In my forty-year journey of self-improvement and growth, probably the issue I have struggled with the most is self love. I think this is because I have been misunderstanding what it means. I always thought of self love and forgiveness as ways to excuse weakness and to forgive failure. Growing up in a blue-collar, hardcore working man family, these were not traits that were fostered and encouraged.
I was taught to be hard on myself or the world would do it for me. I mistook this harshness in dealing with myself as a sign of self-discipline and toughness. I was relatively kind and forgiving of others, but not to myself. I had to hold myself to a higher standard. If I wanted to do better than others, I had to be better than others - I had to be tougher.
The end result of this thinking was that I built up a huge reservoir of resentment towards myself. I had been keeping score of every transgression and mistake I had ever made in a misguided effort to hold myself accountable, to hold myself to a higher standard. Because I was so focused on my own shortcomings and failures, I left no room in my own mind for my many victories.
The obvious problem with this approach is that eventually, our subconscious minds tend to drift towards what we focus on, what we seem to value. My subconscious mind apparently concluded that since mistakes and failures were what was being measured, I should experience more of them!
With the encouragement of a very wise mentor, I have recently started to learn how to focus on my strengths and victories. I remind myself that my survival rate thus far is 100%! I have survived everything life has thrown at me and come through the other side intact and ready for more.
I have learned that self love and forgiveness are not signs of weakness; they are signs of strength! It takes a strong person to release this type of emotional baggage. I remind myself about how every single story of a successful person involves similar failures and shortcomings along the way. Our failures are not detours on our journey, they are an integral part of our journey.
Failing is necessary for us to learn the best way forward. Failing and stumbling is where we gain the strength to move forward over the higher hills ahead of us. If we never failed, we would never become strong enough to go very far.
Redefining this in my own mind has made a world of difference in my life. It is not past failures and mistakes that hold us back, it is thinking that these events WERE failures in the first place! We have been punishing ourselves and withholding our full measure of self love for far too long. It is time to forgive ourselves, not for failing and making mistakes, but for not embracing those events as important parts of our journey.
How much more pleasant would the world be if we all embraced this idea? What if we even extended this to include those around us? What if we considered the possibility that those who wronged us didn’t do it intentionally? What if they did what they thought was best at that time? Maybe it is time to forgive and love them also. Maybe we all need a clean slate so we can move forward.
I spend a lot of time with people who are trying to improve their lives. Every one of them is living a life that seems far below what their potential and abilities would suggest they would be living. In every case, I find that they have been holding onto some bad ideas, not about the world in general, but about themselves.
It is both tragic and hopeful that the things holding most of us back from living the lives of our dreams are in our own heads. It is tragic that we have allowed it to happen thus far, but hopeful because we can control it. It is within our grasp to acknowledge and change what happens in our heads and our hearts. It all begins with forgiving and loving ourselves without reservations and conditions.
If we are honest, I think most of us are living at exactly the level we think we deserve. We mentally tally up our mistakes and failures and then we discount our victories and strengths. The resulting calculation reflects where we have settled in our lives. This is where I believe stress comes from; it is the tension caused when we try to pull free from our own internal judgments of ourselves.
The problem is that we have weighed these things incorrectly. We should not even be considering mistakes and failures at all. They do not measure our potential. It is our victories which give us clues as to what we are capable of accomplishing.
Take a few minutes and relive and revisit every little win you have had. The business that did well. The promotion you earned. The game you won. The investment that made money for you. The beautiful person who said yes to you.
There is absolutely no value in holding onto past losses. There is amazing value in embracing past wins. Think about it. Who says we have to punish ourselves? We have such a short time to build the life we want and wallowing on our past troubles is pointless and self-defeating. Learn to forgive and love yourself if you want to see what your best self looks like! I promise that person is beautiful.
We recommend reading The Self Love Experiment to learn more about this topic.
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