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Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides

I came across this expression at a recent conference I attended and thought a catchy reminder of an essential truth. Each one of us is made of up of a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. We all implicitly know this and yet so many of us forget that the people we idealize are struggling with their own stuff too. Do you tend to focus on your weaknesses? How do you treat yourself when you mess up?

So many of us are critical of ourselves when we make mistakes. What we do not always realize is that this criticism activates the threat response in our nervous system resulting in increased stress levels. Many of us think that the criticism will motivate us to change and while this might work some of the time, it most often results in discouragement. Imagine how small you have felt when berated – does this feeling give you the hutzpah to face challenges? Not likely. Whether we do it to ourselves or someone else does it to us, it has the same effect on our physiology (to varying degrees but the same nonetheless). Now imagine being encouraged and inspired – see the difference? We can all take on a little more from this vantage point. Self-acceptance has been shown to reduce stress and increase happiness. When we can accept our weaknesses, we are less hard on ourselves and we are more open for growth.

Change is hard so we need to find ways to build courage and not undermine it. Take some time to identify your strengths. Get help from people you trust if needed. This work alone can help you to have a more balanced perspective of yourself. It can also help you identify your assets when faced with a challenge. Recently my younger daughter was expressing her fear about not being as good at a new activity as other kids. Fortunately, we had previously identified two strengths of hers as learning new things and playfulness. We were able to discuss how she could apply these strengths in this new activity and we also intentionally recalled previous successes in these types of situations and how these strengths came through for her. She was much more confident walking into that new activity and she could replace her fear with excitement.

Do not be fooled into thinking that a positive approach cannot work. Many people I speak to about this cannot imagine change to happen at all for themselves if they are not hard on themselves. Remember that shame never accomplishes anything positive whether it comes from others or ourselves. It is very possible to keep growing and improving in this life while simultaneously accepting ourselves with our myriad of strengths and weaknesses.

Think about where to prioritize the allocation of your effort. If there are areas of weakness that you must work on, then think about how you can apply your strengths to make improvements in that area. However, it is much easier to grow from a place of strength than from an area of weakness. Many of us erroneously believe that we need to resolve all our weaknesses and be good at everything. This is an inefficient use of energy and we get much better results when we start with our strengths and then develop and expand from there. It is reasonable to conclude that there are some things you may never be good at and opt to delegate to others when faced with challenges that require those skills.

List your strengths in front of you and take some time to dream of how you might apply these in new ways in the different contexts and roles in your life. Identify times in your life when you have faced challenges to conjure up a deeper sense of these strengths inside of you. Then establish clear and actionable goals that pertain to areas you want to improve upon or develop and be sure to include how you will apply your strengths in this plan. Monitor this process in a journal to reflect upon your experience and to incrementally challenge yourself further.

A balanced view of your areas of strength and weakness and a clearer idea about what you want/need to improve upon can help you along the path of self-acceptance and personal growth. If you or anyone else you know needs help to figure out how to balance personal growth with self-acceptance, we are here to help. We can be reached at 514 223 5327.

Written by: Dr. Shawna Atkins, Ph.D., OPQ., Psychologist.


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