Every person I've coached in the 14 years I've been coaching has told me they feel less compulsive and crazed while accepting themselves. Acceptance helps you feel free to make calm, thoughtful choices, whereas rejection makes you freeze or run back to your worst habits for comfort.
If you're the exception—if hostile works for you—feel free to recommence hating yourself. The experiment is over. But notice that the present moment instantly becomes intolerable, and denial resumes. You'll sense that all is not right with your life, but since you'll no longer see it clearly, you won't be able to fix it. And that's fine, really, because you'll be so disheartened, you won't want to do anything but eat ice cream straight from the carton using only your face. Unless...
Learning to Draw
After they got over the crying and swearing phase, most of my art students realized that I made as many mistakes as they did, and it was no big deal. I'd take a hard look at an imperfect circle I'd drawn, then erase a lump and smooth out the curve. They soon began doing the same. Before long their lines became almost perfectly straight, their circles damn close to circular.
There is an approach to life that allows you to meet every day this way, to see errors calmly and address them quickly. Buddhists, Sufis, and eaters of crunchy granola have called this approach radical acceptance. It entails dropping all self-hatred and resistance, and continuously accepting everything that happens, without cruelty or condemnation.
"But," you may be thinking, "if I accept everything as is, I'll lose my motivation." Oh, really? Have you ever totally accepted a baby or puppy? What motivated you to play with it? Have you ever fallen in love, totally accepting someone who totally accepted you? What motivated you to spend time together? The answer, my friend, is love. And nothing in the world is as energizing.
Some of my most resistant art students, like my life-coaching clients to come, learned that despite the initial sting of knowing the truth, acceptance made for quick correction and rapid progress. Just weeks after cranking out those first lame lines and circles, they could draw everything better than they'd ever thought possible. "Don't worry," the professor would assure them, "the sooner you make your first 5,000 mistakes, the sooner you can move on to the next 5,000." Then we'd all have a hearty laugh—because taking horse tranquilizers would have been illegal—and keep on drawing.
Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press).
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