When I was a junior in college, I spent three months in a psychiatric inpatient hospital.

 

Not as a patient. As a chaplain.

 

I chose it for my semester-long internship while studying in San Francisco and I worked three days a week on the unit. My main job? To listen.

I remember my interactions with patients so vividly

 

Even though they happened over a decade ago. There was the older Mexican woman who, through her broken English and my rough translation skills, told me about the people talking to her through the TV.

 

Then there was the man in his late 20s, with a strawberry-tinted beard and thick Irish accent, who drank 40 cans of beer a day working as a longshoreman. He fought alongside the IRA in Northern Ireland and fled for fear of being executed.

 

And there was the woman in her 50s who kept quietly to herself and sat alone in her light blue hospital gown near the window. She burned all of her identification and gave away all of her possessions–so sure she wanted to die–only to survive the jump from the Bay Bridge.

As I sat across the table from these people, something curious happened

 

They came looking for me during my shifts. They talked to me and opened up about their painful experiences.

 

I wasn’t doing anything special or teaching any life-changing tools or skills. I was simply listening.

 

There is power in telling your story to another human being and being heard without judgment.

 

Acceptance.

 

My 15 years working in mental health have proven that to be true time and again. My clients have made significant changes during our work together quite simply because they have felt safe, valued, and worthy.

 

Acceptance.

 

It remains the foundation of the work I do with clients, and it’s what I teach them to do for themselves.

 

I believe that you have inherent worth–just as you are. Whether you change or stay the same, it doesn’t matter. You still have value.

 

I believe that your story is worthy of being heard. Not changed. Not altered in any way. Just heard. With openness and curiosity and wonder.

When I offer that to people, something curious happens again…

 

People change.

 

Because acceptance creates the best possible conditions for growth.

 

Until you can learn to hear your own story without judgment and offer yourself unconditional acceptance then lasting change will remain just beyond your reach.

 

Start now. What’s something you’re grateful for about yourself? What’s something you’re good at or comes naturally to you? Leave a comment below then start a list and add to it every day for the next 7 days. Be genuine and specific!

 

PS. My inaugural signature program launches soon (scheduled to start in the beginning of January). I’m looking for a small group of people to join me as I kick it off. Acceptance and change will be at the heart of what we do. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up here!

 

PPS. I love this article on acceptance from mindbodygreen. Go read it!

 

It can be hard to figure out what you’re saying in your head to make yourself feel bad / stuck / whatever. Our heads are filled with so. much. stuff. Not to mention all the stimuli we take in from our environment on a daily basis. If you’re finding it difficult to tune into your thoughts, try this trick:

 

Work backwards — what are you having trouble doing? Focus on the behavior. Are you procrastinating? Dragging your feet? Are you starting then giving up on your goals? Are you breaking promises to yourself?

 

Tap into how you’re feeling — Frustrated? Fed up? Defeated? Go deeper. Fearful? Go deeper still. What’s the fear about? Where does it come from?

 

Pay attention to the pop-ups in your head — As you settle into that deeper feeling of fear/anxiety/worthlessness, chances are you’re noticing some thoughts pop-up in your head. Like those annoying windows that show up out of nowhere when you’re trying to google photos of Daniel Craig (no? Just me?). Listen to them. What are they saying? What are you hearing?

 

Chances are those thoughts are negative, belittling, constraining, and fearful.

 

They may go something like this:

Who am I to want this?

I can’t do this.

I’ve never been able to stick to this goal–what makes me think I can do it now?

You’ll never amount to anything.

 

Those thoughts might be in your voice or someone else’s. They may be voices you’ve internalized from your past. A critical parent. A criticizing teacher. A mean girl. An ex.

 

I want you to write them down. Write them ALL down. Keep writing as the pop-ups come to you. Write until you’ve let them ALL out.

 

These are familiar thoughts, are they not?

 

Just as those feelings are familiar feelings.

 

And those behaviors are familiar behaviors.

 

It’s a vicious cycle and it won’t ever stop until you train your brain to think differently.

 

So how do you change it?

 

Your first step is to tell the negative thought to STOP. Whenever it comes up for you, tell it to stop. I don’t care how you do it. Picture a stop sign in your mind. Or an open hand in front of your face. Say the word “Stop” out loud or in your head. Anytime you notice that familiar behavior coming up or you start feeling those familiar feelings, tune into your self-talk and try to catch the thought in the act.

 

Your next step is to challenge your negative thoughts. Go back to your list. For every thought you wrote down, I want you to list all the reasons it’s not true. Prove it wrong. Give examples, stories, anecdotes. Pretend you’re in a stunning custom Chanel suit, in the middle of the courtroom, and your job is to convince the jury that those statements are false. Give ’em hell.

 

Finally, replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. What can you say to yourself instead? If you heard your best friend, sister, daughter—basically your favorite person in the entire world—say that about herself, what would you tell her? Be your best friend, your best cheerleader here.

 

And, if you want extra credit (I knew you were one of those high-achievers!), post your new thoughts/self-statements in a place where you can see them every day—throughout your day. Repeat them whenever you remember them. Set reminders on your phone to read them to yourself. Every time a negative thought comes up, tell it to stop, then repeat your positive statement. It takes time to rebuild these connections in your brain so keep at it. Don’t give up. Give yourself time to learn something new. You’ve got this.

 

PS. Go try this out then come back and tell me how you did. You’ll get extra extra credit if you do.

The Serenity Prayer — chances are you know this one. (If you don’t, I’d like to invite you out from under your rock. It’s a pretty nice world out here, most of the time.)

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

No disrespect to Reinhold Niebuhr who penned this back in the 1930s but I’d like to give it a quick update.

I commit to accepting myself for who I am,
Changing the things that I can,
And learning how to balance the two.

How hard is it to change? Answer: HARD. It’s even harder when you’re doing it from a place of self-disgust. That’s why the Serenity Prayer is still so applicable today. It gives us a hint as to how we should go about this whole changing thing.

You cannot change until you learn to accept yourself.

 

Life is a balance between acceptance and change. In order to start on the path to change, you first have to know that you are WORTHY of being, doing, and having better. That’s where the real motivation lies. If you know you’re worthy of having the life you desire, you will stay on track when things get tough (or get back on track more quickly when you slip up). And isn’t it true on the flip side that in order to fully accept yourself you have to embrace the ways you fall short? Ignoring the parts of yourself that you’re not so fond of isn’t acceptance, it’s denial. You’ve gotta love the whole package.

 

Everything that I do as a coach includes these two pieces. I help my clients learn who they are, LOVE who they are, and practice better self-care. I also help them create a vision for their future, set goals and make a plan, and take practical steps to achieve them.

 

If you find yourself starting and stopping on your goals, breaking promises to yourself, and having a hard time changing the things in your life that need to change, step back and take a look at how you’re feeling about YOU. Are you trying to change from a place of self-acceptance and love? Or it from a place of self-loathing? Are you speaking kindly to yourself? Or are you berating yourself every time you mess up? If it’s the latter, you’ve uncovered the problem.

 

Your next move is to dive deep into that negative self-talk, pull back the curtain on your shame, and shine a light onto those dark places. It’s hard work but it’s the only thing that will lead to lasting change. And it’s worth it. YOU’RE worth it.