What would you like to change about yourself?
If you’re anything like me, it’s not a particularly difficult question. In the seconds it took you to read this far, I’ve already thought of three things (and counting): my spindly upper arms, my sloppy handwriting, and the nervous laugh with which I punctuate every sentence I utter at my workplace. You could probably also name a number of embarrassing idiosyncrasies, undesirable physical features, or glaring character flaws, that you would like to get rid of. Perhaps you don’t like your love handles, perhaps you wish you cared more about the environment, or perhaps your sleeping habits are completely out of whack. Whatever your shortcomings may be, chances are that you’re painfully aware of them, and anxious to change for the better. Because it feels like once you do, you’ll be a more complete human being.
However, as you’ve probably noticed, change for the better is darn difficult to achieve. You might have resolved a million times to fix your sleep cycle, and yet you still take overlong afternoon naps and stay up late every night. Similarly, I’ve disliked my toothpick arms for years, but never managed to keep up a workout regimen for very long. No matter how passionately we may wish to change, old habits die hard, and new habits are rarely born (and the ones that are born tend to die in their infancy). Worse, the shame we feel when we fail to improve is often so overwhelming that it discourages us from making future attempts. Yes, it might as well be written in our DNA that positive change is nigh impossible.
But here’s a little tip that might help. Love yourself BEFORE you try to change yourself.
I capitalized the “before” because the order is crucial. In fact, I believe the very reason that change is so difficult is that we get the process backwards. We believe that if we change x and y, then we can finally love ourselves. When really, we are already worthy of love, and we should change x and y because we love ourselves. Don’t fix your sleep cycle because that would make you a more complete person, a person of higher value. That won’t work. Fix it because you’re already a person of high value, and you deserve to get the sleep you need. When love is a premise, not the desired result, your personal (or muscular) growth becomes a fun, fulfilling pursuit, instead of an agonizing struggle to escape your own self-loathing.
Naturally, I’m not saying that love is a guarantee for success. Habits and traits are still notoriously hard to change. But if you’ve made it clear from the start that you’re worthy of love regardless of your results, failure won’t hit you as hard. Compare that to change fuelled by self-loathing. When you fail, you collapse under your own shame. And if against all odds you do succeed, the success is a twisted one, steeped in hatred and fear. You will have evolved, but not in a healthy way.
So yeah, I’m currently learning to love my spindly upper arms. It’s not an easy task, especially not with every billboard, commercial and summer blockbuster rooting against me. But it works when I remind myself of how amazing my arms are. They’re a pair of supremely dexterous appendages that help me interact with the wonderful world around me. They’re a sublime clockwork mechanism of nerves, blood vessles and muscles that perform super complex tasks. Sure, they would look even nicer if their girth were a bit more substantial, but that’s a minor concern. They’re already awesome.
That’s the kind of thinking that makes change happen. And yes, it probably sounds insufferably sappy to some of you. I know it does to me. But in a world as cynical as ours, when you feel like you’re being sappy, you’re probably doing something right. In any case, it’s working for me. I’ve been lifting weights regularly for four months now, far longer than I’ve ever managed before. Because now I know that I don’t have to do it. Now I know that if I stop, that’s ok. My arms, and I, are worthy of love regardless. And so are you. #LoveBeforeChange