Last week, I wrote about how being nice wasn’t enough, in and of itself. This kicked off a number of discussions, one of which focused around the idea of self-acceptance. After all, I’ve made it a point that self-acceptance is important and how believing in magic cures can actually hinder you in your progress when it comes to any sort of self-improvement.
At the same time however, it brings up the question: doesn’t needing to be more than just nice conflict with the idea of self-acceptance? After all, wouldn’t changing imply that you’re not accepting of yourself?
Well… not really. In fact, self-acceptance is an important part of self-improvement. Without one, you can’t really have the other.
Confused? Well let me explain.
The Importance of Self-Acceptance
One of the biggest mistakes that comes from trying to improve yourself is the idea that you’re inherently broken, or that something’s wrong with you. And in fairness: yes, you are flawed. But then again, so am I. So’s everybody else out there. There is literally nobody out there who is without flaws.
We live in a world that strives to make us think that we’re losers. That we’re awful. That there’s something wrong with us. It’s the cornerstone of modern marketing: create an inadequacy and then fulfill it. Take that giant empty hole in your life and fill it with stuff. Social media also serves to make us feel bad about ourselves. How can you show your face when you don’t measure up to everyone else’s carefully cultivated public image? Spend a little time on Twitter and get ready to be hit with assholes who’re ready to tell you how awful you are.1.
The voices – other people’s or your own – will provide you with a list of Why You Suck. You’re not enough, you’re not sufficient, you’re not as good as anyone else. How dare you put yourself out there, you flawed, morose motherfucker? You’re too fat, too loud, too quiet, too skinny, too nice, too whatever. You creeped on a woman. You got a nasty case of Oneitis. What made you think that you could walk out the door like a normal person? EMBRACE THE SHAME YOU DESERVE.
But self-acceptance robs those words of the ability to hurt you. Self-acceptance is simply that: acceptance. It’s looking at those lists of flaws and imperfections and saying “yes, and?” By accepting that you’re not “perfect” – for whatever bullshit definition of “perfect” you want to run with – you recognize that there’s nothing wrong with being imperfect. The “Bro do you even lift” crew isn’t superior to the heroin-thin or the heavy guys because they subsist on chicken breasts and body dysmorphia. The people telling you that there’s One True Way To Be a Man or Woman Or LGBTQ or what-have-you aren’t the guardians of the TRVTH. They’re loud and frequently hateful, but volume and invective don’t give someone insight or moral clarity. They just want to hurt people.
They may be actual people, or they may be the voice of your own internal judgement. Either way: they have as much power as you’re willing to give them. Accepting yourself defangs them. Loving yourself, as imperfect as you may be, becomes a radical act of defiance.
But then, if you accept yourself and all your flaws, wouldn’t that mean that you don’t need to improve?
Well, no, actually.
“You Are Perfect As You Are, And You Can Do Better”
This is where the disconnect comes in. The assumption is that self-improvement can only come by believing there’s something inherently wrong or flawed within you and must be corrected for. Entire schools of sales philosophy are built around ensuring that people are insecure and hate themselves in order to sell the pursuit of perfection... even when that perfection is accomplished by smoke, mirrors and trickery.
After all, if you were to accept yourself, then wouldn’t you just become complacent instead? What drives people to get better except the primal need to outrace their own self-doubt?
The answer is simple: the desire to do better, in and of itself. Contentment isn’t the antithesis of ambition, it’s what gives you the strength to chase those goals. It’s like a zen koan: you’re perfect as you are, but you can still improve. You can want to achieve more without feeling like that achievement is a necessity. It’s a fundamental mind-shift that removes the imperative and judgement and replaces it with aspiration. “I’m not where I’d like to be and that’s OK, because I can work at it.” That simple shift in thinking can be astoundingly liberating. You’re not defining yourself by your limitations and thus limiting what you’re capable of. You’re not trying to measure up to your idea of somebody else’s life. You aren’t making your happiness, your satisfaction, your self-worth dependent on the trappings of somebody else’s outward presentation.
Instead, you’re realizing the mistake that most people make when they’re looking for self-improvement: they assume that there’s an end-point. But there is no end point. When I started studying martial arts, I focused like a laser on getting my black belt. And like every damn kung-fu movie cliche, getting that belt taught me how little I actually knew and how much further I had to go. I could throw my hands up in despair at the realization of how much further I had to go, or I could accept that there would always be more I can do and that was fine. The love of learning, the desire of “well, I’m good but I could still improve” is what spurred me on.
When I was trying to get better with women, I thought the goal was “get X number of lays” or “get to the point where I could take home any woman I wanted”. But, just as when I got my black belt, the more I learned, the more I realized how much more there was to learn. Improvement isn’t an end-point, it’s a process. A pursuit. Maybe I would never reach whatever arbitrary number of sex partners I’d decided upon. Maybe I would never reach the point of being able to fuck absolutely anyone. That was ok. I’d learned so much. I’d improved so much. I still had my flaws… and that was fine. I could still work on them.
You may not be as thin as someone else, and that’s fine. You may not be as fast as someone else. That’s fine. You may not be as built, or as suave or as strong or as clever and that’s fine. You’re fine, just as you are.
But you can do better, if you want to.
Self-Acceptance vs. Minimum Standards
Of course, this then asks of us: what about the bare minimum? If someone is good enough as they are, why is there this emphasis on “you don’t get cookies for meeting minimum standards” ?
The issue here is that people misunderstand the point of things like the Grimes Test. It’s not a case of “you must be this tall to ride”, where you’re only attractive/fuckable/whatever if you have X number of traits, it’s that certain aspects come standard and should be expected. For example, when you go to dinner at a restaurant, you go with the assumption that you’re not going to get food poisoning. There’s a reason, after all, why Fatburger isn’t promoting themselves with “less likely to leave you puking your guts out all night long”. The idea that the food isn’t toxic isn’t a selling point, it’s the bare minimum of what you expect from them.
Similarly, Not Being The Worst isn’t a selling point on the dating market. The fact that you may never have taken advantage of someone when they’re vulnerable isn’t a bonus, it’s what people should be able to expect from you. Being nice is, er, nice, but that in and of itself isn’t sufficient for attraction.
Self-acceptance, on the other hand isn’t about attraction or being what other people want; it’s about being enough for you. It’s being accepting of who you are, at this moment, even if you’re not the best of the best. Maybe you’re magnetic and alluring. Maybe your social skills and charisma could use some work. Self-acceptance is the belief that it’s fine to be who you are. If you’re satisfied with only being the bare minimum, then that’s fine. Just don’t expect people to be amazed by it.
Why Wouldn’t Someone Want To Improve?
One thing that comes up with self-acceptance is recognizing that you might not want to try to improve or change. To many people, this can sound absurd to the point of ludicrousness. Why wouldn’t you want to achieve the most that you possibly could? How could you sit there and be content in your mediocrity?
The answer is simple: in self-acceptance, you may realize there are things you don’t feel the need to change. People’s priorities can vary and what is vitally important to one person can seem like a trivial matter to others. Two people may like competing in marathons. One may put all of their effort into trying to complete the race in under 4 hours. The other may simply take pleasure in being able to finish the marathon in the first place. To the former, not pushing yourself can seem insane – after all, why would you put in all that effort if you’re not trying to be the best? To the latter, they’ve simply wanted to prove to themselves that they could do something they never could before. Both are equally valid.
Similarly, people can put different values on achievement. PUAs and Red Pill’ers may look down on the serial monogamist or the person who’s only slept with one woman in his life; to them, their number of sex partners is integral to their self-esteem and identity. The monogamist, on the other hand, may see the player as someone who can’t maintain a relationship and take pride in the strength and longevity of his connection with his partner. He isn’t interested in trying to improve his social skills because they’ve been sufficient to get him to where he is.
They may also decide that that those goals aren’t worth the cost it would take to achieve them. Developing and maintaining six-pack abs, for example, is costly in terms of time and effort, and doesn’t necessarily provide the results that people may expect. Somebody who’s fat may decide that they don’t see any reason why they should lose weight. If they’re healthy, they have a job they like, friends and an active social life2, they may decide that the biggest reason they have to lose weight is just to fit into smaller clothing. There may be material benefits to losing weight but they may decide that the difference isn’t worth the effort. They would then direct their self-improvement into an entirely different area – one that has much more meaning for them.
Self-acceptance lets you decide what matters to you. Time, energy and willpower are all limited resources, and we can squander them without meaning to. Society may tell you that you should look, live and believe a certain way… but accepting yourself means that you get to decide where you want to spend your effort.
How Self-Acceptance Promotes Self-Improvement
The most important part of self-acceptance is that it empowers people to improve themselves. Spending time on self-recrimination and judgement actually saps your ability to change and grow. Believing that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re deficient damages your emotional resilience. When you treat imperfection as an unforgivable sin, you make it impossible to grow or change. Failure, after all, is inevitable. As such, failing is a key part of learning; you fall in order to learn how to get up again. Accepting your flaws and imperfections is part of what gives you the strength and the emotional tools to not just learn from failure but to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
You don’t have to be the best or the fanciest or the strongest when it comes to attraction, for example. If we go back to the restaurant metaphor, the fact that Jean Georges Steakhouse exists doesn’t mean that people don’t also love them some In ‘n Out Burger3. Accepting those imperfections, becoming comfortable with them, frees you up to improve. By not wasting your valuable emotional bandwidth on self-recrimination, you have the resources to pursue the things you love. You give yourself the freedom, the energy and the opportunity to improve… in the ways that have meaning for you.
And in becoming your best self, you set yourself up to achieve more than you’ll ever believe you could.