self-adoration (or variations thereof), but I would offer this last piece of advice: “Stop it!”
Stop berating and start accepting.
I’ll write about the next step, Step2: Gratitude, in a subsequent post. I know, I know… you’ve heard that one before. And for good reason. It is HUGELY important.
You probably haven’t heard it discussed realistically and with a good dose of negativity, so we’ll give it a go. I think the head on method to being grateful, rather than kumbaya side-ways approach, makes a big difference especially if you approach it from a negative perspective like I do.