One of my beloved yoga teachers ends each class with these words: “Look for the gold,” he says. “Not the dirt.”
It may seem like a simple message but it has widespread implications. Whether we’re pessimists or optimists, the perfectionism that’s incessantly promoted by our culture forces us to fixate on faults rather than appreciate strengths. The lawn might be green, we think, but it’s marred by patches of weeds.
Too often this inclination to criticize extends to the people we encounter, strangers and loved ones alike. We fail to see the way a color flatters a friend’s complexion because we’re distracted by the blemish on her cheek. We take note of the bags under our spouse’s eyes rather than seeing the results of his hard work at the gym. Our eyes travel to the stain on a stranger’s pants instead of focusing on his genuine smile, and that woman might have sharp taste in shoes but good god could she use a haircut that wasn’t popular in 1999. We record our colleague’s infuriating habit of laughing too loud rather than valuing his sunny demeanor and creative contributions to the company. We observe the weaknesses in others rather than considering their pain. We see ugliness before beauty, if ever at all.
This tendency isn’t mildly unhealthy—it’s downright destructive, because this toxic manner of thinking is nowhere more prevalent than in our assessment of ourselves.
How often have we stood in front of a mirror only to obsess over our perceived flaws? We disparage ourselves for our wrinkles and errant hairs and loose skin and imperfect teeth. We become preoccupied with the size of our thighs rather than feeling gratitude for all of the hard work our legs do for us, or wish we had a differently shaped nose instead of appreciating the trait that we inherited from our grandmother. We admonish ourselves for the errors we make rather than praising ourselves for our efforts. We belittle ourselves for our inadequacies more willingly than we thank ourselves for our talents. We bemoan what we don’t have in life instead of treasuring what we do. And this ceaseless criticism turns into a vicious cycle that interferes with every angle of our life, as we’re often left thinking that if we can’t do the job perfectly, then why should we even try?
We should, because the rewards are far-reaching. And the first step towards living a more positive existence is learning to love and respect yourself unconditionally.
It’s a cliché, but for a good reason: To love others we must first love ourselves. If we’re kind to ourselves, we will naturally be more compassionate towards others. If we refrain from judging ourselves, we’ll be more acceptable and tolerant of others, making the world a brighter, happier, and more peaceful and loving place.
“When we are judging everything, we are learning nothing,” Steve Maraboli writes in Life, the Truth, and Being Free. So let’s look for the gold, not the dirt. It might require some digging, but we’ll all prosper when we find it.