The logic is that if you accept where and who you are, that means you’ll have no motivation to grow or change. The subtext here is the belief that motivation is purely driven by feelings of inadequacy. However, the research does not support this belief.
You can absolutely accept where you are, yet still have the desire and motivation to improve. Humans innately have the desire to learn and grow given the right conditions as Ed Deci and Richard Ryan, the founders of Self Determination Theory (SDT), point out:
“If people did not experience satisfaction from learning for its own sake (but instead needed to be prompted by external reinforcements) they would be less likely to engage the domain-specific skills and capacities they inherited, to develop new potentialities for adaptive employment, or both … for instance, by aiding in the discovery of alternative food sources, mapping the complexities of game migrations, or taking interest in skills, rituals, and social rules transmitted by other group members.”
Therefore, being honest and accepting of your current reality is not at odds with successful change. In fact, self-acceptance is actually a prerequisite for change as shown by the research of Deci and Ryan.
After all, how can you get directions if you don’t know where you are on the map?
What Is Self-Acceptance?
According to Psychology Today, “Self-acceptance is here-and-now oriented–not future oriented” “It’s not that we ignore or deny our faults or frailties, just that we view them as irrelevant to our basic acceptability.”.
Self-acceptance is simply saying that your worth as a human being is not dependent on your performance, your job, your bank account, your weight, your nationality, your attractiveness, or any other arbitrary measure of worth. Now, I know some people would say, “But that’s good! We shouldn’t accept ourselves until we’re acceptable! Otherwise we’ll just have a society of lazy, entitled people who don’t do anything, and society will crumble. And while we’re on the topic, get off my lawn!”.
Those people have an incorrect understanding of psychology.
Furthermore, researcher Courtney Ackerman states, “Accepting reality for what it is, does not necessarily mean you like that reality. In the same way, accepting yourself for who you are and acknowledging what you have done does not mean you must like, appreciate, or celebrate every aspect of yourself.”
Why Self-Acceptance Is Important
SDT seeks to explain “Why we do what we do” and makes a strong case for how important self-acceptance is for intrinsic motivation. SDT claims that intrinsic motivation flourishes when the following conditions are met: a sense of autonomy, competence, and belonging. Now, let’s examine how each aspect relates to self-acceptance so we can establish a link between self-acceptance and motivation.
“Autonomy refers to an experience of volition and integrity, the sense that one’s behavior is authentic and self-organized rather than internally conflicted and pressured or externally coerced” (The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation: A New Frontier in Self-Determination Research, Stefano I. Di Domenico et al).
Surely, being “authentic and self-organized” are impossible without self-acceptance.
Being hyper self-critical is being dishonest with yourself because it puts a magnifying glass on the negative while ignoring the positive. And positive reinforcement is much more effective for motivation and skill development because it gives you more effective feedback and instills a sense of competency. It shows you which of your efforts are leading to progress.
This means that if you’re hyper critical of yourself, you’re not going to feel competent even if you’re highly skilled at something. That’s just the nature of the thing.
If you don’t feel worthy, you’ll struggle to form the deep connections which are the foundation of belonging. You feel you don’t actually deserve to be loved or to form these bonds. Consequently, you’ll have a hard time feeling like you belong.
How To Master Self-Acceptance
First, you have to actually embrace the concept of self-acceptance. Stop viewing self-acceptance as weakness or something that will hold you back. This can be scary. Especially if your whole view of yourself is that the only way to keep you afloat is through shame and self-flagellation. I assure you though. It’s going to be alright. Better than alright! Once you let go of the notion that self-acceptance is a bad thing, you’ll find yourself more motivated, happier, and acting more like the best version of yourself.
Then, you have to become aware.
What parts of yourself do you not accept? How do you feel and what do you say to yourself when you think about these parts of yourself? When you notice these kinds of negative, self-rejecting thoughts, try reframing them.
- “I am not stupid for acting stupidly. Rather, I am a non-stupid person who sometimes produces stupid behavior.”
- “I can reprimand my behavior without reprimanding myself.”
- “I can praise my behavior without praising myself.”
The idea is make it about the action or the event, rather than about the self. This way you don’t take everything so personally. You don’t take everything as a reflection of your worthiness. Commit yourself to this practice. Slowly and progressively, you’ll find yourself more and more convinced of what you say to yourself in these reframes, which will lead to genuine self-acceptance.