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The 4-Step Path to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Change

By September 29, 2022Self-Improvement
Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Let’s get it out in the open – we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Many of us have a long list of things we would love to improve, and that’s perfectly natural.

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsAccording to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a motivational psychology theory, we have a wide array of needs ranging from food, safety, and water to more advanced needs like social belonging, love, and personal growth. Sitting atop this hierarchy lies self-actualization, or as Maslow said, “The desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” In other words, accepting who you are and what you have to offer to become the strongest version of yourself. Easier said than done, right?

A common criticism of Maslow’s theory, and one I whole-heartedly agree with, is in his estimation that only one in 100 people will reach self-actualization or self-acceptance. For starters, that’s a bit grim and pessimistic, and I’m a natural-born optimist. The truth is not everyone is cut out to make it to the promise-land, but my bet is that every single person reading this has the ability to prove Maslow wrong.

Start by Loving Your Weakness to Death

It all begins with your focus. I’m sure you have heard this paraphrased Nietzsche quotation, “Stare for too long into the abyss and the abyss will begin to stare back at you.” When your focus lies solely on your weaknesses and never your strengths, it’s only a matter of time before your weaknesses dominate your focus.

Instead, shift your focus to your strengths. Maybe you are the woman who stores more fat around the midsection than you’d prefer, but you have long, lean, and strong legs. Or maybe you are the man with the legs that never grow, but you have broad shoulders and a nice set of arms (that’s what pants are for anyway). In both cases, you should definitely work on your weaknesses – after all, you would be ignoring your top tier needs if you didn’t pursue improvement – but there’s no reason to beat yourself up day in and day out over the fat that will go away rather quickly with attention to diet or the legs that will grow over time with dedicated training.

Tips for Self-Acceptance

Why? Because you have awesome long legs, or arms that other guys envy, or you’re a great athlete, or I don’t know, maybe you have a golden personality, but that’s why. There’s something to love about yourself, and you know what it is because you’re probably thinking of it right now.

As a reinforcement exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What are three of my best physical strengths?” Examples might be a chiseled jaw line, being strong, a lean midsection.
  • “What was the last compliment you received that made you feel great about yourself?”
  • “What is one weakness you have improved in the last year?”

Strive for Progress, Not Perfection

The next hurdle is accepting that turning your weaknesses into strengths may take a long time, and there’s a good chance your weaknesses never will become strengths at all. If you think you can change your genetic code to store less fat in your midsection and more in your rear-end, grow skinny legs to massive tree trunks, or change the color of your feathers, you’re in for a rude awakening. The good news is, if you do a good job at shifting your focus to your strengths, this won’t bother you all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, you can make incredible, drastic changes to your body with dedication and perseverance. I’ve seen sustained body transformations that defied every genetic limitation or barrier. But every one of these transformations had one thing in common: consistent effort for an extended period of time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some say it actually took nearly a thousand years, for what it’s worth.

Nobody Should Believe in You More Than You

It won’t be easy, but self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s self and ability, can be improved in many different ways. One of the best strategies I’ve experienced is to start small. Focusing on a single, attainable goal makes it nearly impossible to fail and allows you to “get a small win.”

Even the most resilient of people may get discouraged if they never saw the finish line or completed their goals. But if we continue setting lofty, unrealistic goals, that’s exactly the fate we suffer. When you focus on one small goal at a time and accumulate small wins, your psyche becomes conditioned to being a winner over time, and you create lasting change.

Focusing on smaller goals isn’t the only way to improve self-efficacy and acceptance. Another strategy I have seen work wonders is words of affirmation in the form of self-talk. I don’t mean carrying on a conversation with yourself in public, only reminding yourself that you are awesome and worth working hard for. Here are a few examples:

  • I quickly forget my mistakes because everyone makes them
  • Today was a great day, and I progressed toward my long-term goals
  • I am going to sleep tonight a better person than when I woke up this morning
  • I will skip the pizza and opt for something healthier, not because I can’t have pizza, because I want something healthier
  • Today wasn’t my best day in terms of nutrition, but tomorrow is a clean slate and will be my best
  • I have the courage to face and overcome my fear of backsliding, binging, or lifting weights with the guys at the gym

The Cherokee would tell their children that every tribe member had two wolves within. One wolf was positive and constructive, while the other would bring negative, destructive things upon its host. When children would ask which wolf would win, an elder would answer, “The one you feed.”

Simply put, you are made of your thoughts. If you project positivity through your thoughts and actions, positivity is what you will attract. Likewise, negativity is equally if not more magnetic. We all know better than to surround ourselves with negative people, for they bring us down. But what if we are the negative friend in our own life? The only way to get away from yourself is to change your mindset.

The Path to Self-Acceptance

Take a Minute to Stop and Smell the Roses

I love it when people reach their goals, fitness or non-fitness related. But I love it even more when people reach their goal and realize they’ve actually been awesome for quite some time already. It’s easy to lose sight of the changes you’re making in the midst of chasing your inner-greatness. Never forget to look back at how far you have come over the weeks, months, or years. Every journey will have unanticipated benefits and byproducts of your success – notice them.

The 4-Step Path to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Change

  1. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Learn to appreciate the gifts you were given and improve the gifts you weren’t given over time.
  2. Trust in the process. You may not reach your goal in the first quarter of the new year, and there’s a chance you won’t reach your goal at all. But in the following year, you will be miles ahead of where you are today. Coming to terms with that is one of most important things you can do.
  3. Believe in yourself. Remember to feed your good wolf and not the bad – positive in, positive out.
  4. Appreciate how far you have come. Your progress may inspire more people than you think. Never slight yourself for improving your body, fitness, or mindset even the tiniest amount. Change is tough, and you are a rock star for creating lasting change.
Hierarchy graphic by FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Mason Woodruff
Mason is a strength and nutrition coach based out of Little Rock, Arkansas. With roots in the sports performance and powerlifting worlds, he has taken the principles of training for maximum strength and molded them into a more moderation-based, sustainable way of living. His mission is to simplify the science and research on training, nutrition, and healthy living so everyone can easily optimize their life.

Mason is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and he also holds a BSc in Nutrition. He runs the website Mason Fit, his personal website for writing, coaching, and consulting.