Ironically, when you accept yourself, you are in a position to change yourself. When you constantly try to be someone else, you are unintentionally avoiding the necessary level of self-awareness that would allow you to improve yourself. In his book, On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers wrote, “I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.” He went on to write, “Evaluation by others is not a guide for me. The judgments of others, while they are to be listened to, and taken into account for what they are, can never be a guide for me.”
When you understand the beliefs that drive your behaviors, you can decide whether or not you want to keep those beliefs or to change them. I could decide to change my beliefs about singing and start to try to sing in public, but that can only happen once I honestly accept that my beliefs regarding singing are part of who I am. When I was growing up I played soccer. I had 11 different head coaches over a period of 16 years. Two stand out in my mind right now. One was remarkably challenging and positive and supportive and the other talked to me in a disgusting and humiliating way. Both voices are in my head and are part of me, but I get to choose which voice I focus on and which one I allow to influence my behaviors with other people.
Here’s a simple example. Perhaps you use a lot of foul language in your daily conversations at work because you believe this is how people talk when they are just being themselves. Then you realize this engrained behavior started in high school because you heard that type of language every day. You don’t have to hate yourself or be proud of yourself for using that language today. Just accept that this is part of who you are at this moment. Then you can choose if you want to continue with this belief or if you want to change it. If you change your long-held belief about what is appropriate language for an adult, you can begin to change your behavior.
This same process can be used with many parts of who you are today. Sometimes those beliefs will be relatively easy to change, and some will be so overwhelmingly difficult that you will only be able to make the shift with the help of a skilled psychotherapist, and in many cases you may not be able to change your beliefs and behaviors at all. A lot of times our beliefs and values are so engrained in our subconscious we are not even aware of them.
Some writers such as Bruce Hood in his book, The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, believe that we have very little choice in who we are and how we behave, but I disagree. I believe that we have more choice over our beliefs and behaviors than we give ourselves credit for. We need to take the time to become aware of ourselves, to understand ourselves, and to accept ourselves as we are right now. When we do that, we are in a position to choose to change some of our beliefs and ultimately some of our behaviors. In doing so, we can strengthen our level of self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his book, Toward a Psychology of Being, wrote, “Healthy people are better choosers than unhealthy people. What healthy people choose is on the whole what is ‘good for them’ in biological terms certainly, but perhaps also in other senses conducing to their and others’ self-actualization.”