No Need To Try So Hard

Last Tuesday, I went with a group of friends to see Dr. Robert Holden, who was in San Francisco. In the past, I’ve written about what I learned from his books, including Shift Happens, Be Happy and Loveability. His work has had profound impact on my life, with the following being a particularly significant life-changing thought:

No amount of self improvement can ever make up for any lack of self acceptance. ~Robert Holden

learnUnconditioned Self vs. learned self

Up until being introduced to Dr. Holden’s teachings, like so many devoted to self-improvement, I felt fundamentally flawed and unworthy. To reach my dreams and live the kind of life I desired, I subconsciously believed that I had to earn my right to have them. I had to better myself in order to deserve them. That was why so much of my life was devoted to working hard and achieving, to prove that I was good enough—except that I never felt good enough, no matter how much I slaved and achieved. No amount of hard-earned accolades could fill the inner void of unworthiness.

Then, along came Dr. Holden, who talks about the difference between our Unconditioned Self and learned self. The drive for self-improvement often stems from a false belief in not being good enough in some way. That’s the domain of our learned self, the ego-based part of our identity that has accumulated rejections, disappointments and abandonment, and believes we’re always at risk of experiencing more. The fear of not being good enough forever fuels the endless need to improve and fix ourselves so as to avoid more rejections, disappointments and abandonment. However, coming from a place of fear, we’ll never be good enough. The self-improvement trap is a bottomless pit, as the fear of not good enough is insatiable and doesn’t go away until we recognize it for what it is—an illusionary belief, a learned defense against being hurt further.

The only way to get out of the bottomless trap is to stop judging ourselves and to learn to accept ourselves. In Dr. Holden’s teachings, it’s returning to the recognition of our Unconditioned Self, who knows we’re inherently whole, complete and deserving, vs. our learned self that fears, judges and indictsand never feels good enough.

With all that said, to practice acceptance and not judge is easier said than done. How can we truly begin laying off trying too hard to improve and fix ourselves? Here are a few things I’ve learned:

Is fear my motivation?

Before pushing for that extra mile or trying too hard, it’s good to check in with our inner wisdom for our true motivation. Am I afraid of being rejected? Am I trying extra hard because I can’t appear weak/vulnerable? Do I feel I must constantly be doing more and being more, because I fear stagnation and becoming insignificant/irrelevant? If fear and worries are in the driver seat, we’re in a contracted state and in no condition to accept ourselves. We’re letting our learned, defensive self scare us into trying for more and/or better, even if it ultimately doesn’t fill that void we feel inside that’s left by judgment and non-acceptance.

donutNotice the donut, not just the hole

“Why do you only see the hole in the donut?” That was something my first husband used to ask me many years ago. I couldn’t appreciate why I’d only notice what wasn’t there instead of what was and why my natural tendency was to be critical. Now, many years later, I’ve learned that the tendency to only see the hole in the donut stems from lack of self-acceptance. In the absence of self-acceptance, judgment abounded. Anyone who hasn’t accepted him-/herself cannot accept others. The lens of self-judgment gets projected onto others as well. Therefore, to learn acceptance is to cultivate the ability to see what’s there, instead of judging what isn’t—i.e., see the donut, not the hole. This is basically a twist on being in gratitude. Because in gratitude, we’re less likely to take the donut for granted and only see the hole.

Mind my “shoulds”

One surefire sign of trying too hard is if we’re driven by a “should,” instead of a desire. “Should” makes us contract, while desires are expansive. If we love learning, the associated activities would feed and fill us. If we feel we should learn—because we fear the negative consequences of not doing it—learning would be drudgery. If something is truly good for us and we want it, there’s no need for “should.” This is not to be confused with the stretch we may feel in trying to adopt a new habit that’s good for us.

What’s written on my back?

Have you ever participated in an exercise that involved others writing on a sheet of paper on your back how they perceive you? I’ve had that experience twice in my life, and each blew me away. Others’ perception of me was much more generous, kinder and nicer than my own. My self-image wasn’t very pretty. To cease judgment and cultivate self-acceptance, it’s helpful to step into others’ shoes and see what they see. Feeling not good enough? Just ask a loved one what they think of you.

Is it really necessary?

Perhaps the easiest litmus test for whether you’re trying too hard is to ask whether that effort is truly necessary. Are you sure you must be thinner, more educated, more [fill in the blank] before you can deserve what you want? Can you find evidence to the contrary? Really challenge that assumptive belief. It’s all too easy to go unconscious with limiting beliefs that feed our learned self’s fear of not good enough. By asking questions like “Is it really necessary?” “What purpose does trying so hard really serve?” we bring consciousness to automatic limited thinking.

Now, over to you: Do you find yourself trying too hard and feeling the constant need to improve yourself? Is that drive to improve expansive or does it feel more like you have to or else? What would you do to avoid trying too hard for the wrong reasons?

___________________

Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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10 comments
Lori
Lori

Hi Alice,

Do I "find myself trying too hard and feeling the constant need to improve" myself?!?! LOL Oh yeah!

I think it would be great if we knew what was written on our backs, don't you? We're far too hard on ourselves and we underestimate our value far too much.

It's a process, this learning how to live peacefully and flow. I'm working on it!

Lori

Latest blog post: Why It’s So Hard to Change

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

An interesting perspective. For me, I believe we need to continue to look for ways to improve. It isn't a pressure to do this; it is a mindset of learning and growing. Maybe the growth mindset takes the pressure off since it is a focus on expanding the way we think about things or the way we do certain things or even what we do. Finally, maybe it is about mindset. I don't believe people should look at themselves as broken but as human being ready to always do our best in what we do and how we engage others. Great post! Thanks, Alice!

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

So much in here, Alice!  I think what really strikes a chord with me is that we really need to have a heart at peace with ourselves before we can have a heart at peace in our relationship with others.  Constantly reading, taking workshops etc to fix ourselves means that we're broken.  In fact, it's our imperfection that makes us as special and lovable as our gifts.  Self-acceptance is like a lightbulb that flickers at times but when we get it to go on... it's beautiful what we're finally able to see. 


Thanks, Alice! 

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

This was an excellent post, my friend.

Your post got me thinking about how I got into self-help. It was definitely to deal with low self-confidence and a low sense of worth caused through stuttering. I was on a constant journey to keep on improving.

Your post also made me think about the point when I decided I didn't need to change as much. The more I think about it, the more I realise it was because I was developing more self-acceptance of who I was.

Thank you.

livelovework
livelovework

Hi Alice,

I started my journey to self-improvement because I felt unworthy and I desperately wanted to be worthy. As I continued on my journey I found self-acceptance. 

Learning self-acceptance and self-love has had the most powerful and positive influence in my life. I have learned to stop judging and valuing myself and this has freed me to make the best of the who I am today while I continue to learn and grow as an individual.

I can extend this acceptance to my life and other people, which helps me live life on life's terms, and see situations for what they really are instead of viewing life through the skewed lens of my judgements. I can interact with life from a place of love instead of a place of fear.

Thanks for sharing on this important topic! Have a grateful day!

Chrysta

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Lori Yes, Lori, that inner critic within us is alive and kicking. And, yes, as I wrote above, having experienced having people write on my back twice, it's an amazing experience. Thanks for stopping by!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Thanks for your perspective, Jon. Indeed, a lot has to do with mindset--and whatever we belief deep down. When learning something new is fun and exciting, it's great. If we feel we aren't ok unless we're constantly improving ourselves, that's a different story. Always appreciate your joining in, Jon!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Agreed, Alli! Our imperfection does make us special and lovable--and relatable. Also love your characterization of self-acceptance being like a light bulb. Thanks for adding your insights!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Beautifully authentic, Hiten. Yes, low confidence and low self-worth for any reason is typically why any of us become invested in self-improvement, even if our reasons for feeling so may be different. And, ditto also to acceptance being the key to ceasing the drive to change so as to be better. Thank you for being here, my friend!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@livelovework Many thanks for sharing your experience with self-improvement to self-acceptance and self-love, Chrysta. I can truly relate to every thing you shared. Thanks for joining this conversation.

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