Acceptance is a choice. It’s not always an easy choice but it is something we are required to choose nonetheless. Why? Because when we are faced with a challenge there are two ways out – the first is to accept it and find a way to make peace with it. The second, to fight against it, playing the victim and being miserable. There is a secret option number three…to bury your head in the sand, but that’s unlikely to get you out of the situation.
Being able to accept that there are many things out of your control can be key to your state of mind. It can help you move from feeling happy to genuinely being happy. The irony is, that acceptance is within your control, you can use it as a form of protection in this ever-changing world, knowing that you really have no idea what is going to happen next.
Acceptance is not giving in
Acceptance isn’t about choosing your battles or giving in; it’s not a sign of weakness or apathy. We need to learn to distinguish the times when we stick at something and when we need to let it be.
If you choose to believe that everything happens for a reason, which many people do, it is the beginning of acceptance. So often we look for the reason as to why something happens…but there isn’t always a reason. You might wish things were different, it might feel unfair but sometimes we have to face the fact that it is what it is. We can’t always change our circumstances…but we can change how we view it. That is the choice. It doesn’t mean there isn’t hope, that things won’t change later on but sometimes, in a given moment we have to accept that this is our reality for now.
Life brings us challenges, many that we wouldn’t wish for, like the death of a loved one. It’s not easy to embrace acceptance when we are suffering but it can allow us to truly experience our feelings and emotions in those times. It’s OK to be angry, sad, exhausted. They are all a normal range of emotions and to accept them and know they will pass at some point can be helpful. It doesn’t mean you are OK with the situation, acceptance doesn’t mean setting your chin and getting on with it. Acceptance is being willing to acknowledge the situation without denial or resistance.
Acceptance is not approval
If acceptance is acknowledging what has happened/is happening, then approval is consenting to more of it in the future. Let’s take the example of a relationship with someone who treats you (and others) badly. They justify their behaviour by saying they have always been this way and they can’t change. Perhaps you convince yourself that although it doesn’t feel right, you stick it out anyway, hoping beyond hope that they will in fact change. This might lead to confusion, frustration and anger and if you are always hoping things will be different, it will be difficult to accept what’s happening.
If you accept that this person is hurting you in some way, that doesn’t mean you are OK with it or that you want it to keep happening. Accepting it means seeing what’s in front of you so that you can make a decision on what you want to do about it. We don’t accept things in order to change what’s happening or to feel better about it. We embrace it because it’s already here and happening and resisting won’t make it go away.
How to practice acceptance
Acceptance requires conscious practice. It can be frustrating at times but as with all things, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. You may experience feelings of resistance and that’s normal, there is always an opportunity to be kind to yourself. Here are three ways you can practice acceptance:
- Use your energy to look for things you can control. Focus on where you can create solutions and, if you can’t find a solution, ask yourself who can help you. It might be something really small, that’s OK.
- Start accepting things as they are. I would recommend starting small, so when you find out you’ve run out of coffee or when you’re running late because you couldn’t find your keys. As you practice you’ll find that you are better able to deal with the bigger things that come your way.
- Aim for a beginners mind – this is a term used in mindfulness which essentially encourages you to look at each experience with curiosity and to remember that each situation is different, even if it feels similar to a previous situation. When we focus on what’s lacking in our lives we miss out on all the things that we have. Focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t (a gratitude practice helps wonders here!)
All that said, acceptance is not about seeing the positive either. It is OK to feel all the emotions associated with any given situation and you may or may not look back on it later in life and be grateful. That is irrelevant, the point is to experience things in the moment.