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The One Thing You Need to Change First

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Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistDecember 21, 2018

As the year draws to an end, you’ll probably take stock of how you did. Did you lose those 10 pounds, start a meditation practice, meet your exercise goals, or fulfill your other self-improvement resolutions?

If not, and if you’re like most people, you’ll transfer them to the coming new year, probably with a decent dose of self-criticism. Maybe you’ll tell yourself you “just need to be more disciplined,” or you’ll research the most effective ways to lose weight and keep it off, or you’ll read a slew of posts about how to follow through on your new year’s resolutions.

If the way you’ve tried to make changes hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time for a new approach.

Maybe what you need isn’t a motivational pep talk, or the latest diet or exercise book, or a harsher inner critic. Perhaps what’s really needed is a fundamental shift in how you see yourself.

Most new year’s resolutions (and other attempts to make ourselves better) are based on the belief that we are in some way deficient—that we’re not enough. You’re not thin enough, not fit enough, not well-read enough, not patient enough with your children. And so you resolve to fix yourself.

And while we blame our failed resolutions on being “weak-willed” or “lazy,” the truth is that our goals are often a perfect setup to fail. The problem is that making positive changes in your life requires treating yourself like someone you love, and it’s really hard to be good to yourself when you don’t like the person that you are.

If you hate the person you see in the mirror, for example, it will be hard to make healthful food choices, or to coax yourself into going to the gym. And when you inevitably fall short of your goals, you’ll probably kick yourself while you’re down instead of gently encouraging yourself to get up and try again.

If you’re tired of falling short of your self-improvement goals, try this instead: Aim to adopt a healthier way of seeing yourself—not as someone who keeps falling short, but as someone with inherent value, who is worthy of love and respect exactly as you are. Not because you nailed your goals, but because the universe has made space for your existence, with all your faults and failings. Maybe that makes you enough.

I’m guessing this sounds like feel-good claptrap to a lot of you. You might wonder, How can I possibly change if I’m not dissatisfied with myself? Or similarly, Isn’t self-love a recipe for complacency?

Fortunately, when we resolve to accept ourselves just as we are, it’s actually easier to practice healthier behaviors. For example, practicing self-compassion leads to more successful efforts at weight loss.

So as you’re thinking about the changes you want to make in your life, consider starting with this one: Learning to love yourself just as you are.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Haverford, PA. He is author of The CBT DeckRetrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan hosts the weekly Think Act Be podcast, which features a wide range of conversation on living more fully.

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