One of the running themes throughout How To Become A Modern Viking is that of self-acceptance versus self-improvement. I faced many demons in myself, and my journey towards discovering my inner warrior involved a combination of both facing these demons and accepting every one of them, and also in recognising areas that needed building upon and improving.
Each of these could not exist without the other – it’s impossible to know which areas need improving without first accepting who we are, and likewise, we cannot honestly accept who we are without first providing the hope that once we see these qualities and flaws, we will have a strategy in-place to improve them.
Self-acceptance is possibly the strongest foundation for happiness – mostly because the source of so much unhappiness comes from judging ourselves. If we are overweight, struggle with infidelity, we are lazy or don’t have much money, we can quickly judge ourselves negatively and create a feeling of shame.
Shame is such a destructive emotion – particularly if you are prone to depression, shame can sink you into a hole that can take months or years to climb out of.
The only way to conquer shame, in my experience (and forgive how much of a hippie I may sound when I say this)…. is with love.
Love is the only thing that can defeat shame.
We need to feel the love from others without a doubt, but there may be a time (as I experienced) where you are truly alone and the only person available to provide the love you need to defeat your shame is you. Even in a world of social media and smartphones, geographically or just because you were a major asshole, you can find yourself completely and literally alone.
You need to figure out how to start loving yourself again so that you can crush the shame, but you can only do this if you honestly accept who you really are, good and bad.
Self-love starts with self-acceptance.
Once you can start to look at yourself honestly and find love and joy and strength in all areas of your character, you can eliminate the shame. I wont lie – not every flaw can be turned around into a strength easily. But you can at least accept the flaws and lose the shame of them.
Don’t confuse guilt with shame. Guilt allows us to feel regret for a time when we made a mistake. We can learn from guilt. But shame is purely the shitty emotion of feeling bad about who we are.
Guilt is useful – it shows us areas we can improve. Shame is just a shitty emotion.
Trying to improve too early means you are building on shallow promises. As an example, I wrote a lot about Confidence in Modern Viking because it is the primary source of getting the most happiness out of social experiences. And I desperately wanted to be happy again.
I personally struggled, as do most people, on striking the balance between faking confidence and genuine confidence (especially in new situations). After studying it deeper, both practically as I explore a new career and also academically as I write more about self-improvement, I’ve realised that it’s impossible to have any genuine confidence in new situations without self-acceptance.
So many guides and online blog posts told me to simply “Fake it until you make it”, but that never worked for me.
However, after I had trained my mindset to accept all of my flaws, all of my weaknesses, all of my strengths and all of my positive values (along with using rational logic to calm my irrational and emotional cognitive biases) then I could start to feel genuine confidence in situations where I had no real competence. I became confident about who I was, and just importantly, who I wasn’t. I lost any empty longings or desires to be fake.
Self-acceptance and self-love is the first step.
I started to enjoy who I was – something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Once I had achieved this genuine place of peace and love within myself (even though to the outside world I looked exactly the same and was in exactly the same situation), only then could I start thinking about improving myself…
Self-improvement is often described as a journey, not a destination. While I agree with this sentiment, I actually created my own concept of self-improvement based upon a very specific destination: I wanted to become a Modern Viking!
Anyone who read the 1996 Novel ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk or watched the 1999 movie adaptation will know the infamy of Tyler Durden. The rebellious and extroverted alter-ego played by Brad Pitt plays both the protagonist and antagonist, created as a fictional mechanism to allow an introverted materialistic loser achieve a deeper sense of self-acceptance. While his characters ending of terrorism and attempted suicide is far from aspirational, the storyline provided inspiration for I might create my own warrior archetype at a time when I felt like I needed to break out of myself.
By deciding who I wanted to become, it became easier to envision how that person would act, how they would talk in social situations, what they would look like, how they would approach a new career, how they would find love…etc.
I created a fairly fixed destination for my own self-improvement, and I had already begun the very uncomfortable but extremely enlightening process of self-acceptance and then self-love.
By finally knowing where I was, and where I wanted to be, I could create a map of the journey, complete with milestones markers and ambitions for all the sights to enjoy along the way!
There would be the first benchpress of 100kg. The first time I saw my abs again. The first woman I would kiss again. The first time I would hold £1,000 in my hands again. The first time I would see £10,000 in my bank account again. The first time I would sign a book for someone. The first time I would appear on TV…. etc.
Journalling these thoughts and strategies eventually became the book, How To Become A Modern Viking.
The risk with pushing for self-improvement and the argument of most hippies is that it creates a feeling that you are not good enough, that in some way you are not worthy until you meet those goals.
This can be a very real and very dangerous effect – take a look at many bodybuilders or runway models and you can see the serious health impacts of body dysmorphia. Stroll around the coffee shops of your nearest financial district and you’ll find suits literally killing themselves with stress and worry at the debilitating fear of not making a $1million bonus this Christmas.
These people will struggle to find happiness because they weren’t honest and accepting of who they were to start with.
But the way to prevent this is by first being truly honest with self-acceptance and self-love. Only if you love who are you, can you love who you might become.
p.s. One area of self-acceptance I came to terms with was my love of cursing when I write passionately. With this in mind, the recent update to my book includes an “Explicit Content” warning on the cover. I hope this will help prevent the shock and surprise from people who discover 101 uses of the word “Fuck” or 47 uses of “Shit”, just to name a few.
You can get the latest update now which also includes some chapter re-writes, including more up-to-date nutritional theory. It’s not a whole new edition so if you already own a copy, it’s not necessary, but if you haven’t purchased yet, now is the time!