There are three broad ways that people try to change their lives. The first is hard, the second is popular, the third gives you your best chance of happiness.
1. Change The Universe
If we could only change the world to fit in with our expectations. Make it sunny for the picnic on Sunday, make the person you fancy feel the same way about you, get the right car, live in a perfect house and so on, and so on.
Unfortunately this is the hardest trick to pull off, the universe is a big place and very difficult to organise. Yet many people still want the world to come into line with their desires and get very upset when it doesn’t.
2. Change Yourself
The next way is to change ourselves to measure up to the standards of the day. This approach often gets called self help.
On the face of it this seems like the right thing to do. If only I get thinner, richer, more confident, have a better speaking voice, more ambitious then I will be happy and everyone will like me. Perhaps we need to get rid of the things we don’t like or think other people wont like. If only we can get rid of the smelly, gangrenous bits of our personality then we will be more likeable and happier.
Unfortunately this can be a never-ending treadmill. You will always be able to find something else to improve, something else that needs fixing. Just one more thing then I’ll be fixed.
It’s perfectly understandable that we want to be better people, to develop or enhance our skills. The question is what is motivating that drive, is it an innate desire to be the most that we can be or is it to escape the worm in the apple that tells us that there is something wrong with us, something deeply flawed that we need to escape from.
3. Accept Yourself (then change if you need to).
At first glance this appears to be going in the wrong direction. Shouldn’t I be working to fix all the things that are wrong with me? If you have the idea that you are broken then that is the real problem, the itch that can’t be scratched by one more diet, a different supplement or inspirational book.
Alice tells you she is fat and is disgusted with herself. George tells you he is very critical and ashamed of himself. Sally tells you she is lazy and will never amount to anything. Being a good friend you might listen to these declarations of failure and think that the problem is all about fat, criticism and laziness.
In fact the real problem with these sentiments, the glue that holds them in place against all efforts is the judgement that follows. A better place to start is with disgust, shame and self-criticism.
The first parts of those declarations could be called problems but they are also being used as a stick for each friend to beat themselves up with.
The real problem is the idea that you are broken, bad, defective, evil or a failure. If you come from this point of view then you will have a huge amount of resistance to overcome and even if you lost the weight, became less critical, or more energetic you would still have the self-aversion waiting in the wings to find another stick to beat you with.
If you come from the point of view that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you then you can make whatever changes you need to make because each problem is just a problem. There is no evil identity to support, no problem personality to maintain. Change, if it is necessary, becomes much simpler because the problem is not an opportunity to give yourself a hard time.
Basically there really is nothing wrong with you. If you think that there is, it is because you have been taught that there is. No one is born with self-aversion or shame you need to be taught, by life or, more likely, other people.
If you looked on yourself as someone to be helped rather than blamed or punished, who would you see? How would you feel about them? What would be different?