My clients who learn to practice acceptance usually end up on the fast track to their goals, because acceptance is power. When you accept a person or a situation for as it is now, you gain power over the one thing you can change: YOU.
As you may recall from a past newsletter, cognitive therapy is identifying negative thoughts that trigger bad feelings and replacing them with more productive thoughts. However, this does not mean that clients are learning to sit back and tell themselves that life is all sunshine and smiles. What they learn to recognize is that before they can change a situation, they must first acceptwhat is.
This is also why therapists are effective. “This is what I see happening,” I can say. “And this is what you say you want. What do you want to do about it?” One of the things we do is point out the problems that arise whenwhat is collides with what should be.
When reality faces off with our idea of what the reality should look like, reality always wins. (Try suspending your belief in gravity and then dropping something. It falls anyway). Remember a few months ago when I explained that some sticky problems are like trying to drag a cat? Well, dragging a cat is you battling reality — and battling acceptance…how exhausting.
It takes practice to fight the urge to change something. Be patient and start with small things, like the weather: practice letting it be cloudy. Easy, you say? Weather should be easy to accept, since most of us know we can’t do anything about it. But I can’t tell you how many of my favorite control freaks can get bent out of shape over rain or cold (myself included, sometimes). If you can accept the weather, you can move on to the bigger stuff – it just takes time.
So what does it look like to accept something?
- Take a few moments and consider a situation that you are not happy with. Don’t choose your greatest burden in life; just pick something that makes you feel mildly annoyed. It could be a pet peeve that someone you know has, or a subtle injustice.
- Now accept everything about that situation. My favorite saying that I use for people is “They must have their reasons.” (It works for everything.)
- Consider these annoyances the way you would the weather: do you want to be someone who goes around shouting at the rain? Do you accept your dog’s shortcomings more readily than your husband’s?
(What’s up with that?)
When your brain tries to fight back with its version of reality, just calmly redirect it to acceptance: “This is the way it is right now.”
Acceptance is NOT: approval, permission, sanction, agreement, compliance, sympathy, endorsement, assistance, authenticating, cultivating, encouraging, promoting, or even liking what is.
Acceptance is also not a state of passivity or inaction. In fact, in its quiet way, it is the most powerful first step of change itself; it is the first law of personal growth.
Give yourself some space this month and practice acceptance. And while you’re at it, you might as well accept all of your future mistakes, because being in a state of non-acceptance makes it difficult to learn. A mindset that is fighting the reality of what is cannot easily receive a lesson and a roadmap to change.