The final lesson in the four-for-forty series is the hoariest, hippyest, horriblest of them all. “Love yourself” is the basic rule of all personal development, so there’s no shortage of Internet advice on how to love yourself. To me, the advice has always come across as self-indulgent babble that may be good for crackhead pop and comic treatment, but it’s succored a generation of wimps who can’t hold down a job.
The first hundred times or so I heard “You gotta love yourself,” I thought: “No I don’t. You don’t tell me what I gotta do.” Then I began to ask “Why?” and I finally heard a reason that made some sense to me.
Loving yourself requires accepting your faults, and accepting your faults gives you more options for how to react in any situation. That’s a quantifiable rationale, testable both in theory and in practice – and as a bonus the measurement also gives guidance on whether you’ve taken self-love too far. Here’s a simplified example:
Let’s say you receive a bad outcome that is at least partially based on something you did. Here is a count of your options for how to react –
- Self-hate: Since you will blame yourself to the exclusion of other factors, you only have two choices: (1) rigorously apply yourself to skills improvement, even though it’s likely that no amount of improvement would have given a different result, or (2) drink enough to obliterate your self-hating identity.
- Self-love, of the over-indulgent kind: Certainly the outcome wasn’t your fault, so your choices are (1) smugly wait for the next chance for the world to properly join you in your love of you, or (1) ignore any possible evidence that your actions contributed to failure. Yes, those are numbered the same because they are the same.
- Goldilocks self-love, the kind where you love yourself just right: You can be clear-eyed about what really happened. You can apply yourself to change, you can recognize the factors that were out of your control, you can put the outcome out of your mind in good humor and good health. You can do all of these things and you probably will.
Basically, loving yourself just right gives you all of the options of the other two conditions, with the additional optionality that comes from not being ideologically compelled to react in a way that is harmful or indulgent. You gotta love yourself just right, because the alternatives are suboptimal. Sure, that’s a particularly dry and uninspiring way to put it, but what can I tell ya, I love this way because it’s mine.