Facing our failures and shortcomings is not easy. The tendency to avoid them, or engage in something else to take our mind off things is universal – unethical behavior, alcohol abuse and compensatory consumption are all examples of this.
Looking to see how this tendency can be changed, Soo Kim and David Gal of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University used five experiments, where participants were primed about self-acceptance, and then asked to choose between an item that signified the desire for self-improvement, or a control. For example, in one study, participants read about the concept of self-acceptance and were then asked to select either a luxury magazine or the book Power and Influence for Dummies.
In each experiment, after being primed about self-acceptance, participants were more likely to select the item that represented self-improvement over the control, indicating a desire to improve their overall well-being (Kim & Gal, 2014).
The researchers note that practicing self-acceptance helps to reduce a person’s likelihood of engaging in damaging behavior and increases the likelihood that they will work toward improving the areas where they fall short.
“Consider the person who has just realized that they are poorly prepared financially for retirement. They might either go out and buy something expensive or start binge eating or drinking as a way to avoid dealing with their problems. We introduce the idea that practicing self-acceptance is a more effective alternative to this type of self-destructive behavior” (Kim, 2014).
Self-acceptance, Kim and Gal, caution, is not the same as self-esteem. Where self-esteem is used to promote well-being and has often been delivered as undeserved praise that can give people unrealistic beliefs and expectations about their abilities – which can undermine their self-worth – self-acceptance is inherently unconditional may and not attached to unrealistic outcomes. Instead, self-acceptance helps us see failures – and even self-destructive behavior – as part of the process of learning to change our behavior, and ultimately as a way to catalyze growth.