"For some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love." Geneen Roth
The advice givers are divisive:
“Love yourself, just as you are.” “Work toward your dreams and become your best self.”
Many of us say the first quote before eating some ice cream and the second before stepping on the treadmill, but where is the sweet spot? How can you love yourself, truly and completely as you are, while also trying to become better? Is it even possible?
No one wants to be too easy on themselves and flake out on their goals and dreams. But the answer is not self hatred. In fact, self hatred and low esteem often de-motivate as much or more so than the “ice-cream compassion” example given above.
As an example, see this article in The Week, which reports on a study of low-performing college students, run by Psychologist and author Timothy Wilson.
Wilson says, “…we prompted students to reinterpret their academic problems from a belief that they couldn't cut it in college to the view that they simply needed to learn the ropes. The students who got this prompt — compared to a control group that didn't — got better grades the next year and were less likely to drop out.”
It seems obvious that the self loathing students, “I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough,” would underperform the self love students, “I can do this. I just need to work differently or with more gusto.” And yet, how often do we try and use negativity to motivate ourselves?
“Do not eat the ice cream you fat slob.”
As another example, imagine you are your own parent, hoping to motivate a child (you). The child comes home with a C in math. What do you say if you love this child? You want her to succeed and achieve her dreams in life and you know math skills will be key for this to happen.
Do you go with: “You’re an idiot. You’re not trying hard enough and you know it. If you don’t want to be a huge failure, you better hit the books hard. Life isn’t full of second and third chances.”
Few of us would say this to a child, but we’d say it ourselves in a heartbeat. Clearly the better approach is compassion, encouragement and a plan for positive reinforcement.
“A C is okay. A C is average. But you can do better. I know you can. Let’s work together on a study plan. We’ll do some extra online work, 30 minutes a day, until you’re more confident.”
In this way, trying hard because you love and believe in yourself will not only provide less stress, but more resilience, the next time failure comes. No one getting a self loathing smackdown each time they fail is anxious to try new things and possibly fail again. But failure is key to risk taking and risk taking is key to success.
So go ahead and love yourself. Parent yourself with compassion and an eye toward success. Trust that dropping the self loathing disguised as “tough love” will not unravel your dreams.