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What acceptance looks like when you’re not in “doing” mode

Winter break.

The classic time for me to dread each year as the sudden shift in how I spend my time throws me off my routine. Not that I spent 2020 following a consistent schedule . . . but that’s for another post when I’m feeling more forgiving of myself. The stretch of days where I feel empty and disconnected. It even caused me to create this meme:

However, this year, winter break has provided me with insight about self-acceptance.

First, this break has let me realize that my identity can’t be bound up with doing and accomplishing. If you think of yourself based on just what you do, then a pivot in how you spend your time toward a vacation is going to derail your sense of self. At the same time, you’re going to be stuck in a mindset of celebrating accomplishments as a reflection of your self-worth.

Which means that when you’re not doing, doing, doing, you feel lost.

In addition, winter break has allowed me to take a step back and ask why I’m doing a lot of things in the first place.

Too often, I’m finding that I’m just acting either out of emotional reasoning—a sense of I feel, therefore I behave—or a belief of conditional acceptance. I’m only as good enough as my last achievement. Neither of these mindsets have been health for me, and you might relate to them as well.

For a lot of us, the language we use on ourselves about what we are or aren’t doing is (hopefully) lightyears away from what we would tell others. Would you tell a friend that was struggling with a project that they were less of a person to you, that they were unacceptable?

Yet I tell myself a lot of those messages on a near-constant basis.

Last week I listened to a podcast episode about self-respect. The host, Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT, does an incredible job discussing how self-respect often is about showing up for ourselves, even when it can be difficult.

I wanted to extend this concept to everyday tasks I face and how I think of those tasks.

One approach we can use is the concept of being endothermic (like a reptile that has to sunbathe to warm up). This seems to be the more popular mindset I’ve found in our society. We think that what we do affects how “enough” we are, and the more we do, the closer to being “enough” we will be. The less we do, though, when we’re unproductive for myriad reasons (people do get sick every now and then, but our culture doesn’t know what to do with it), we somehow become less acceptable, less “enough” as a person.

Or we can take an endothermic approach. Just as—under normal circumstances—a human is always 98 degrees even if it’s 45 degrees outside, we can recognize ourselves as already being enough, no external accomplishments required.

For instance, in writing this blog post, I can take either approach. I can view this as a do-or-die act of conditional acceptance . . . or I can think of it as just committing to a value of creativity. I’m going with the latter route because I want to follow my aim while also knowing that I don’t have a sense of acceptance to lose in the process. It’s a bottom-up mindset, whereas conditional self-acceptance would tell me that I have everything to lose, even my enough-ness, if this blog post doesn’t succeed.

What does accepting yourself look like to you when things, such as how you spend your time, change? How do you think of yourself, your whole self, during those times? Although a lot of our behavior might not change too much through unconditional self-acceptance, we can approach those behaviors from a more promising, respectful place. 

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