My friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Holden, poignantly says, “There’s no amount of self-improvement that can make up for a lack of self-acceptance.”

Self-acceptance is defined as “an individual’s acceptance of all of their attributes, positive or negative.”

So much of our life and our work is focused on self-improvement. And while there’s nothing wrong with us wanting to improve ourselves – too often we go about it erroneously thinking that if we achieve the improvement we’re after, we’ll then feel good about ourselves.

But it actually doesn’t work that way.

Self-Improvement vs. Self-Acceptance

Self-improvement and self-acceptance are both vital in a balanced life. Self-acceptance promotes inner peace while self-improvement fuels progress. It’s important to find a harmonious balance between the two to lead to genuine self-empowerment.

This balance can be tricky. In today’s world – especially with everyone posting the highlight reels of their lives on social media – it’s easy to compare ourselves to others.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with self-improvement. We turn on the TV, surf the web, look at magazines, browse through our feeds, take classes, read books, listen to others, and more – constantly getting various messages that if we just fixed or improved ourselves a bit, we’d be better off. How often do you find yourself thinking some version of, “If I just lost a little weight, made a little more money, improved my health, had more inspiring work, lived in a nicer place, improved my relationships (or something else), then I’d be happy.” Even though I know better, this type of thinking shows up inside my own head more often than I’d like.

The paradox of self-improvement is that by accepting ourselves as we are, we give ourselves the space, permission, and opportunity to create an authentic sense of success and fulfillment. When we insatiably focus on improving ourselves, thinking that it will ultimately lead us to a place of happiness, we’re almost always disappointed and we set up a stressful dynamic of constantly striving, but never quite getting there.

What if we gave ourselves permission to accept ourselves fully, right now? While this is a simple concept, it’s one of the many things in life that’s easier said than done.

Why Do We Resist Self-Acceptance?

One of the biggest pieces of resistance we have regarding self-acceptance is that we erroneously think that by accepting ourselves, we may somehow be giving up. It’s as if we say to ourselves, “Okay, I’ll accept myself, once all of my problems and issues go away.”

Another reason we resist accepting ourselves is the notion that somehow acceptance is resignation. It’s not.  Acceptance is acceptance – it’s about allowing things to be as they are, even if we don’t like them. As Byron Katie says (and I often quote), “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

The paradox of self-acceptance lies in the realization that embracing our true selves, including our current circumstances, qualities, and imperfections, opens the door to genuine personal growth and positive transformation.

By acknowledging who we are without judgment, we create an authentic space for change to occur naturally. However, when we become fixated on demanding changes solely to achieve happiness, self-esteem, or success, we often find ourselves frustrated and unfulfilled. True progress arises from a foundation of self-acceptance, where inner contentment allows us to organically pursue meaningful improvements, leading to a more genuine and satisfying journey of self-discovery.

If you take a moment right now to think about some of the most important changes you’re attempting to make in your life, ask yourself this question, “What would it look like, feel like, and be like for me to fully accept myself in these important areas?”

Often, our biggest obstacles to making meaningful changes, achieving success, and finding fulfillment, stem from self-criticism, the pursuit of perfection, and impatience. These self-imposed barriers hinder our progress and overshadow our potential for growth and accomplishment.

By learning to embrace self-compassion, accepting that perfection is not attainable, and practicing patience, we create a nurturing environment for personal development and genuine fulfillment. Letting go of harsh self-judgment allows us to focus on the journey rather than fixating on outcomes, enabling us to appreciate the incremental steps and learn from setbacks along the way. In doing so, we unlock the true potential within ourselves to thrive and prosper.

What if we changed our approach, and with as much love, compassion, and vulnerability as possible, just accepted ourselves exactly as we are, right now?

This article was published in 2013 and updated for 2023.


  • Mike Robbins

    Author and Motivational Speaker

    Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This TogetherHe’s an expert in teamwork, leadership, and company culture who delivers keynotes and seminars around the world that empower people, leaders, and teams to engage in their work, collaborate, and perform at their best. Mike and his team partner with clients like Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.