It is such a pleasure to welcome the PhD Life Coach, Dr Vikki Burns, as the latest guest writer on thegratefulacademic.com. Following on from her hugely successful career as a researcher and award-winning educator, Vikki now specialises in coaching and supporting academics at all career stages through their journeys in academia. She writes here about self-acceptance and how we can learn to treat ourselves more compassionately.
acceptance /əkˈseptəns/ noun
the act of agreeing with a situation, idea or explanation as valid and satisfactory
I used to get frustrated when people reminded me of emails I hadn’t replied to or tasks I hadn’t done.
“Yeah OK, I know, I’m really busy, I can’t do everything,” I used to say, “I’ll do it, you don’t need to chase me.” It would make me so mad. Looking back, the irony was that I would be most reactive when I had, indeed, forgotten to do the thing that they’d reminded me about.
Why did it make me so annoyed when I knew that they were only trying to help? It took me a while to work it out but, with coaching, I realised that it wasn’t because of what they was saying.
It was because of what I was making it mean.
When they reminded me of a task, I would make it mean all of these things:
I should have got this done already
A good academic wouldn’t need to be reminded
They think I’m useless
And why did I make it mean those things?
Because I hadn’t accepted that I was someone who sometimes got overwhelmed and didn’t do tasks on time. I definitely hadn’t accepted that not doing everything perfectly was totally human and fine and didn’t need “fixing”.
In reality, it was me who thought I was useless.
How self-acceptance helps
Self-acceptance has two main components:
accepting that you have strengths and weaknesses and understanding what they are.
accepting that you are valuable regardless of your strengths and weaknesses.
In this case, I needed to understand that one of my weaknesses is a tendency to overcommit and get overwhelmed. I also needed to accept that that didn’t make me useless; everyone has weaknesses and these are some of mine. Moreover, these weaknesses are actually just the flip side of some of my strengths like enthusiasm! This is something that I have really worked on believing over the last couple of years and it’s made a huge difference.
With that in mind, I want you to think how differently these interactions can go now that I’ve (mostly!) accepted these weaknesses.
Now if someone reminds me of a task I say, “Oooh yes you’re right, I’d forgotten. On it now.” Or, I might say “Ah yes, of course. No worries. It’s going to be another couple of weeks so what can we do so that I don’t hold you up?”
How much nicer is that? Occasionally I slip back into old habits and get defensive, but mostly it looks like this! It makes a huge difference to everyone involved.
What self-acceptance isn’t
Some of you might believe that self-acceptance is believing that “I am how I am and there’s nothing I can do about it”. You might believe that, now that I’ve “self-accepted” this tendency, that I’m no longer trying to constrain my focus, keep track of commitments, and complete tasks on time.
The opposite is in fact true.
When I hadn’t accepted this about myself, I would make unrealistic plans, I wouldn’t ask for support, and I would procrastinate because I felt shame about not having done the work sooner. I got less done and felt worse.
Now that I have accepted this tendency, I am much more realistic about what I can expect from myself. I’m much less likely to over commit and I’m much more likely to put systems in place to make it more likely that I’ll complete the task. People are also more likely to remind me if something is overdue, because they’re less worried that they’ll get snapped at! It’s much more pleasant and I get more done.
Self-acceptance is not fatalism - if you know where you are, and accept that position, you can support yourself compassionately to develop from there.
Vikki’s top tips to develop self-acceptance
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