WebMD BlogsMental Health

The One Thing You Need to Change First

smiling woman outdoors
Seth Gillihgan, 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.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
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.

More from the Mental Health Blog

  • woman yelling at man

    How to Handle an Adult Bully

    Many of us dealt with bullies growing up. My own experience with bullying started in first grade when the class bully pushed me into ...

  • eyes closed smiling woman in city

    How to Become a Less Anxious Person

    If you deal with anxiety on a regular basis, you’ve probably developed some skills for managing your anxious feelings in the moment ...

View all posts on Mental Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More