Self-improvement feels amazing, especially for people who are ambitious. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of reaching goals, hitting targets, mastering new skills, getting ahead, or seeing how much we have grown. Self-improvement is a powerful way to achieve success. However, self-improvement works best when balanced with self-acceptance. In this article, you’ll learn why.

The Tragic Paradox of Self-Improvement That Keeps You Stuck

I see many ambitious young people fall into the trap of pushing themselves to self-improve because they never feel they are “enough.” Deep down, they worry something is wrong with them that needs to be “fixed.”

But there is a big difference between improving because we genuinely want to grow, and forcing ourselves to improve because we don’t think we are good enough.

If we constantly strive to improve ourselves without accepting ourselves as we already are, we run the risk of being excessively critical and harsh on ourselves, pushing ourselves too far, feeling bad about ourselves for not being “better,” and in extreme cases, burning out and jeopardizing our health and relationships. 

The tragic paradox here is that while self-improvement seems to be the key to confidence, we are actually less likely to be successful and believe in ourselves if we always feel we are inadequate. While self-criticism seems like a motivator for self-improvement, it can actually hinder it.

Self-Acceptance Helps You Grow

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” 

~Carl Rogers

Self-acceptance helps you to not rely solely on accomplishments to feel good about yourself, and enjoy your life day-to-day, whether you’ve met your goals or not. People who accept themselves are more likely to have a healthy sense of self-esteem, be more resilient to failure and setbacks, and take things less personally.

The Faulty Assumption That Can Keep You Stuck

Many ambitious young people worry that if they are kinder to themselves, they will lose their “fire.” While this seems true, it is based on the faulty assumption that the only way to get better is through self-criticism. 

Let me ask you this: if you were seeking a coach to help you become healthier, would you choose one who yells at you, tells you that you’re stupid and fat, and points out all your flaws in order to push you to do better? 

Or would you rather have a coach who accepts you, takes the time to learn your strengths and goals, helps you grow from where you are, encourages you to succeed, and congratulates you when you do?

While the first trainer might motivate you, she would also tear down your self-esteem, sabotage your confidence, and make you want to quit. You would be more likely to persevere, feel more confident, enjoy the process, and reach your goals with the second trainer. If you learn to be a kind coach to yourself, it will help you improve and become more self-confident.

Increase Your Success With This Powerful Combination

“I am a perpetual work-in-progress. And you know what? I am quite all right with that.” -Cristina Marrero

When self-acceptance and self-improvement come together, they are a powerful force. If you want sustainable self-confidence and success long-term, balancing your drive with kindness is one of the best tools to get you there. 

Self-acceptance helps you take an honest look at yourself, your strengths, imperfections, and gifts. It helps you leverage your strengths and increase your confidence while owning your imperfections without being self-conscious about them.

Self-improvement then helps you decide which ways you want to grow and helps you work towards your goals while enjoying the process. When balanced with self-acceptance, you will relax into yourself and become more “okay” with making mistakes and stepping outside of your comfort zone, which is necessary for true growth.

Become More Confident By Becoming Your Own Motivational Coach

When you notice yourself becoming critical, saying things like “this isn’t good enough,” “I never do things right,” or “I don’t measure up,” see if you can pause, take a few breaths, and send some kind messages towards yourself instead, such as:

“I’m worthy no matter how much I accomplish”

“I’m only going to get better with practice” 

“It’s okay not to be perfect”

“This is an opportunity to grow.”

Choose one of these phrases, or create your own. Say it to yourself whenever you feel discouraged because you’re not meeting your expectations. Paradoxically, it will help you become more likely to reach your goals!

I specialize in helping ambitious young people become more balanced, calm, and authentically self-confident. Download my free meditations on my homepage or click the “contact” button to schedule a free 20-minute consult with me.

A version of this article was originally published in the magazine Women on Topp.