I’m delighted to publish this post by executive coach and good personal friend Ceylan Sepil-Alexander from Vagabond coaching, after she came into my office to do a talk on the same subject. I asked her to cover self acceptance as it’s a topic that we all know it would be good for us to talk about, but are hesitant (and maybe even a little scared) to start the conversation.
In a fast paced world, where many of us are suffering from Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), feel under pressure to over perform, and try to battle it out to usurp our peers and colleagues, it pays not just to remind ourselves, but to actively train ourselves to see ourselves for what we are, and accept it. But I’ll let Ceylan take it from here…
You are perfect as you are, and there is always room for improvement. Shunryu Suzuki
I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed uni student at Duke University, when the Women’s Initiative there coined the term Effortless Perfection: “The constant pressure felt by college women to be smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and all without any visible effort.”
That’s how I first came to know of our campus-wide challenge with self acceptance. Lack of self acceptance is a joy sucking epidemic for all ages and genders, across continents.
Self acceptance is owning up all our ingenuity, warts and all, while also not judging ourselves for it. It is being able to sit in our shit and call things as they are — including how we feel about it all.
For example… you might make the observation: “I get super nervous when I need to speak in front of a big group.” Instead of judging this to be juvenile and calling yourself a bad person for suffering it, the self-accepting approach would be to simply observe how you are: right now, you get all flushed and nervous when you speak to a crowd of people.
Of course, self acceptance is not only about bad shit. It is also about awesome shit, the stuff that pops out and hardly needs a single piece of tissue to clean off. Self acceptance is equally claiming all our brilliance, what we kick-ass at, without playing down any of our awesomeness.
Self acceptance is crucial for a healthy mental state.
You probably have heard the phrase ‘What you resist persists’. When you lack self acceptance, and turn up the volume of the inner-judge in your head, you will only get more mired in the behaviours you resist.
Continuing the public speaking example, you might find yourself turning the brightest shade of beetroot red, and begin to dread and avoid the whole occasion of public speaking. It is a bit like declaring war against the quicksand —you only sink in deeper with each aggressive move.
The feelings and other aspects we deny take refuge in our shadow-selves, gain power, and start subconsciously running our lives. As the saying goes: “when you resist something, it goes down to the basement and lifts weights.”
Where does it all begin?
From a young age we are continually examined, ranked, and compared against others. We get culturally conditioned to look, act, be, and feel a certain way.
We adopt ideals of perfection, and internalise the criticism from parents, teachers, and peers. We feel ashamed when we fall short of our internalised standards and expectations.
We find it hard to come to terms with different aspects of our life and personality: how we look, our income and where we are in our career, living with a long term illness (physical or mental), feeling angry or envious.
The list goes on.
How do we get back on a path of self acceptance?
Mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is awareness of present experience, exactly as it is, with wholehearted acceptance and without judgment. Check out Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and videos for more info on mindfulness.
And if you are up for a very intense crash course on self acceptance, check out the ten-day silent meditation retreats available around the world (for free). Search for Vipassana meditation.
Keep a journal. Keep a personal record of your days, and give yourself a chance to slow down and notice things you might otherwise miss. Observe your self-diminishing thoughts, capture how you feel internally, and how you react on the outside. Pay attention to the words you use to tell your story and how you label yourself. Notice also where you hold on to residual guilt about past mistakes, because maybe it’s time to let go of your old stories. Practise forgiveness.
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can,” says Yoda of Star Wars. We must acknowledge where and how we are, before we can change any aspect of ourselves.
The Johari Window is great for becoming aware of aspects of ourselves we sweep under the rug. There are four window-panes that lend a different perspective to our talents, feelings, experiences, behaviours, etc. (Johari Window Model picture: businessballs.com)
Window 1, Open or Known area: This is your public persona. Both you and the others who observe you are aware of the qualities here.
Window 2, Blind spot: Other people can see into this area, but you cannot.
Window 3, Hidden area: The private space you keep hidden from the others.
Window 4, Unknown area: Neither you nor the others around you can see into this area. This area holds your untapped talents, painful memories, etc.
The areas where we do not allow self acceptance can usually be found in Windows 2-4. We shrink our blind spot and become more self aware when we seek feedback from others, and find out more about our impact in the world.
When we disclose and share more of our Hidden self, we abandon shame, exchanging it for vulnerability and self acceptance.
Seeking feedback and allowing more of ourselves to be seen are the first steps on the journey into Window 4, where we get to explore areas of the self previously unknown.
Seek feedback, reveal more of your light and of your shit. Practise mindfulness and observe your internal climate as it is, without judgment.
What’s next for me is, a nice 20 minutes of meditation on my light and my shit. What’s next for you?