Category Archives: Being comfortable with yourself

Why it helps to be comfortable with yourself

When a friend recently recommended a book called ‘All About Me’, I had to get myself a copy. It dropped into the mailbox at the weekend.

Written by Philipp Keel, the book is full of simple but provocative questions. Blank spaces are left for your answers, the idea being that you either use the book to help you open up to someone else, or to get to know yourself better.

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By all accounts the friend who told me about it became completely absorbed by it, spending hours filling it in.

But with questions such as ‘Recall a compliment that made you blush’, and ‘If you had a safe, you would keep (what in it?)’ I sense that completing it may be no easy task.

Although we’re often reminded that it’s emotionally healthy to be comfortable with who we are, this idea depends on knowing who we are in the first place, and I suggest that this may not always be the case.

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we don’t really know.

So at the risk of making you feel a little uncomfortable, I have a suggestion to make. During the coming day or so, maybe there’s value in thinking (and perhaps even making notes) about who you are.

Who is the real you?

Philipp Keel’s book could be a great way to start the process, but you can always ask yourself questions of your own – possibly imagining that it’s someone else cross-examining you.

First, recognize who you are. Second, be comfortable with it.

The Popeye approach to life

It’s a fairly safe bet that Popeye had little self-doubt. After all, didn’t he sing “I Yam What I Yam”?

While I’m not recommending that you stick a corn-cob pipe in your mouth while knocking back cans of spinach, perhaps there’s something to be said for Popeye’s comfort with who he is.

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It’s not always easy to be this way, is it? It’s hard not to slip into wishing you were someone else, or different in some way.

I think, at times, we can all imagine that life would be very different if only we had more money/less worries/more patience/less weight, and so on. But the truth is, we yam what we yam. With few exceptions, we’d do well to learn to be comfortable in our own skin.

Often, of course, we wish things could be different when we compare ourselves with others. But when we do so, we’re only seeing things from an external perspective. We may believe someone’s happy, successful or confident – but the person themselves may well have a very different view.

In the next day or so, if you catch yourself thinking the “if only’s”, try to focus instead on what’s right. Concentrate on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Think like Popeye.

Why it makes sense to accept yourself as you are

When I was growing up, the presenters of the must-see children’s TV programme Blue Peter were dab hands at their handicraft demonstrations.

Give them an empty washing up liquid bottle, a roll of sticky-backed plastic and a wire coat-hanger, and it seemed as if they could rustle up just about anything.

Christmas decorations, piggy banks, pencil holders – apparently you could fashion them all from one common set of component parts.

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And this makes sense. Generally we have what we’ve been given, and it’s up to us to do with them what we will. In life, as in the land of ‘here’s one I’ve already made’.

Acceptance has nothing to do with surrender or capitulation, but everything to do with making the most of your potential: re-using the coat-hanger rather than longing unproductively for a reel of virgin galvanised steel wire.

Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go?

Might it be possible that you already have the necessary building blocks?

Not to mention the sticky-backed plastic.

How disagreements can become a thing of the past

Arguments sit at the very core of politics and law.

One side has its point of view, the other another.

Then it’s all about attack and defence, back and forth, parry and thrust, which for an outsider can seem bewilderingly confrontational.

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I never really got the debating society thing at school which very possibly is why I’m neither a politician nor a lawyer.

Despite this, I think most of us feel we’re ‘supposed’ to defend our point of view. When someone takes an opposing position about something in which you hold a belief, it can feel like an attack on you.

And when we’re attacked, we’re programmed to defend ourselves, which may sometimes take the form of fighting back.

Often, though, what really is the point?

Just as you’re hardly likely to agree with everyone else’s way of seeing things, neither are they always going to concur with yours.

You only have so much mental energy, and when the fuel tank is low, pursuing arguments can drain you.

So, maybe, just don’t.

A friend once told me that I should feel no need to defend my point of view.

And you know what? There’s no arguing with that.

Cut the comparisons

Serena, the heroine in Ian McEwan’s novel ‘Sweet Tooth’, was particularly good at (and loved) mathematics at school, so was admitted to Cambridge University to further her studies in the subject.

When she got there, though, she soon realised that while she’d been head and shoulders above her fellow school students, her aptitudes were as nothing when compared to the others on her Cambridge course. She hated it and did poorly.

Comparing yourself to others can be dangerous and demoralising, particularly if you’re feeling low-spirited and believe those around you aren’t.

Most of us are pretty adept at putting on a happy face when we’re feeling shabby inside, so unless you have a lot of evidence to the contrary, when you weigh up your mood against others you’re probably comparing apples and oranges – your interior and their exterior.

If you wish, compare yourself today with yourself yesterday – or last year. But measuring yourself against others is generally not a great recipe for happiness.

3 tips for self-acceptance

Practise self-acceptance by being kind to yourself, asking a friend to remind you of your strengths, and spending quiet time alone.
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Self-acceptance – being kind to yourself and believing you’re fine as you are – was the biggest predictor of how satisfied you are with your life overall in research carried out by our friends at Action for Happiness.

But guess what? In its study of ten “happiness habits”, self-acceptance was actually the least likely of the ten to be demonstrated by the survey’s respondents.

So in short, although accepting yourself as you are, warts and all, is a major key to happiness, most of us are really very poor at it.

In some ways I’m not that surprised. With a few exceptions I don’t know many people who are as kind to themselves as they are to others. In some cases, sometimes me included, they’re actually so beastly to themselves that if they behaved that way with their friends they wouldn’t have many left.

So how do you and I become less self-loathing, more self-loving? Action for Happiness offers three helpful suggestions:

1. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.

2. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you.

3. Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are.

Check out the Action for Happiness research findings.

To them I’d add one further thought. If you either have a child or were to have one, I think you’d expect to love them unconditionally. Even to your own necessarily-biased eye they may not be perfect, but you’d love them for who they are. Wouldn’t you?

So now imagine being the parent of your own inner child, and show that same unconditional, uncriticising, unwavering love to yourself.

Loving yourself is a pretty important pre-requisite to being loved by others.

Why anger is not always a bad thing

When you struggle to be justifiably angry, write a letter – and don’t send it.

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As I sat in my therapist’s front room a couple of years ago, and a month or so after I’d begun working with her, I distinctly recall my complicated reaction when she asked what made me angry.

“Nothing really,” I replied. “I don’t think I ever get angry.”

For a moment or two, I felt proud. Proud that I obviously had my emotions so buttoned down that they never boiled over. Proud that I’d got everything under control.

Except of course that I hadn’t.

The raised eyebrows of my therapist said it all really.

“Really? You honestly never get angry?”

And of course in that split second I realised that of course there had been plenty of times in my life when I’d had every right to be angry, but that more often than not I’d suppressed the emotion. Not allowed it out. Pretended it didn’t exist. And although this wasn’t something I should have beaten myself up about, neither was it a reason to be proud.

Over the years I’ve had to falteringly find ways to express anger when it’s appropriate. I’m still not terribly good at doing so with others, but I can at least summon up a modest amount of wrath when conducting an internal conversation.

I’ve found one really useful way of unleashing inner anger about someone is to write them a letter telling them exactly how I feel.

Then not sending it.

I hope you have no problems expressing difficult emotions but if you do, why not give the letter-writing approach a try? It’s worked for me, and others. Maybe it will for you too.

Love yourself as you love others

I’m sure the purest form of love is that between a parent and their child, for it tends to be unconditional. Generally a parent loves their child no matter what they do, and from time to time I’m sure you’ve come across stories of parents who’ve continued to stand by a son or daughter after they’ve committed some dreadful crime.

Fortunately most parents don’t have to face dilemmas like this, and we tend to accept that the bond between a mother or father and their son or daughter really is unconditional.

Now you may or may not be a parent, but I wonder if you extend this principle to loving yourself?

Perhaps not. Do you love yourself on a good day, but exhibit substantially lower levels of self-compassion when you’re going through a rough patch? You know, you wouldn’t be the first if you did. When I feel reasonably happy I tend to feel OK about myself. But ask me to make a similar judgement when my mood has dipped, and the answer would be quite different. I’m not proud to admit I’ve gone through periods of substantial self-loathing. Ouch.

I truly hope you’ve not been unfortunate enough to share the experience, but you have my profound sympathies if you have. Ouch.

The highly-respected psychologist Albert Ellis described two outlooks when it comes to self regard.

The first is conditional, when we accept ourselves only when things go well. The second is unconditional, when our self-acceptance occurs no matter what happens.

Not one to beat around the bush, so seriously did Albert Ellis view the damaging effects of conditional self-love that he called them ‘deadly’.

A big part of self-compassion is learning to be comfortable with yourself. A parent doesn’t tell their child that they’ll only love them if they change, but isn’t this just what you and I say to ourselves at times?

Building levels of self-esteem, compassion and acceptance can be a big challenge, involving months or even years of therapy for some people. But maybe we can take a more immediate, less ambitious ‘nudge’ approach today?

And this, quite simply, is to be as kind with yourself as you would be with others, no matter what you might think you have or haven’t done.

You are who you are, and very little can change this. Please be nice to yourself today.

Being comfortable with yourself

There’s a bit of a green thing going on as I write this. Today, as is fairly normal for me, I’m working in the Green Library at Stanford University, named not because it’s painted green but after Cecil Green, a wealthy British-born geophysicist and philanthropist who was one of the founders of Texas Instruments.

As is my normal routine now, I got an early train from Redwood City to Palo Alto, then hopped on the free shuttle which delivers people all over the vast Stanford campus, and it was on the bus that I witnessed the second of today’s green phenomena.

Seated just across from me was a youngish man, fairly conservatively but fashionably dressed, and with a face you’d probably describe as friendly-looking, on his lap a book about children’s education.

And here’s the thing. All ten of his fingers sported bright green nail polish.

Now this sight triggered two related but quite different reactions in me.

The first was a ‘wow, that’s unusual – an otherwise fairly conventional-looking guy, but with green nails’ kind of thing, which probably says just as much about my own (perhaps a bit boringly conservative) mindset as it does about his decision to sport decorated digits.

But my second thought was maybe more interesting, more along the lines of noticing how very unbothered he seemed about being on the bus with (unusually for a man) brightly painted fingernails.

In short, he seemed utterly comfortable and at home with who he was, and that to me felt like a big lesson.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that you happen to be going through a patch of low mood or depression – just as I do from time to time. It’s easy to see why you might dislike yourself for being like this, and you could easily believe that others are also taking a dim view of it. And of course it’s bad enough feeling grim, without also having to go through the whole self-loathing thing.

The thing is of course, although you and I may not care to admit it our depression is simply part of who we are. So isn’t there sense in finding a way to be comfortable with this? Or if not completely comfortable, at least a little less uncomfortable than we currently are?

I’m not talking about the type of comfort which mindlessly accepts that things are awful and will never change. I just mean we could perhaps both be a little kinder to, and more accepting of, ourselves than we currently are.

Perhaps being comfortable about letting our low mood show in public isn’t really that different from being okay about sitting on the bus with green-painted nails?

A particularly fetching shade they were, too.