Despite what you may have been lead to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance are all different and produce different states of mind. Self-confidence is born of repeated experiences at which you eventually excel. Self-esteem is based on thinking you are accomplished at something and that makes you better than someone else (essentially, you hold yourself in high esteem), while self-acceptance is unconditionally accepting yourself, right this minute, regardless of your talents and flaws.
Self-esteem is the only one that can really wreak havoc on your sense of self, as it creates an emotional roller coaster. Let’s say you are rating yourself very well because you aced an exam. Your spirits and ego are soaring; there’s no problem. But, now, it’s the next day and you find out you failed a test. The dark side of self-esteem rears its ugly head and triggers a barrage of self-abnegating thoughts. Unfortunately, self-downing trumps self praise every time.
Albert Ellis, the eminent psychologist and prolific author, said that the one thing you can do to enhance your life is to practice USA: unconditional self-acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you love everything about yourself, but you accept everything. Paradoxically, by accepting those traits you may not find especially endearing, you are more likely to change them. You accept yourself unconditionally, but not all your behaviors, those, you can still rate. (As someone recently suggested, rate but don’t berate.) If you find ones you like, great. If you find ones that impede your relationships, vocation, or health, you can work to change them. Because you have not reviled yourself for being fallible and engaging in some less-than helpful actions, you are more likely to change. Your ego is less involved in the result. You want to do something differently, but you know it’s not a prerequisite to liking and loving yourself, because you already separated your value as a human being from your behaviors.
Here’s a pop quiz to see if that made sense: pretend I give you a beautiful wicker basket. You may not even like wicker baskets, but the craftsmanship is exquisite and you appreciate it. I start giving you fruit to put in your basket. A cluster of dewy grapes, a brown, soft banana, a luscious looking pear, and a past-its-prime moldy cantaloupe. What kind of a basket do you have? If you answered, “A beautiful wicker basket,” you were right. If you said anything about the fruit you were off track. Why? Because I asked you about the basket, not what it contained. Practice thinking of yourself as the basket and all your traits, habits, talents etc. as the fruit. Just like with the fruit, you can ditch those pieces that aren’t useful, cook with those that still have some life in them, and add some fresh ones when the mood strikes.
Unconditional self-acceptance is a philosophical stance you choose simply because it will make you happier. It’s no different from Louise Hay deciding that everything was happening for her highest good. There may be no evidence to support it, but we get to pick what we want to think. It’s our choice to frame something as “good” or “bad.” Why not choose those thoughts that make us feel joyful and optimistic?
One way to actively work to restructure one’s thoughts is to pay attention to all the times you think something disturbing. When you notice those negative tapes playing, say “STOP!” to yourself. Picture a huge, red, neon stop sign for extra emphasis. Then, consciously choose a happier thought. It may relate to something you were thinking, or it may be completely different. If you were ruminating on a possible negative scenario in the future, imagine it working out just the way you wish it would. There is absolutely no harm in this, despite all the superstitious junk with which we have all been indoctrinated.
For most of my professional career, when people were worried about something bad occurring in the future, I have asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The idea was, if they could parse through the worst thing and figure out how they would handle it, they’d be prepared and more relaxed. It’s not a bad strategy, but it focuses on the negative. Now, I like to ask people to imagine what’s the best possible outcome. I assume that if they have lived through everything that has happened so far, they can handle anything else that comes down the pike. In the meantime, they can dwell on wonderful images of things working out well. This does not meant they don’t make an effort to improve their lot, it simply makes it more likely that their lot will improve. Generally speaking, people who assume the best usually attract it.
This brings me to an observation I have made regarding the whole Law of Attraction school of thought. It’s not New Agey, at all. It’s ancient. It’s all about changing your thoughts, i.e.: cognitive therapy, and watching what happens. Not only will you feel better, but you will be more open to new experiences and to changing out-dated, unhelpful behaviors. Give it a try and let me know what happens.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang