I love myself.
Three words that couldn't be simpler to understand and more difficult to express. An MBA student at Stanford said this in a small group in our Interpersonal Dynamics class (aka Touchy Feely) a few years ago, and hearing him say this had a profound impact on the rest of us.
He didn't say this in a self-aggrandizing or boastful way, nor was he comparing himself to anyone else. And he certainly wasn't saying that he was perfect or no longer needed to grow and change. He was merely saying, in the most straightforward way possible, that he deeply appreciated his good qualities, he forgave himself for his shortcomings, and even while he aspired to improve he also fundamentally accepted himself.
The ability to accept ourselves, to feel compassion for ourselves, to love ourselves is ultimately one of the most important skills to cultivate in self-coaching. The decision to seek coaching, whether from a personal coach or in a structured self-coaching process, grows out of a desire for change. We want something to be different, and while we may initially be focused on some external aspect of our lives, we typically come to realize that meaningful change will require us to change as well.
An inability to accept the need to change ourselves severely limits our ability to change our experience in the world. And yet at the same time, an inability to accept and love ourselves--right now, as we are, with all our flaws and foibles intact--condemns us to an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. The most profound coaching imaginable can't overcome this obstacle; we need to validate ourselves.
But the paradox is that those of us who are most open to change and theoretically capable of self-coaching may eventually struggle with the process because we find it so difficult to love and accept ourselves. We're quick to find fault with ourselves, eager to identify opportunities for growth, and ready to change--but we can't stop, and the process goes on and on. We're never done.
By emphasizing the need to validate ourselves, I'm not suggesting that the self is the only source of validation. Any number of external factors contribute to this desired outcome, from healthy relationships to sufficient social status and material rewards, and in their absence the work of accepting ourselves will be more difficult.
But it's important to recognize that no amount of external validation will ever be enough until we're able to accept and love ourselves. No amount of love and care from others, recognition or status, accomplishments or money will ever suffice on their own. They may serve as useful building blocks in the process, but self-acceptance is the mortar that binds them all together and holds the others in place when one of them is diminished or lost.
This is the last of 8 recent posts outlining a framework for a structured self-coaching process. I'm currently writing more comprehensive chapters on each topic, which will include additional information on self-coaching exercises and activities, the role that people in our lives can play in our self-coaching efforts, and the implications of recent neuroscience research for self-coaching.
For an overview of my self-coaching framework, see A Self-Coaching Guide for Leaders at All Levels.
For all my posts on this topic, see my Self-Coaching category.
Photo by Gideon Tsang. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons