You Are Enough Just as You Are—but It's OK To Seek Self-Improvement Too

woman reading on a picnic blanket at the park

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Key Takeaways

  • Self-acceptance and self-improvement are often seen as exclusive of each other.
  • Mental health experts explain the importance of balancing the two to create a happy, fulfilled life.
  • The main takeaway: You don't need to accomplish certain things to be enough. You are enough already as you embark on the adventure of your life.

You are enough. This statement is not a lie or placation. It is a simple fact. Each human being—ignoring, in this instance, those who harm others—is enough, and deserving of love and happiness, just as they are. It should be a given but somehow society has taken this truth and turned it into a radical stance. You can be perfectly complete just the way you are, and still take steps towards self-improvement.

On the one hand, self-acceptance is tied to loving and appreciating yourself. Conversely, it’s seen as something that can only be true once you achieve X, Y, and Z. The latter has more apparent issues, placing your worth in what you accomplish instead of existing without a need to be proven. The former appears to be inherently good. However, when taken to an extreme, it creates the notion that any work on yourself or towards goals is a form of questioning if you are truly enough.

These polar ends often appear with the greatest strength at the start of the new year, thanks to the tradition of resolutions and fresh starts. There are calls to hit the gym every day, reading to reach some number of books, and saying yes to everything—even things you know you hate. Then there are the loud calls to forego any of that, ignore resolutions, accept yourself exactly how you are, and treat January 1 like any other day.

It's not a matter of either/or

Both these notions—blanket self-acceptance without self-reflection, and the fervent determination to self-improve—create issues when left unanalyzed.

“Focusing solely on self-acceptance can become dangerous when we start to ignore our challenges or shortcomings to our detriment. When our limitations are harming our relationships or are negatively impacting our life circumstances, like our jobs or housing, not acknowledging the need for change is likely to backfire,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy.

She gives the example of a person who is always flaky or late. You can accept this about yourself and leave others to deal with it, but Lurie expresses the benefit of looking at it as a current trait to be worked on.

This thought process can be applied to fitness or health goals as well. You can practice self-love for your body in whatever form it takes while also making little changes to your lifestyle and eating habits. It seems like such an obvious solution but so many of us make detrimental statements like "I'm going to stop being bad by eating so much candy, quit being lazy, and finally lose these 10 lbs". We think harsh statements are going to motivate us but they don't.

Instead, you might say something like "I love my body and I want to feel my best, so I'm going to find joy and pleasure in new foods and activities". You're still acknowledging your desire to change without shaming yourself in the process.

Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC

Balancing both pursuits is an act of self-compassion. It also means understanding that change is non-linear and that self-acceptance and self-improvement will both require practice and patience.

— Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC

As Naiylah Warren, LMFT, Therapist and Clinical Content Manager at Real, explains the balance we all need to find, “You acknowledge issues without cruel judgment and care for them accordingly. On the other hand, diving too deep into self-improvement may diminish the strengths, qualities, and positive attributes by assuming everything needs to change and overly focusing on all the things that aren’t to your standard.”

How To Balance Self-Acceptance and Self-Improvement

Inevitably you will move between these two ends throughout your life. But, the goal is finding a balance. “It’s very difficult to do the work necessary to improve yourself if you don’t also have compassion and acceptance for who you are as a person at any stage of life,” says Rachel Gersten, LMHC, co-founder of Viva.

Forget Perfection

One of the barriers to achieving this equilibrium comes from the way many of us feel we can only accept ourselves once we are "perfect".

According to Warren, society perpetuates the idea that people can only fully love themselves if they aren’t seeking personal change or growth. “It’s really the opposite. True change or growth doesn’t happen without some level of self-acceptance,” she says.

In fact, accepting everything without consideration can lead to a feeling of having settled and what ifs.  

Always Be Kind to Yourself

To this end, Lurie points to the value of consciously evaluating your self-talk. Do you create unnecessary limits for yourself? Are you critical more often than not? Self-acceptance means removing judgment and negative talk while exploring what you want to do moving forward. Continue showing yourself compassion as you go down whatever paths you choose, says Lurie. 

“Balancing both pursuits is an act of self-compassion,” adds Lurie.” It also means understanding that change is non-linear and that self-acceptance and self-improvement will both require practice and patience.” This process can be messy but is a lifelong learning process. 

Rachel Gersten, LMHC

We’re always a work in progress, and we’re always enough—both can be true at the same time.

— Rachel Gersten, LMHC

“Self-acceptance and self-improvement need one another to get us to where we want to go,” explains Warren. “The truth is, we are going to keep changing. How and who we are today will not be the same tomorrow. Self-acceptance simply asks us to commit to taking care of whatever version of you that you get to meet.”

Warren recommends listening to our body throughout this journey. Try mindfulness practices to tap into your inner thoughts.

Consider your goals in terms of what you want to feel

Furthermore, work to reframe goals into sought-after emotions instead of data points, like the amount of money made or the steps you take daily. Think about what feelings these goals bring rather than how they might make you look or what they give you tangibly.

“This can help us to anchor us in a way that’s more nourishing and still intentional,” explains Warren. Will you feel more confident or at ease if you make more money? Will gaining strength and seeing new places along your path bring excitement and stability? 

Similarly, take time to do things or be with people which leave you feeling good, says Gersten. At the same time, incorporate situations that push you out of your comfort zone. Mixing the two can make it easier to find a balance. She further suggests seeing a therapist to help guide you if one is accessible to you. 

“We’re always a work in progress, and we’re always enough—both can be true at the same time,” says Gersten. “I think remembering that goes a long way towards setting realistic self-improvement goals and following through on them.” 

What This Means For You

You're allowed to feel down on yourself or not want to accomplish anything at times. The goal here is finding a healthy balance you can return to again and again as you move through life.