Why It’s So Hard to Love Yourself And How It Can Change Your Life

Loving myself has not always been something on my radar. In fact, if you would have asked me five years ago, I would have told you that the idea of “loving myself” seemed sort of secondary to the really important things in life—you know, like loving other people. The whole thing seemed a little too self-focused for me.

But then one day I was having a conversation with a friend who is a huge “Love Yourself!” advocate. She was asking me how things were going and I was telling her about a few different frustrating circumstances in my life. I mentioned the job where I was working and how I felt like I was always being taken advantage of by my boss. I told her about the relationship I was in and how I felt like I was constantly being criticized and even manipulated.

It seems like nothing I ever did was good enough.

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I admitted that I felt under-appreciated for my contributions or hard work. My tendency was to support, to say “yes,” to go with the flow, to concede my point first, to avoid arguing, and at the end of the day, I felt like so many of my friends and significant others and employers took advantage of that.

If I was being really honest, I told her, I often felt overlooked, overburdened, and like I never really got what I wanted.

What do you want? She asked.

I stood there and looked at her for a few minutes with that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The truth was I didn’t even know.

It wasn’t until later that I would learn this is really common experience for people—especially women—who work their entire lives to be accepted and considered desirable by others but who have no idea who they truly are or what matters to them. The concept of loving themselves is foreign, not just because they have misunderstood what it means, but also because they don’t even know who their “selves” really are.

“We try to appear attractive, nice, good, valid, legitimate or worthy to someone else instead of discovering what we actually feel and want for ourselves. In this kind of conscious or unconscious arrangment, other people are expected to provide our own feelings over power, worth, or vitality at the expense of our authentic development.” —Polly Young-Eisendrath, Women & Desire

While it might feel or seem like we’re being “selfless” by focusing on others and forgetting about ourselves, the truth is this is not selfless at all. In fact, a person who forfeits her sense of self ends up relying on others inordinately to support her and validate her and make her feel okay.

Loving ourselves is more important than we ever realized.

That’s what I learned as I sat there talking to my friend. After my rant, she didn’t tell me I should quit my job or even that I should end certain friendships or leave my relationship. In fact, she put the ball completely in my court. She told me: “You need to raise your opinion of yourself.

If you don’t love yourself,” she said, “you’ll have a hard time finding or experiencing love from others.”

I looked at her skeptically.

“And you won’t be able to truly love anyone until you’re able to love yourself.”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I believed her. But I was also desperate. I felt like a hollow, emptied out shell of a human being and I needed to be filled up. So I told her I would give this “raising my opinion of myself” a try and I asked her what I should do next. She referred me to a few books.

Here’s what she recommended:

Over the course of the next few months, as I read these books and developed a curiosity about what it would look like to raise my opinion of myself and learn how to cultivate self-love, I began to practice some of the tactics I learned. I wasn’t sure they would make a difference.

As it turns out, love is an incredibly powerful force in this world and we have endless supplies of it to give, as long as we can learn to first accept the love that’s freely and readily available to us.

Here are just a few ways my life changed as I learned to love myself.

1. Your physical health improves

If you haven’t ever considered the connection between your mind and your body before, it can sound a little bit strange. But think about this: what happens to you when you feel fear? Your hair stands up on the back of your neck, you may get goosebumps, your heart-rate increases. This is the mind-body connection.

Your physical body responds to an emotional state you experience.

It’s really as simple as that.

A great book that unpacks the mind-body connection is called You Can Heal Your Body by Louise Hay. In the book, she discusses what a powerful impact love (or a lack of love) can have our our physical health. She attributes a lack of self-love to ailments all the way from headaches to diabetes to back pain.

To be clear, she is not saying that any of the diseases or ailments we experience in our body are cured simply by love. Nothing is that simple.

She merely says there is a strong connection, which is hard to deny.

I’ve written before about the incredible impact changing my own self-talk had on my physical body. You can read the whole story here.

But for the sake of this article, I have one simple assignment for you. Think about a physical ailment you are experiencing regularly. Do you have digestive problems? Constant back pain? Hormone imbalance? Acne? What might these physical ailments be trying to tell you? If you had to write yourself a letter from the pain or problem you’re experiencing, what would the letter say? Would it ask you to slow down? To pay attention? To be kinder to yourself?

When we are kind to our bodies, they are kind to us.

2. Your relationships improve

Recently I was on a business trip and texting with a friend. She and I had talked about the idea of meeting up in the city where I was staying when I was finished with my work. As we texted back and forth solidifying plans, I told her I would be done by around 5:00 on Friday and she could come whenever. But as I sat there in my hotel room, exhausted from that day of work and staring down another long one, a thought came over my brain. It went like this:

Why do you keep doing this to yourself?

To me, the thought meant: why do you keep pushing yourself so hard? You’re exhausted. You need rest. You still have to drive home. Of course you want to see your friend, but you know yourself. You are going to need some downtime or you aren’t going to be very useful to yourself or anyone else next week.

So I reluctantly typed out a text back to my friend that said, “actually, can we reschedule? I know we talked about this, and it was a plan, but I’m just so exhausted and I feel like I’m on the verge of getting sick.” I felt badly for changing plans. But her response back made me feel so loved. She said, “are you kidding? Thank you for telling me the truth! No need to apologize. I get it.”

My love for myself in that moment—loving myself enough to say, “hey, I’m too tired for this”—set me up to receive her love and friendship, which came in the form of, “no worries!”

Without my love for myself, I never would have experienced that love from her.

The good and also hard truth about loving yourself enough to take good care of yourself is that your relationships will start to shift. Some of them will end. Certain people, as you begin to respect yourself, will raise their opinions of you as you raise your opinion of yourself. Others will not be interested in respecting you in that way and those relationships will come to a close.

As painful as that can be, you can feel thankful that the only relationships in your life with be with people who respect you and care for you and wish you well.

3. New career opportunities open up for you

For years I worked jobs I hated, for bosses who didn’t respect me, because I didn’t believe there was anything better out there. Actually, the truth was, I didn’t believe I deserved anything better than where I was working. For so many of us, our career problems are a problem of self love and self worth.


Let me ask you: do you believe you deserve to work that satisfies you?

Do you believe you deserve to get paid what you’re worth? Do you have a hard time even talking about, or thinking about, what you’re worth?

I know I did. In fact one of the things I realized—after reading Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code—was that my confidence in my ability to achieve work that satisfied me was as important as my skills to do that work. I was lacking in confidence. So after finishing the book, I sat down and put into writing several accomplishments or areas of expertise that felt significant to me.

My list looked something like this:

  • I have an Masters degree
  • I sold all of my possession and spent a year traveling the United States
  • I’ve visited 20+ countries
  • I wrote a book and was nominated for “Best New Author” by the ECPA
  • I have coached dozens, if not hundreds, of people through writing their own books
  • I’ve co-founded multiple companies and written two online curriculums for authors
  • I have managed multiple high-level online platforms

I don’t know about you but that is so hard for me to do. It feels like bragging. Can you relate?

What would be on your list of accomplishments?

I have a challenge for you: can you list what you would consider your greatest accomplishment in the comments of this post?

When I finally started addressing some of my self-worth issues around my work, doors started opening for me in my career. The more I believed I was worthy of the opportunities, the more the opportunities came. I still have a lot of work to do in this area, but the work is so rewarding, it hardly feels like work.

I’m convinced our career success is at least as much about our confidence in our skills as it is about our skills themselves.

Imagine all the things over the years you wish you had said or done or tried—but didn’t because something held you back. Chances are, that something was a lack of confidence. Without it we are mired in unfulfilled desires, running excuses around in our heads, until we are paralyzed. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and depressing. Whether you work or you don’t, whether you want the top job or the part-time job—wouldn’t it just be great to slough off the anxiety and the fretting about all the things you’d love to try but don’t trust yourself to do? IN the most basic terms, what we need to do is start acting and risking and failing, and stop mumbling and apologizing and prevaricating. —The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

When you love yourself and have confidence in yourself, you are willing to put yourself out there without fear of rejection. You can admit what you’re good at and what you have to offer. You bring that confidence into an interview room—or hey, even into a Christmas party where you might meet a potential employer, business parter or client. You can ask for help or answer honestly and bravely when someone asks, “So, what do you do?”

When you learn to love yourself well, the whole world will seem like it’s open to you; and you will be open to receive it.

4. You have fewer feelings of loneliness

In a world that is hyper-connected and yet not really connected at all, we are living in a culture of loneliness. And although we’ve found all kinds of ways to numb our loneliness—Netflix, social media, phones, etc—that lonely feeling is never really far away. Maybe you can relate. Do you ever feel like you have a million “friends” and yet nobody really knows you?

One of the things I noticed was that, as I began to grow in love for myself, I grew in like for myself too. By that I mean those feelings of loneliness dissipated as my relationships grew deeper and more satisfying and I as I discovered how comforting and satisfying and even fun it could be to spend time on my own.

I started finding myself craving more down time and alone time because, hey, I was a really fun person to be around.

In fact, thanks to Julia Cameron, I even started taking myself on dates. In her book The Artist’s Way She ask you to think about what someone who knew you really well would do for you on a date. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. It just has to be kind and thoughtful. The idea is to stop sitting around waiting for someone to do something nice for you when you can do something nice for yourself.

Here are a few ideas for what you could do for yourself for a date.

  • Go to the movies
  • Make and eat a food you love
  • Buy yourself a really nice cup of coffee
  • Get yourself some flowers
  • Write yourself a nice note
  • Order pizza and watch a movie
  • Give yourself a pedicure

This is not to say we don’t need other people. We definitely do. Our friends teach us how to love ourselves by being loving to us. But what happens as we learn to love ourselves is we realize we really enjoy being alone and a night by ourselves doesn’t feel like punishment.

What could you do to take yourself on a date this week?

5. You are happier and have more fun

One of the greatest misconceptions about loving yourself, if you ask me, is that it’s all about expensive shopping trips and pampering. This is not only untrue, it’s also misleading for two reasons. First, because a person who shops and pampers herself does not necessarily love herself.

And second is because true love is totally free.

Learning to love ourselves can look like allowing ourselves to sleep in for an extra hour on a Saturday morning or choosing to take a night off from social activities because we know we need it. Maybe it’s about eating something really healthy or making a trip to the gym. Maybe it’s about taking a night off from exercise so you can let your body rest.

Perhaps loving yourself looks like asking for help from a friend when you really need it or inviting a close friend to come over and talk.

What ends up happening, inevitably, as we allow ourselves to take these radical steps of self-love and self-care is we realize life does not have to be this knock-down, drag-out, white-knuckle, exhausting fight all the time. It can actually be really fun. When someone offers to pay for something for me, I can receive it. When the opportunity presents itself to sleep in, I can enjoy it. When I get a day off, I don’t have to feel guilty.

I can laugh. I can play. I can enjoy myself. The world’s beauty is unfolding for me and I can soak it all in.

***If you’re working on loving yourself and need a reminder, check out my brand new “love yourself” print below. You can buy yours here.

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What No One Ever Says About New Beginnings

About seven weeks ago by the time you’re reading this, I stumbled upon some information that has changed my life forever. It has re-arranged the way I do business. It has, for all intents and purposes, ended my marriage. It has colored and re-colored the way I see everything that has taken place in my life in the past several years.

It has leveled me in the best and worst ways.

For privacy reasons, I cannot share any more than that right now, but I tell you that much because I know my experience is not unique.

I’m sure you can think of a time when you were lied to, or betrayed, or fired without explanation, or forced to let go of something you did not want to lose, or when someone you loved said goodbye to you without your permission. We don’t always get to choose our new beginnings. And because of that, we can understand how beautiful and also devastating a new beginning can be.

A new day, a new year, a new job, a new life, a new relationship, a new start—they all come to us without permission, in the best and worst way. They barge in our front doors with the beautiful promise of second chances and new potential and unexpected opportunity. And they also come with heartbreak, because new beginnings nearly always follow endings.

I love the way Billy Collins puts it in his poem called Aristotle. I could read and re-read these words a hundred times in a day:

This is the beginning. 
Almost anything can happen. 
This is where you find 
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land, 
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page. 
Think of an egg, the letter A, 
a woman ironing on a bare stage 
as the heavy curtain rises. 
This is the very beginning. 

—Billy Collins (from Aristotle)

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it exciting to think about what can happen when you’re standing at the beginning of something brand new?

And yet, if new beginnings are so invigorating, why did I talk to more than one friend on the first day of the new year who discussed feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or in some way depressed at the weight of what lay in front of them? The night before we’re lighting off fireworks and holding glasses of champagne and talking about how amazing the new year was going to be—and by the time we woke up in the morning, we sat in our beds, overwhelmed with what a new beginning really meant.

What makes a new beginning so difficult?

One thing that makes it so difficult to start something new is that we don’t really know where to start. Yes, of course the possibilities are endless. They are infinity, in fact. But that is part of what makes it so difficult to know exactly where to begin. Because where should you begin when you can begin anywhere? In the face of all that possibility, all that blank space, it is easy to feel a little intimidated, even a little lonely.

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It makes me think of what it feels like to sit down and start working on a brand new writing project. I could stare at the blinking cursor for hours before a word I deem worthy of being recorded will finally come to me. It is not that I don’t have words. It’s just that none of the words feel as deep and meaningful as I need them to be.

None of them feel like the first line, the first sentence.

And in that space, that excruciating time before anything is on the page, what I feel is anticipation and dread and even worry. Will this be a story worth reading? Will it be “the first word of paradise lost on an empty page?” Or, will it be an extraordinary waste of time, a lousy attempt at expressing myself that never makes sense to anyone—including me?

And I suppose that’s the second reason new beginnings can be a little challenging, because in addition to the fact that there are a million ways we could begin, there are also a million ways the story could end. We do not always get to choose our endings. In fact, most of the time we don’t. We commit ourselves to the process without any guarantee of how things will turn out.

This is the great risk of living our lives: there are so many things we don’t get to choose.

And at the beginning of a new year, or a new relationship, or a new job, or a new season, I think we intuitively recognize this: that no matter how many good intentions we have to lose weight or eat better or be more vulnerable or change that bad habit or pattern, or re-write a part of our story we haven’t loved, that we ultimately are not in charge of every detail, and we are at the mercy of so many things over which we have no control.

It takes a great deal of faith to put in the effort in a world where there are no such thing as a guarantee.

And just like writing, I suppose, there’s a sort of comfort to that messy middle. It would be easier to edit something that was already there—because at least I have something to work with. At least I have something to go from. At least I can read a sentence and say, “no, no, that’s not quite right.” And then I can talk about why it’s not quite right and that helps me get to something that is right, or at least that is more right than the first one was.

In the beginning, it can feel a bit like you don’t have that, like you’re starting over.

A quick word about change.

Change can bring about a lot of anxiety—especially change that we didn’t initiate or ask for. And honestly, even when you’re the one who quit the job or chose to leave the relationship, or decided to go on the trip, when the pieces of your life are shifting around, it’s normal to feel at least a little out of control.

Here’s how Journalist Deborah Ward puts it in her Psychology Today article, Coping with Change.

But it’s not unusual to feel shocked, overwhelmed, anxious and depressed and even fearful [at the beginning]. Even when we know we are about to face something new, the change can be overwhelming and unpredictable. And it’s this sudden lack of control over our personal environment that can lead us to feeling anxious, while the thought that we won’t be able to handle the new situation can bring on feelings of depression.

I hope this brings great comfort to you, especially if you are feeling less than thrilled at the outset of this new year. You’re normal. It’s okay. If, amidst the poppers and the streamers and the confetti and the champagne, you’re feeling less than sure-of-yourself and about what comes next, you’re not alone.

Because the New Year came without your permission, and it will come again next year, regardless of what you do or don’t do. One of the very few things we can count on in this life is changing seasons.

Change is hard—even when it’s really good for us. (Tweet that)

And that’s the second thing that is really great to remember about change, especially when we’re in the middle of it, is that change is good. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s part of life. It’s really good for us. Without change, we stagnate. We don’t grow. We become complacent. We get bored. We do not have the tension and conflict we need to become who we were always meant to be in this life.

Without the possibility of change, even the greatest gifts in our lives lose their luster, because we can take them for granted, knowing they could never go away.

Rebirth and change are necessary to our lives. The clinical definition of death is cessation of change. If one is not changing, one is dying. Any practice or framework that is not curious and novel stands with its feet in concrete, which may be the definition of any form of fundamentalism —Pittman McGehey, The Spiritual Journey from Biography to Autobiography

If you’re in a really hard season right now, the good news is: change is coming. And when change does come, you will leave this hard season with who you’ve become in the midst of it. So do everything you can right now to become the person you want to be when your circumstances get a little better.

And if you’re in a really good season right now, enjoy every minute. Soak it up. Because no season lasts forever.

This is the teetering, delicate beauty of life.

Three things to remember about new beginnings.

There are a few things I think we can remember about new beginnings that can help us manage at least a little of the anxiety.

First remember the feeling you are “starting with nothing” is simply not true. I mentioned at the beginning of this article the idea of staring at a blank page with a blinking cursor, and the truth is, even when I begin to write a new book I do not begin with nothing. I come to the page with invisible libraries of knowledge, experience, research, understanding, essence, personality, and voice.

You are not starting with nothing in this new year. You are starting with YOU—the very most important thing you could have, and all you need to begin.

Remind yourself: I have everything I need to begin. (Tweet that)

And second, while you can acknowledge the feeling like you don’t know where to begin, it might help to remind yourself that nobody knows exactly where to begin when they’re starting somewhere new. It might seem like everyone else in your life has incredible clarity about their purpose and their plan and their intended outcome in this new season, meanwhile you’re floundering around just trying to get off your couch—but that simply is not the case.


I know because I talk to people all the time who are the most confident, accomplished, organized, efficient, productive, happy people I know who admit, when they get really honest, that they do not know for sure exactly where they are going or what they are trying to do. NOBDOY DOES! We are all just doing our best, feeling around in the dark.

Of course, there are ways to gain more clarity. I’ll provide some resources to that effect in the end of this article. But the point is nobody just gets clarity or direction without really fighting for it. Nobody out there magically has more than you have.

You have EVERYTHING you need to begin.

When I start to get myself worked into the “I don’t know where to start” frenzy, I remind myself of a phrase a friend repeated to me at a conference this past year. It has become a mantra for me. It’s technically three phrases linked together, and while it’s been attributed to several different people, as best as I can tell it was first said by a man named Arthur Ashe.

It goes like this:

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.

This is my life plan. I’m not joking. There might be moments when I have a more elaborate life plan than this, but really, this is the most elaborate life plan I will ever need—and here’s why:

  1. Start where you are. You can’t start anywhere else but where you are. You can try, but you won’t be very successful. You can spend a lot of time wishing you were someone else, so that you could start from where they are starting, but that will just make you feel badly about yourself and will just become time you later regret wasting. The only place to start is where you are. It makes beginning really easy!
  2. Use what you have. You have resources at your fingertips. We all do. And we could spend a long time dwelling on the fact that somebody else has more resources than we do, or better resources, or that our resources are not what we wish they were, but I’ll be honest: the most truly successful people I have known in this life do not waste time complaining that they don’t have more. They simply use what they DO have and get going.
  3. Do what you can. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons we experience so much disappointment in our lives and burn out before we reach our goals is because we expect way too much our ourselves. We have these crazy ideas about what we can accomplish and then we wonder why we feel like such losers when we can’t do it all. Perfect house, killer career, obedient children, loving marriage, fulfilling sex life. Who has that? Anyone you know? I didn’t think so. All you can do is all you can do. Stop beating yourself up for being human. You are not a superhero. Sadly, neither am I.

And finally, one thing I am learning about making progress in life is that there really is no huge rush. Anyone who makes you feel like “time is running out” is trying to get you to do something that benefits them—and that you might not agree to do if you have too much time to think about it. There is no need to be frantic. There’s also is no need to sit around twiddling our thumbs, but life is not a race.

Anytime you feel like you are “running out of time” remind yourself there is no such thing. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Nothing more can be asked of you.

A final word about new beginnings.

There’s a phrase that goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” And in a seasons where there is so much newness for me that it can be a little unsettling, I try to remind myself of that phrase for two reasons.

First of all, because it is a comforting reminder that no matter what happens to me, no matter what I lose or what I gain, what I have left at the end of the day is the person I am becoming. Change is not easy. It is slow and steady and arduous and painful most of the time, but real change—inside change—is lasting.

No matter where you go in life, no matter what you have or don’t have, what can never be taken from you is who you are becoming.

And the second reason I try to keep this close at heart is because it is a reminder not to numb the pain away, or to make decisions outside of my conscience or character, because at the end of the day, while my circumstances are always changing, what stays the same is ME—the version of myself that I get to carry into the newness of tomorrow.

And that one small reminder helps me, even in the unpredictability of life, even in a season of newness and change.

I hope it helps you, too.

Additional Resources:

Why Setting Goals Often Doesn’t Work (And What to Do About It)

There was one thing I was supposed to do this year—one thing I promised myself I would accomplish—and I didn’t do it.

To be fair, there were other things I did do from my same list of goals, things like “read two books a month” and “start blogging regularly again” and I can give gratitude for the fact that I was able to leverage the time and willpower at my disposal to bring those things to being. But there was that one thing, the really big one, that had me in knots as I looked at it, wondering why it was the most important thing on my list and I didn’t do it.

Can you relate?

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Maybe there is something you’ve tried to do for many years in a row—like lose weight for example, or get outside more often, or watch less TV, or take that trip you’ve been dying to take, or have that hard conversation with that person you love, or eat kale—and maybe no matter what you’ve done, you haven’t been able to accomplish it.

Or maybe you don’t even remember the goals you set for yourself last year. Either way, there are few things more painful than knowing what you want and not being able to accomplish it.

The statistics about this phenomenon are pretty staggering, actually. According to Forbes, only 8% of us actually complete the objectives we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. Which should make us all feel a little bit better about the fact that we haven’t been able to make progress with that important thing we’ve been working toward for years. And yet, if you’re like me, it also makes you wonder what makes some resolutions stick and not others.

Sure, one approach is to say, “forget it. There’s no point in setting goals anymore. They never really work anyway.” Another approach is to say, “okay, so this isn’t working very well. Let’s figure out a better way to think about setting goals so they can really serve us.”

I favor the second approach and here’s why:

Because changing ourselves and our habits is the most powerful tool we have to change the world. By that I mean we have very little power to rescue the many people in this world who are suffering and hurting, and very little power to prevent difficult or painful things from happening.

But we do have at least a little bit of power to change our own thoughts, patterns, and behaviors, and when we leverage that power, our personal change can have a corporate impact. Individual change has a powerful energetic pulse into the world. (Tweet That)

Each of us has the potential to change the world.  Because the price of change is so high, we seldom take on the challenge. —Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change

Changing our lives, our habits and our patterns is not easy. It doesn’t come at a low cost. But the alternative doesn’t come at a low cost either. The most dangerous thing we can believe is that we do not have an impact. For better or for worse, we are all changing the world.

Why We Don’t Follow Through With Our Goals

There are a dozen reasons, in my mind, that we don’t accomplish the goals we set out to achieve, and one of the most pressing reasons doesn’t have to do with the goals themselves, but the motivations with which we make them. Namely, we set goals from a place of self-hatred, rather than self-love.

For example, “lose weight” was the most popular resolution of this past year (big surprise) and as a woman who has been on various diet and exercise plans in my lifetime, I can say there is a profound difference between a weight loss plan I take on because I care about my body, because I want to feel good about myself, have more energy and supercharge my creativity; and the weird crash-diets I’ve done because I look at myself in the mirror and can’t stand the sight of the reflection staring back.

I’ve done both—and there’s a good chance you have too. And there’s a difference, would you agree?

  • Which one makes you feel better about yourself?
  • Which one is more enjoyable?
  • Which one is more effective?

I love the way Elizabeth Gilbert puts it when she is talking to writers about how to keep their promises to themselves to write on a daily basis. She says what they don’t need is more self-discipline. She insists they have plenty of that. What they need, she says, is more self-forgiveness, or self-love.

As for discipline—it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness… the point I realized was this—I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows. —Elizabeth Gilbert

What would it look like if we stopped expecting ourselves to accomplish our goals perfectly and instead just allowed ourselves to fumble clumsily through them?

Can we have enough self-forgiveness to bring our resolutions to life this year?

Setting goals from a place of self-hatred, rather than self-love, will rarely work. Or it will work for a short time but won’t bring the satisfaction that we so desire. So this year, as you think about your goals and resolutions, ask yourself first: do I want that for myself because I love myself so much, or because I will hate myself until I achieve it?

Three Ways We Focus on The Wrong Things.

Another reason we fail to accomplish the objectives we put in front of ourselves is simply because we focus on the wrong things. There are a few different ways this can happen, but one way I see playing out in my life more than any of the others is that I focus on the “how” before I even know the what.

Here’s what I mean by that:

Do you find yourself thinking, “I would really love to [fill-in-the-blank] but that’s just so impossible. I mean, how would I ever meet the right people, or get the money, or be able to move my family, or have the skills, or be in the right place at the right time?” This is a subtle and powerful form of self-sabotage that literally derails our objectives before we can even put them on paper.

In fact, many of us don’t even allow ourselves to fully admit or understand what we want because we can already think of half-a-dozen reasons why we will never get it.

Another way this tendency plays out is that, while we think about our resolutions in passing, we never write them down or remind ourselves of them on a regular basis—and because we’re not totally clear about our priorities—we end up focusing on what is urgent in our lives, rather than what is really important. Our lives end up being dictated and dominated by our daily to-do lists, rather than our values.

Here’s what Greg McKeown says about that in his book Essentialism:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential. —Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

He emphasizes, over and over again, how if we don’t choose our priorities in life, someone else will choose them for us. And I don’t know about you, but this one is hugely convicting for me. I am really good at filling my time with things that make other people happy, or that make me feel productive, but not always so good at honing in on what really matters to me and moving toward that with laser focus.

This is a huge reason many of us have not been able to meet our goals—myself included.

And the final way we get stuck focusing on the wrong things is that when we are setting goals, we focus mostly on what we CAN’T have or what we’re cutting out or giving up. We want to watch less TV, give up sweets, stop smoking, quit putting money on a credit card or stop wasting time. The problem is we focus so much on what we’re trying to avoid that we end up actually getting the very thing we’re avoiding.

We move in the direction that we’re pointed, so why not point ourselves toward what we want to invite into our lives, rather than what we’re trying to get rid of? Check out how Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit has to say about the one thing we must remember about changing out habits:

The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” —Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

In other words, you can’t simply get rid of a bad habit. You really have to replace it with a better one. So when it comes to creating lasting change in our lives, we might find more success if, instead of focusing our attention on something like, “stop watching TV before I go to bed” we set an intention like, “read a book for 30 minutes at bedtime.”

The Most Counterintuitive Obstacle to Setting Goals

It wouldn’t be fair to move forward in this discussion without talking about the most counterintuitive obstacle to achieving our goals or resolutions, which is that we get too attached to the outcome we’re trying to create. You’ve heard it said, “if you love someone (or something) let it go.” The same could be said for our objectives.

At the end of the day (or year), we have to be willing to surrender the outcome we so desire, because without being willing go accept the flow of change in our lives, we can’t make progress in any direction. We only have control over so much—our own thoughts, choices, and behaviors. We do not have control over what other people choose to do, over the weather, or over any other circumstances outside of our control.

If we’re ever going to be happy with our lives, we have to learn to accept what we cannot change. (Tweet That)

Not to mention, we spend way too much time trying to change our external lives hoping it will change the way we feel about ourselves on the inside. We want the new job, or the raise or promotion, or for our boss to finally tell us he’s proud of the job we’ve done so we can finally be happy. We’re desperate to get married, or to have a baby, or to have our parents or friends or children act a certain way—so we can finally be at peace.

The problem is: change happens from the inside, out—not the other way around. Here’s how Robert E Quinn, author of Deep Change puts it in his book:

To make deep personal change is to develop a new paradigm, a new self, one that is more effectively aligned with today’s realities.”  “In doing so, we learn the paradoxical lesson that we can change the world only by changing ourselves. —Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change

In other words, our only hope for creating real, lasting change in our lives is to change the in deepest parts of ourselves—our thought patterns and ideas about the world—not just to give our career, our family or our bodies a proverbial facelift. We have to be willing to let go of the idea that getting the thing we want will change how we feel about ourselves. It won’t.

Although changing how we feel about ourselves will, more often than not, help us get the thing we want.

So if what you’re looking for is weight loss, it’s of course important to focus on diet and exercise. But it’s also important to focus on how your feelings about yourself might be dictating your choices and actions. If what you’re wanting is to finally go on that trip you’ve been putting off, it’s not just about saving a little bit more money. It’s also about asking what it is that makes you keep putting it off in the first place.

It isn’t until we can begin to unravel the thought patterns that are keeping us stuck that we will be able to make the actual, tangible process we so desire.

Cut Yourself A Break

Finally (and this one is really important) I believe we have to learn how to cut ourselves a break. I won’t even try to say it as eloquently and eloquently as Elizabeth Gilbert in this fantastic article from the Huffington Post:

Because it breaks my heart to know that so many amazing women are waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning and abusing themselves for not having gone to art school, or for not having learned to speak French, or for not having organized the neighborhood scavenger hunt. I fear that—if we continue this mad quest for perfection—we will all end up as stressed-out and jumpy as those stray cats who live in Dumpsters behind Chinese restaurants, forever scavenging for scraps of survival while pulling out their own hair in hypervigilant anxiety.

So let’s drop it, maybe?

The bottom line is that goals are hard to accomplish and habits are challenging to change. So if you’re like me and you’re coming to the end of this year and realizing you didn’t make the progress you were hoping to make this year, don’t use this as an excuse to not keep setting goals for yourself, or not inviting new and beautiful things into your life.

Pursuing the things that are important to you is never easy, but the effort is never wasted. You are busy becoming you and bringing the best parts of yourself to this world.

Resources:

In case you’re interested in learning more about setting goals that will actually stick this year, here are a few additional resources for your reading pleasure. Hope you enjoy.