You Are in a Relationship with Yourself; Make It a Healthy One by Donald Miller

You Are in a Relationship with Yourself; Make It a Healthy One

Donald Miller
Today I continue my series called Start Life Over. If you missed yesterday, just click “previous” below or you can go ahead and download the entire series as a PDF for free here.
The idea behind the series is that together we’d experience our most meaningful year yet. To do this, I want to focus on the 5 most powerful principles I’ve learned that have helped me create more meaning in my life and actually experience serious, monumental change.
The second principle is this: You are in a relationship with yourself. Make it a healthy one.
This one is a little complicated, but I promise it will make sense by the end of this blog. And it’s the most powerful idea I’ve ever come to understand.

First, though, I have to confess something.

I’m very driven by other people’s approval of me. I mean if somebody doesn’t like me or think I did a good job, it hurts. I feel like a loser. Mostly I sense this passively, like I just get angry or hurt or something. I’m not often willing to admit they’re affecting me, but on an honest day I’ll tell you the truth: Other people’s opinions mean a lot to me. In fact, they have the power to name me, to tell me who I am.
Photo Credit: Mikaela Hamilton
Photo Credit: Mikaela Hamilton
As I’ve grown older and read more and more about psychology, I’ve realized that, in part, this is by design. We really do shape our opinions about ourselves, in large part, through the opinions of others. It’s as though we wear certain clothes and act a certain way and try to succeed at things so other people will tell us we are good or valuable. And when they do, we feel a little better about ourselves and when they don’t, we start thinking we are losers.

But one day I had a dramatic realization.

I spent a few hours with a friend I have a great deal of respect for. He’s the kind of guy I’d really like to be. He’s kind, productive, generous, humble, super disciplined, and respectable. He almost always wears a nice suit but is never snooty (not that that matters, but it’s kind of cool, right?).
Well, later that night I caught myself disrespecting myself a little bit. Just being overly critical. And then it hit me.
I’m in a relationship with myself.
I know that sounds a little odd, but if you think about it, we really do operate like two people. We are a person who lives and breathes and does things; then we are another person who judges ourselves. It’s as though we have a critic in our brain.
Now some people’s critics are too harsh and judgmental, for sure. And that’s a whole other issue, perhaps one that needs counseling. (That’s not a knock. I’ve spent hours in counseling.)

Then I had another major epiphany.

And it was this: The reason I respect my friend so much is because he does respectful things. I mean he’s disciplined and considerate and generous and kind and, well, he doesn’t look like a slob.
So I began to wonder, if I do more respectful things, perform more generous actions and, well, dress a little better, will I actually have a little more self respect? In other words, because I’m in a relationship with myself, maybe I should act in such a way that my “self” could respect my “self” a little more.
And it worked. I would find myself wanting to eat a half gallon of ice cream while watching television and I asked myself “if you skipped this, would you have a little more respect for yourself?” and the truth is I would. So I skipped it. And I had much more self respect.

I liked myself more.

This sort of thing translated into a whole host of other areas of my life. I started holding my tongue a little more and found I respected myself more when I was more thoughtful in conversation. I found myself less willing to people please because, well, people who people please aren’t as respectable, right?
Here’s another thing I realized: Human beings aren’t really motivated by goals; they’re motivated by character transformation.
Every story that we love is about a character that doubts himself or herself in the beginning and believes in himself or herself at the end. The most powerful stories are about people who learn something about themselves that changes their identity for the better.
The reason I bring this up is because when you dangle the carrot of “I will respect you more if you make a better decision here” in front of your nose, it’s incredibly motivating.

We all want to be loved.

We all want to feel approval. So why not get into a healthy relationship with yourself where you do respectable things to earn your own respect?
I’ve noticed the people I admire the most are the people who respect themselves, who have standards that seem to have little to do with the opinions of others and much to do with their opinion of themselves.
When we rely on the opinion of others to shape us, we’re getting into dangerous territory. The reality is it’s a competitive and fallen world. People mean well and are often very nice, but we’re all competing for some kind of social validation that we wrongly believe is scarce.
So the idea that another person’s view of you will be objective is unlikely. People will view you through the filter that benefits them the best. That’s why it’s so important to have a great relationship with yourself.

It’s important to be objective.

As it is to be fair and to do the things that help you respect yourself and create your own sense of self worth.
I’d confuse people if I didn’t mention that God is the one who ultimately names us and gives us our worth. Certainly this is true. It’s true at our core, soul level. But we are much more relational than that. Ultimately our relationships with ourselves and with others has dramatic sway.
Perhaps this is because of the fall of man, I’m not sure. But I do know that nobody I know is not affected by the opinions they have of themselves or the opinions they receive of others. It’s powerful, powerful stuff and for that reason, I’d rather us filter those opinions so they’re based on fact and are fair and objective. And you’re the best person to do that in your own life.
So, in summary:
  1. People are deeply motivated by the potential transformation of how they see themselves.
  2. The opinions of others can be nice, but they’re hardly objective.
  3. You are in a relationship with yourself and your opinion of yourself can help transform you.
  4. You’ll respect yourself a lot more if you do respectful things.

That’s it for Day 2.

This one was heavy, but it’s powerful stuff.
If you really want to change who you are on the deepest level, start listening to that voice inside you and start earning its respect by doing respectful things. You’d be surprised at how fair and balanced you actually are when you change your decisions so that your “self” can start to respect your “self.”
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the incredible power of quitting!

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