Being ok with not being perfect

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As I’ve mentioned before, I struggle with beating myself up. I’m my own worst enemy. I’ve been trying to figure out how to accept myself as-is and yet not be seen as passive or ambivalent to my flaws. I’ve always felt like this should be possible and yet I can’t quite get there. After reading the first two chapters of Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, though, I have a better sense of how this could work for me (and maybe for you as well).

What is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is not fighting with life, but flowing with it.

When we get lost in our stories, we lose touch with our actual experience. Leaning into the future, or rehashing the past, we leave the living experience of the immediate moment.

There are two parts of radical acceptance: “seeing” what is happening now and “being” with those feelings and emotions without pushing them away or beating yourself up.

Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance.

What isn’t radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance is not resignation.

Acceptance might suggest that we resign ourselves to being exactly as we are, which often enough means “not good enough.” However, as psychologist Carl Rogers’s seminal insight proclaims: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Our deepest nature is to awaken and flower.

Radical acceptance is also not an excuse for self-indulgence or for being passive.

Radical Acceptance acknowledges our own experience in this moment as the first step in wise action. Before acting or reacting, we allow ourselves to feel and accept our grief for how the earth has been polluted, our anger about the destruction of wildlife, our shame about how we have been mistreated, our fear about what others may think about us, our guilt about our own insensitivity. No matter what the situation, our immediate personal experience is the fundamental domain of Radical Acceptance. This is where we cultivate the genuine wakefulness and kindness that underlie effective action.

Why is radical acceptance so challenging?

For one thing, radical acceptance goes against the grain of our cultural norms. We are taught to strive for more, to climb a ladder, to do it better, faster, stronger, harder. We are taught we aren’t ok just as-is.

Radical acceptance is also seemingly counterintuitive. Won’t accepting your flaws lead to apathy or excuses and make it harder to change?

The truth, it seems, is just the opposite. If you aren’t accepting of your flaws and yourself, to begin with, you won’t have the foundation (i.e. the energy and confidence) you need to actually make meaningful change.

After understanding more about what radical acceptance is and isn’t, I don’t feel like it is out of reach for me.

I need to just keep reaching for it.

3 responses

  1. I totally relate to this. But ask yourself, who doesn’t feel not good enough at some times? It’s only when it starts to have really negative effects that I pay attention to those thoughts, typically during, or more commonly, after an episode of beating up on myself.

    I’ve discovered that setting self improvement goals can also be an insidious form of beating up on myself. Set them up. Then you feel bad because you can’t stick to them!!

    So here’s what helps me:

    Talking to my sister is a real leveller and puts things in perspective for me, so I recommend having at least one person in your life who can point out to you that you’ve slipped back into those being hard on yourself thought patterns. An honest uninvolved view does wonders but don’t let your listener become your agony aunt!

    Keeping a very short daily journal, with a structure an idea that I got from this website, is enormously helpful. I hand write in a notebook that my niece gave me that has ‘Stay Focused and Sparky’ on the cover. I love reaching for it each day AND I’ve decided not to beat up on myself if I miss a day or two. I simply write ‘Monday came and went’ or a short summary para. That seems like to biggest achievement.

    Internal states cover mental and physical. Tai Chi really helps mentally and physically but it’s hard to keep the awareness going when you leave the class or finish your practice. A work in progress.

    In the last few days I’ve discovered another little helper. To my surprise, my just acquired Fitbit which is all about goals and doing stuff is helping me to be better in touch with the physiological side of my internal state. I’ve always been curious about what goes on inside by body as it feel somewhat disconnected because I live in my head so much. A friend told me her Fitbit had really helped her to get into good habits and get better sleep. It’s early days for me yet but the signs are promising.

  2. > “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

    This is such a powerful idea, and indeed very true!

    I first came across it in the last decade on a blog that I don’t remember exactly, but very likely learned it from the Zen Habits blog.

  3. I think I have heard this concept before but didn’t really understand the details. So thank you for this post.
    Funnily enough it reminds me of a method of speaking to children, my wife and I were discussing the other day with my sister-in-law.
    By saying ‘good job’ instead of ‘good boy’, the action is not internalised. So if a child does a bad thing, we try not to call them naughty, but say the thing they did. So the child is not defined by their actions.
    It’s not quite the same thing as RA, but it came into my head as something related.

Comments welcome!

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