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In an age of self-help books and (ahem) inspirational websites, women are constantly encouraged to self-evaluate. An anxious refrain plays on loop in our minds: Am I successful? What is success? Am I happy? How do I know? Do I only think I'm successful and happy because I've only ever known this level of success and happiness? Am I living up to my potential? We squint and stare daily into our mental mirrors, convinced that if we look long enough, we'll unlock the secret to becoming the best possible versions of ourselves. The pursuit of inner beauty has become as scientific as the pursuit of the perfect lipstick.
But unlike lip color or pore size, the mental mirror raises questions that matter, tied to emotions that significantly affect our lives and our enjoyment of them. A tendency to fall headlong into the mental mirror is not nearly so easily dismissed as superfluous or vain. And unlike Narcissus, swooning over the sight of his own reflection, we often fall into an equally unhealthy pattern of becoming increasingly reviled by what we see. The longer we stare inward, the more aware we become of actions and attitudes we ought to be rearranging, and the more ominous even our most innocuous behaviors start to seem.
While introspection is valuable in moderation, there comes a point where gazing into the mental mirror becomes crippling rather than useful. The inner perfectionist wants to convince us that we can achieve inner peace, inner balance, inner beauty—but these concepts are all relative, and their ideal composition changes daily. Not every thought carries a message from your subconscious. Not every action ought to be placed on an axis. Not every bad mood is an sign of something more sinister at play. There's little utility in berating or scaring yourself by analyzing your life on a moment-to-moment basis.
Setting aside the impossibility of achieving so-called perfection, it's also pointless to spend time criticizing (or even just analyzing) yourself without actually putting a plan for change in motion. You wouldn't consult a mirror and say, "Wow, what an unflattering outfit! Oh well, guess I'll wear it anyway!" Self-awareness can only get you so far—there comes a point where you have to turn recognition of destructive thoughts or behaviors into action against them. Once you become aware of a wayward tendency, you owe it to yourself to turn it around—and once you begin transforming that aspect of you're life, you'll likely feel less overwhelmed by other areas you could stand to improve.
Know yourself. Understand your inner life, and be aware of your stengths and your weaknesses. Just remember that there is a world going on outside your head, and every inward glance ought to be matched by an outward action. Instead of seeking out the danger in yourself, seek out the magic in others. Practice positive self-improvement—focus on adding good behaviors rather than cutting or criticizing the bad, and soon, the former will become your reality. Keep your mental mirror on hand—it can provide a great deal of valuable information! But after you make sure there's no spinach in your teeth, stash it in your pocket, and feast your eyes on the reality rather than the reflection.
—Emma Aubry Roberts