7 Ways to Practice Self-Acceptance as a Student

a kitten looking at itself in the mirror with self-doubt

Many students struggle with self-acceptance, and a lack of self-acceptance leads to unhappiness, less resilience, and issues with self-esteem and confidence. To some degree, this is a normal part of being a teenager, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.

In plain English, self-acceptance means being okay with who you are as a whole, not just your virtues, but also your flaws.1 And since everyone has flaws, learning to accept all parts of yourself – the good and the not-so-good – is essential.

Here are seven ways for students to practice self-acceptance.

1. Accept that school is hard.

One reason many students struggle with self-acceptance is that they struggle in school. Moreover, they carry around the assumption that school is supposed to be easy. And since it’s hard for them, they conclude that there must be something wrong with them.

The first step toward overcoming this mindset is understanding that school is supposed to be hard. One of the primary purposes of school is to challenge your mind. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be very beneficial. So struggling isn’t bad. Struggle makes you stronger.

a woman squatting heavy weights at the gym

The second step is to acknowledge that, when you learn something new, you’re not supposed to just instantly get it. You’re not at school to impress your teachers with how much you already know. You’re not at school to impress your peers with how quick you are. You’re there to learn and grow.

And finally, you need to embrace “mechanical solutions” – strategies that make it easier to learn and play the game of school. For you see, the problem is not you. There’s nothing wrong with you. School is just hard. And the sooner you accept that, the more easily you will accept yourself.

2. Cultivate self-efficacy.

That said, making school easier by learning how to study effectively couldn’t hurt. True confidence is a product of self-efficacy – the belief, based on real evidence, that you have what it takes to meet life’s challenges. So build up your skills through study and practice – be they math skills, writing skills, learning techniques, or executive function strategies. Self-acceptance is easier when you feel effective.

3. Cultivate healthy self-esteem.

But no matter how good you are, there will always be someone better. And if you base your self-esteem on how you compare to others, you’ll struggle to see yourself as good enough. So instead of comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to your past self. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re better than other people. Focus on becoming a little bit better than you were yesterday.

This will help you shift from dependent self-esteem – where your sense of self-worth comes from the outside – to independent self-esteem – where your sense of self-worth comes from within.

Another way to do this is to collaborate with your peers. Form study groups or take on extracurricular projects with your classmates. This will help combat the culture of competition that is ubiquitous in our schools.

a group of students studying together outside

Also, remember that you are more than your grades. You might wish you had higher grades or better test scores, but you don’t have to be defined by those things. You are a complicated, dynamic human being. You have value, even if you’re doing poorly in school.

4. Abandon perfectionism.

On the other hand, some students struggle with self-acceptance while doing very well in school, and this is because of perfectionism. If a student believes that the only version of themselves that is “good enough” is the version that’s perfect, they’ll never be able to accept themselves because they’ll always be falling short of that ideal.

To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand that perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an impossibly high standard to hold yourself to. Accept that, in the real world, no one has ever been perfect, and give yourself permission to be human.

Also, know that giving up on perfectionism doesn’t mean giving up on striving for excellence. You can see yourself as good enough and work on becoming better.

If this is something you have a hard time with, click here for a deep dive into overcoming perfectionism.

5. Understand that your “self” isn’t fixed.

You are not a finished product. Because your brain can change, you can change.

This is the essence of having a growth mindset. You can make mistakes and fall short of your ideal without beating yourself up over it. Instead, you can use the lessons of failure as fuel for continued growth.

a baby tree growing off of a nurse log

Knowing that you are not done – that you are a work in progress – makes it easier to accept yourself when you find that you’re not as good as you’d like to be.

6. Practice acceptance in general.

Practicing self-acceptance is really a specific case of a broader acceptance practice. In Buddhism, it is taught that non-acceptance is the source of suffering – that when we resist the problems we have, we make them worse.2 In other words, suffering equals pain times resistance.

The better you get at accepting whatever life gives you, the more easily you will accept yourself. This doesn’t mean that when something goes wrong, you just passively let it be. It means that when something goes wrong, you get to work fixing it without getting needlessly upset. Or when it is something you can’t do anything about, like getting stuck in traffic, you simply accept it and maybe even use it as an opportunity to practice patience. Of course, this is easier said than done. That’s why it’s called “a practice.”

In particular, you need to practice accepting other people as they are if you want to be able to accept yourself. Permission to be human works best when it’s extended to everyone else as well as to yourself. Your friends and your family are also imperfect human beings. Your teachers are too. The more harshly you judge them, the more harshly you’ll judge yourself. If you’re always pointing the finger outwardly, at some point, you’ll find yourself staring into the mirror, pointing the finger at yourself.

(See also: 5 Ways You Can Practice Acceptance)

7. Practice self-care.

Lastly, self-acceptance comes more easily when you practice self-care. Take time to exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. Take breaks. Do things you enjoy. Play. Spend time with the people you love.

The highest form of self-acceptance is self-love, and practicing self-care is the best way to cultivate self-love.

1 Ackerman, Courtney E. “What is Self-Acceptance? 25 Exercises + Definition and Quotes.”

2 Wright, Robert. Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Simon & Schuster, 2017.

The True Meaning of “Stupid”

A cat questioning what "stupid" really means

Most people think “stupid” means being slow to learn, making lots of mistakes, struggling to remember things, or having a hard time figuring out problems.

I disagree.

I think these are normal human difficulties that all have mechanical solutions – the tools and strategies that can be implemented to overcome them.

What’s actually “stupid” is choosing not to use these things. It’s stupid to ignore the available resources. It’s stupid to reject help when it’s offered. It’s stupid to refuse to use the techniques and tactics that have been proven to help with learning and problem-solving. It’s stupid to avoid trying to learn from your mistakes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging anyone who does this. In fact, we all do it from time to time. Nobody gets through life without occasionally being stupid.

It’s just that the point of school isn’t to show off how smart you are (or avoid looking stupid). You’re not supposed to just breeze through it using whatever genetic gifts you happen to be endowed with.

The true purpose of school is to develop a stronger brain while learning to be resourceful and proactive in the face of diverse challenges. You gradually get smarter by engaging with those challenges. And you instantly get a great deal smarter when you use helpful resources and effective strategies.

It’s okay to be confused when you’re learning something new. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be a beginner. These are inevitable parts of going through school and growing up. When they happen, you’ll probably feel embarrassed that you look stupid. Other people might judge you and look down on you. But that will pass.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid. But please do your best to avoid being stupid in the sense that I’ve described here. Use the tools that are available to you. Be proactive. Accept good advice when it’s offered. And seek out help when you need it. As long as you’re doing those things, you can be sure that you’re actually being quite smart.

Teachers Are Human Too

A tired teacher trying her best to manage everything

I’ve often written about the need to give yourself and others permission to be human. Normally, the message is for students – that it’s okay to be a beginner, to make mistakes, and to ask for help. Or the message is for parents – that it’s okay to not be a perfect parent or to feel frustrated by how difficult parenting can be.

This time around, the message is for both students and parents, but it’s about teachers. Teachers are human too. So just as you must strive to give yourself permission to be imperfect, please do the same for teachers.

Teachers make mistakes.

They misspell things. They misspeak. They misplace things. They lose things. They forget things. They have bad days. All of this is normal and completely okay, so when it happens, don’t get upset with them. If you want them to be kind to you when you screw up, extend that same kindness to them.

Teachers are busy.

They’re short on time. They have lives outside of school. Granted, they spend much of that time planning lessons and grading, but they even have lives outside of that. Don’t expect instantaneous grade updates. Be patient. And just because you can message them outside of school hours doesn’t mean they’re obligated to reply right away.

Communicate.

Teachers can’t read your mind, and you can’t read theirs. Sometimes instructions or questions will be written in a confusing manner. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes it won’t be clear why you received the grade you did. Ask for better feedback.

When you need help, ask. Show that you care by paying attention in class, taking notes, and attempting the homework. Do so, and they’ll be much more inclined to help you. Be nice to them, and they’ll probably be nice to you in return. It’s human nature to reciprocate.

Be kind.

Give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if you want them to give you the same. Assume they’re trying their best. Don’t assume they’re out to get you. Instead, assume they’d like to help you because, odds are, they do. And if it becomes clear that one of your teachers really isn’t trying their best and really doesn’t want to help you, remember that even bad teachers come with an upside.