One of the reasons that I wrote my most recent project, HabitualApp, was the work and reading I have been doing over the past two years or so on personal growth.
Of all the ideas and concepts I came across, one of the hardest to really get to grips with, or to “internalise”, is understanding how to accept reality as it is, rather than focusing on what I think it should be (or want it to be). This is often called ‘self acceptance’ when it refers to looking at yourself, who you are right now, and accepting it.
Self Acceptance – Accepting Reality
My difficulty was understanding how I could accept things about me, and yet still have a goal to improve. How could I set a goal to get better at something, and at the same time accept that my current ability is OK? This seemed like a direct conflict.
Eventually I started to differentiate between accepting things as they are, and understanding what I want them to be. I realised that can be distinct concepts. This is a bit abstract, so let me take an example:
I often have ideas that are quite complex and theoretical and I want to share these with my friends. So I write something, or sit down with a friend, and talk them through my latest idea. They don’t understand me, and I get very frustrated. In a few cases, we even end up arguing about it. This was not something that I wanted.
However, I had to accept a simple fact. My communication skills were what they were. They were not great (and maybe still aren’t :-)). Fine OK. This didn’t make me a bad person. This didn’t make me a failure. It is nothing more than a fact. Like my height.
Here is the hard part, the bit that I really struggled to internalise. While it is OK to not be great at communicating, it is ALSO ok to want to change it. They are not mutually exclusive. This was a realisation, and when combined with one additional idea, it became very powerful.
Self Responsibility – Shaping Reality
That idea is “self responsibility”. Once I have accepted that I want to be better at communicating. I take responsibility for it. Personally I think “taking responsibility” consists of two aspects:
- I want something to change
- I realise it will only change if I make it change.
This leaves me in a state where I am OK saying I’m not a great communicator. I’m OK saying I want to be a better communicator, and I know that I will get better only if I do something to actually get better. After that, I found it impossible to not do something about it. I would actually get uncomfortable if I didn’t spend time working on improving it.
In this case I decided to do a series of conference talks. By pushing myself to present ideas to a group of people I was able to practice different communication styles, and get useful feedback. I was lucky enough to have a colleague I could work closely with, and easy access to a community who were able to give good feedback. However if that had not been the case I would have still found a suitable audience.
Internalising these two concepts into my daily experience has had two noticeable effects. The first is that I am a lot less stressed. When I notice something in my life that is not right, there is no associated feeling of guilt, which means there is no stress. This has allowed me to be more honest with myself about who, and what I am. The second effect I noticed is that I am significantly more successful at actually changing those things in my life I want to change. I have even noticed an improvement in self esteem as a result.