We hear more and more that “we just have to accept our circumstances” – but what does that mean? And why do people say that? How will that make our life better?
Resignation is being passive, choosing to be helpless and accepting defeat. I have yet to meet anyone who feels strong and healthy when they are engaging with that crew!
So what does it mean to be Accepting and WHY should we do it?
1. Acceptance reduces suffering. Let’s look at an analogy…
The doorbell rings, so I want to get from my kitchen to the front door… …but I have a broken leg. If I refuse to acknowledge or accept that I have a broken leg I will try to get from point A to point B the same way I always have (in this case walking). This will cause A LOT of pain and suffering, all because I am not willing to acknowledge the truth of my situation, and I may not even make it.
If I accept that my leg is broken, I am more likely problem solve how I can most easily get from point A to point B and would be far more likely to succeed and with a whole lot less suffering. I might use crutches, ask a friend for help or roll there on a swivel chair. The possibilities are endless, but only once we accept our current circumstances.
Another analogy that I really like is one I heard on Hayhouse Radio (an online self-help radio station) recently. A leaf riding on a gust of wind does this effortlessly, it is just going with the flow. It is similar in our life, when we are accepting our circumstances, non-judgmentally seeing them for what they are, the good and / or the bad, and constantly asking ourselves “Given this situation, what is the healthiest thing for me to do?”, our energy goes towards living our values and feeling well and at peace with ourselves and our situation.
BUT, when we try to resist the wind, it takes constant effort and all of our energy goes towards fighting the seemingly gale force winds that keep coming at us! In our life, we do this when we choose to invest our energy into resisting the situation through things like “it’s not fair”, “I can’t do this” , denying or minimizing the truth of our situation, or distracting ourselves from it (usually in unhealthy ways). In these cases, we are investing our energy into a hopeless situation, no matter how much energy we invest in this, we can’t make the wind stop blowing! So we eventually start to feel helpless and hopeless…unless we choose to ACCEPT and go along for the ride and ask ourselves “Given this situation, what is the healthiest thing for me to do right now?”.
2. It allows us to move forward. We have talked about how we are a social species and sometimes even just having a witness to our pain and suffering is healing. The truth is, that before we can allow someone else to bear witness to our life we must first be our own witness, by fully acknowledging what it is we have gone through- all of it, free of rose coloured glasses or the entitlement of victimhood, just focusing on what you have been through- only then can you be clear on what your healthy next steps must be.
So HOW do we do it?
Learning the ART of ACCEPTANCE
1. Acceptance is actually an ACTIVE process where we DELIBERATELY CHOOSE to look at our circumstances non-judgementally, focusing on both the good and the bad of it. It is actively reflecting on our situation.
2. Then we CONSIDER WHAT WE WANT (e.g., a meaningful job, or a healthy relationship where you are appreciated and your boundaries are respected etc).
3. Finally we out the first two steps together and say “Ok, if this (#1) is where I am (no matter how bad or ugly it may be) and I want to get to there (#2), then what are some first steps I can take to get form here to there ?” [ or some variant of this conversation with yourself]
1. Acceptance without Willingness
We struggle to accept because it is often distressing and we often don’t like the thoughts, feelings or insights that come with it. When we focus on how uncomfortable it is to go through, we will have a harder time sticking with facing our truth. This is where willingness comes in. In order to be really ready to accept our circumstance, we have to also be willing to allow uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to surface as well, and be willing to ride them out to allow them to pass.
It is like the difference between the novice (new) runner and the seasoned (experienced) runner- the novice runner struggles to run regularly because they tend to focus on how hard it is to get going, the seasoned runner tends to focus on how much better they feel when they run and have a much easier time running regularly.
All that to say, if you are struggling to stick with sitting with and facing your distressing thoughts, feelings or insights, using self-compassion paired with focusing on how it will feel to be free from the baggage you are carrying can go a long way.
2. Not wanting to “see” the problem until we can see a solution.
When we can’t think of a solution that we are ok with, we often try to pretend the problem isn’t there or just focus on how helpless we are in the face of this situation, which is never true! We may not be able to change the actual situation, but we are always able to do CHOOSe our response to it.
This is especially likely to happen when we know that the solution will be difficult, like ending a friendship, a relationship or setting boundaries with family or co-workers that may make others upset with us.
As always, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email, or join us on Twitter at @DrAdrianaWilson or @KRyanWilson. Until next week!