What should you do with yourself? Should you ‘get going’ and actively start doing everything you’re capable of? Or should you just relax, take it easy, and be patiently comfortable with yourself and your conditions?
The self-help world typically has two dichotomous schools of thought: 1) Self-Improvement, and 2) Self-Acceptance. Most sources encourage one mode or the other.
The concepts are both very necessary but seem to have opposing intentions. They’re paradoxical modes because both cannot technically be operating at the exact same time – their operational definitions conflict with each other. Yet, there is mutual contingency as self-improvement and self-acceptance are means to each other’s ends
When we seek spiritual and intellectual sources of expertise on matters of personal growth, health & well-being, etc, we often find conflicting points of view on how to best obtain that which we’re seeking. This can be troubling given our organizational tendency to completely embrace or completely reject a concept.
Some schools of thought, such as Buddhist philosophy, generally focus on teaching concepts surrounding Self-Acceptance, including: inner peace, reflection & introspection, awareness, meditative insight, stillness & slowing down, etc. In this school we hear things like “be present”, “look inside your yourself”, “be humble”, “live in the moment” and so on.
Other schools of thought, such as various business motivation models, seem to teach a rather opposite approach, generally encouraging principles of active Self-Improvement, including: strong desire, relentless ambition, passion & intensity, high energy & enthusiasm, toughness & physical persistence, etc. This mode typically revolves around ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. In this school you’ll hear things like, “Stay busy”,”be active”, “keep moving forward”, “try your hardest”, “be more efficient”, “keep pushing”, “take pride”, “do whatever it takes”, and so on.
The appropriate response to this confusion is, somewhat obviously, approaching with ‘conscious balance’, authenticity, and adaptivity. But this is easier said than done.
You’re almost definitely not going to live a monastic-type life forever (perhaps a means of extreme Self-Acceptance) nor are you going to fully immerse yourself into a constant cutthroat, self-competitive way of life or stay forever engaged in an intense hypersocial, hyper-materialistic lifestyle (perhaps a means of extreme Self-Improvement).
You are going to balance these approaches in some way, and ideally you should balance them consciously and in consideration of your own authenticity in accord with necessary adaptivity.
Perhaps most importantly for balance, you must know how and when to implement various strategies. For most of us, “integration” of methods and lifestyle practices is the best option.
Remember this: life gets better, no matter what, if you are consciously improving yourself. This sense of improving involves both self-improvement and self-acceptance. Obviously self-improvement, as outlined above, will generally help you improve your self and circumstances. But self-acceptance in itself is also a form of self-improvement.
Self-acceptance is essentially a practice. It is a practice of becoming comfortable with your own being. It involves nurturing your relationship with yourself and with your own currently-unchangeable conditions. If you are engaging the practice of self-acceptance, you are also self-improving.
The ‘conscious balance’ of engagement between self-improvement and self-acceptance involves harmonizing doing and being. It involves doing in the meantime of being and being in the meantime of doing.
Imagine a seesaw. When self-improvement is up, self-acceptance is resting… just being. When self-acceptance is up, self-improvement is down, and its down position signifies not being able to change any current physical conditions.
But either side being up or down is not always the case, especially not as a metaphor for life. Self-improvement and self-acceptance can both be ‘up’, at their midway point, and they often are, leveling out the see-saw, maintaining balance.
As an oberserver – you, as consciousness – are watching and regulating this seesaw, know that you are engaged in a state of improvement, and thus your life will continue to get better and better. Also think of yourself as the seesaw’s fulcrum, and instead of rigidly controlling the motion you are instead flowing with the elements of time and environment.
Here are the primary keys for implementing conscious balance and for determining where you fall on the spectrum of life methodology, and ultimately for determining what mode is currently best for you:
1) Activate Self-Awareness (especially relative to others & environments). This includes distinguishing between one’s real fundamental values & life goals VS one’s spontaneous, short-term desire for some exciting or stimulating experience.
You must be able to ask yourself and answer HONESTLY: How do I really want to feel on a consistent basis (happy, peaceful, powerful, influential, connected, needed, successful?) What is it that I really want to experience? What will be the most meaningful & fulfilling path for me? What method or path am I least likely to regret? What feeling-state is most sustainable for me? What makes the most practical sense for me?…for my personality & character? Is that experience worth the commitment?…Is it worth altering my path and sacrificing various things?
This involves honest, consistent consideration of your personal goals, short-term and long-term.
2) Identify conditions. This involves the ability to identify and understand what conditions you can and can’t control, or what circumstances can or can’t be changed. This involves honest acknowledgment of personal & environmental actualities.
If you’re able to genuinely determine that you can change your circumstances and control important conditions, what will it take to sustain that control? How will you reestablish your stability once you’ve implemented your control and committed to big changes?
3) Put things in a time perspective. This involves understanding whether or not now is an appropriate time to act, or if you should wait and just be . One must be able to have an accurate sense of their own timeline relative to what they’ve done so far in life and to what they want to do in life, and relative to how they want or expect to feel at various points in time. Have you done what you’ve wanted to do up to this point? If not, why not? Have you really been appropriately patient up to this point? Have you “paid your dues”? If so, are you just procrastinating? Have you planned enough? How much time do you think you’ve wasted? How much time do you really think you have? How do you perceive your own time? How do you value time on your life?
As time pertains to conscious balance, understand that, as an example, you could perhaps live a meditative/isolated lifestyle for a little while, then go back to “normal”. Or maybe you could live in a more stimulating environment for awhile and “embrace the chaos”, then go live in isolation, then go back to normal. Or perhaps you could do all of this to some extent rather simultaneously, traveling week to week and jumping in and out of various mindsets.
The point here is that we generally have a lot of time to experiment with our life’s balance.
There are typically a lot of possible ways to utilize time for attaining balance. If it feels like you don’t have time, honestly ask yourself why? What decisions have you made that eliminated all your perceived time? How could you possibly overturn those decisions? What method that you’re aware of is most practical and most efficient for you at this point in time?
Again, go back to self-awareness and to identifying conditions, and honestly ask yourself about your personal goals and values.
When it comes to strategies for well-being or lifestyle or general mental health, you just have to try out various methods. See what works for you. Various methods will work better at various points in time. You don’t necessarily have to subscribe 100% to one school of thought and 0% to another school of thought. Decide which ways work for you or don’t work for you, and why or why not, and keep trying different things until it all becomes coherent.
Remember, it’s not ONLY this way OR that way – generally speaking, the correct way to be is this way AND that way, because we are all different, environments are all different, and our personal dynamics with various environments are all varied and unique. And we can operate from more than one mode because we actually have more time to do so than we think.
If you don’t really know the answers to all the questions above, or you if you’re having significant difficulty with these concepts, you’re probably not ready to engage a major ambition, or not ready to fully commit to one school of thought, or you’re at least not clear on what it is you want, or you’re not clear on what YOU feel you “should be” doing (not what other people would say you should be doing). If this is the case for you it’s best to go back to the first key and examine your self-awareness.
Make time for conscious, intentional introspection. Evaluate your past, present, and future. What do you really value? What do you really believe? What are your most consistent personality and behavior traits? What have you got wrong in the past? What have you done right? Where would you want to be and what would you be doing if money wasn’t an issue? What would you guess the typical description of yourself would be if the 100 people who know you best gave their best description of how they think you’ll be and what they think you’ll be doing 20 years from now?
These are all important questions to consistently ask yourself when trying to establish and sustain self-awareness and ultimately for figuring out which methods and which paths are best for you.
Embrace the paradox. Engage conscious balance. Know yourself. Be honest with yourself.