How many times have you looked in the mirror and had one of these thoughts?
- “I’ll stop hating myself when I reach weight X.”
- “When have job title X I’ll be happy”
- “When I get a girlfriend/boyfriend I’ll be happy”
- “When I fix personality flaw X I’ll be good enough”
That’s called conditional self-love. It’s attaching your self worth to some tiny fraction of who you are. Not only is it toxic, it makes the journey towards your goals miserable.
Every single morning it’s like I looked at the scale in the bathroom and asked it if I should hate myself that day or not. My happiness wasn’t mine anymore. This is incredibly damaging to any kind of journey because it interferes with consistency.
My therapist was the one who tore down this wall of conditional self love. I started the session with this list of things I thought was wrong with myself that I wanted to fix. It was long, analytical, logical, and misconstrued.
“Tell me, Matthew…” he replied, “why? What are you trying to fix? Why do you think there’s something wrong with you?”
That was what stopped me in my tracks. It’s like I had made this laundry list of all the things I had to do before I was “good enough.” Six pack abs, great job, completely fixed childhood issues, etc. I had told myself “You aren’t allowed to enjoy life until you fix all these things.”
Bullshit. My therapist was very blunt that these types of finish lines always move – last year I had said the same thing with different goals. “You could die in a car accident tomorrow,” he said. “Maybe today is all you have. Do you want to spend it chasing a finish line you’ll never get to or do you want to enjoy life?”
The thing is….you will always be chasing something. There will always be a finish line somewhere. To be human is to never “get there.” That’s okay, but you can’t wait for the finish line to accept yourself for who you are and enjoy life.
Accepting where you are today does not mean you’re giving up on getting better, and it doesn’t mean you’re lazy. But we need to stop glorifying non-stop dissatisfaction and workaholism. We need to stop thinking it is complacey to appreciate where you are and what you have today. How many happy memories did you choose not to make because you thought stopping smelling the roses was a waste of time?
Sure, you can decide to hate everyday until you cross that finish line. You can spew vitriol into the mirror and assume today is worth less than the day after you reach your goal. Tell yourself you’ll look back on your deathbed and be glad you waited to enjoy life until some imaginary finish line gave you permission. The 80 year old version of you would beg you to accept who you are today. They’d beg you to see that enjoying the time you have is more important than being perfect. They’d wish so badly you chose to enjoy the time they can’t get back.
Chasing these goals never ends. And it’s fine that no one is ever perfect. It’s fine that we never get to the finish line. But only you can decide what the finish line means to you. Don’t hinge your accepting who you are on something you’ll never have.
Further Reading: If this resonated with you then you need to read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Her experience as a meditation teacher and psychologist helped me pull out of the “self-worth treadmill” mindset and start with self acceptance. She teaches that when we begin with accepting what we feel (pain, sadness, fear, anything) then the feelings stop working against us. When you don’t hate yourself for where you are, it gives you a chance to get somewhere better.