Acceptance has been one of my hardest medicines to swallow. It has also become an unexpected companion and ally in my life. It is ironic that I have accepted acceptance, but in doing so, I have found another method to lessen the noise in my head, release much of the anger I carried with me and to bend not break in the face of new adversities.
Hard things happen for everyone in work and in life, and it is only our own definition of what hard feels like, that is important. Through my own experience I can tell you that comparison is not your friend. So, if it feels hard for you, it is hard, regardless of what ‘it’ actually is.
Acceptance isn’t necessarily the natural reaction when we come up against something tough, especially if that something is also unpleasant and perhaps even out of our control. We are pumped with information on how to fight, how to battle, how to overcome, how to be successful and how to win.
And, because us humans are such thinkers, we often reject the simplest path and instead find more convoluted, often less effective, methods. See if you recognise these…
3 popular, but not so helpful, ways of dealing with our experiences:
Drift away: Here we just drift off somewhere else in our heads. Whether that is plotting our next steps in that project plan or making up elaborate Oscar worthy tales or creating a fictional narrative to either “fix” or catastrophise the reality of things; we simply check out of the here and now because we believe it’s easier than being here.
This was a go to strategy for me for a long time, in fact there are some periods of my life that I really can’t remember very well because I spent so little time actually acknowledging the here and now, I spent far more time in my head. Interestingly, I have found myself doing it more frequently again in the past few weeks – I went for a walk the other day and only noticed I was off and away when I realised I was nearly home, and I couldn’t remember the actual walk. Familiar?
Holding on: Where we just don’t want things to change or end, so we cling on too tightly to try and keep the experience with us for longer. Or wishing that then was now – wanting a past experience to come back. This isn’t reminiscing or appreciating the good – this is about wanting to change the now for something else.
Get it away: The here and now is tough, so we want it to get away from us. And in order to achieve this we avoid it, we turn away, we distract ourselves from it so we can better ignore and deny its existence. We get angry at it. It’s the other of the three that I personally hugely identify with and it’s the classic burying the head in the sand. If you recognise that you too do this, be kind to yourself about it, we become very well practiced at it and the negative effects aren’t always immediately apparent. It also, unfortunately, conspires to be the solution when we are told to ‘cheer up’, ‘focus on something else’ and ‘get over it’. We paint a smile on and pretend that everything is fine.
Why are these ways unhelpful?
Simply put because they aren’t real. When we try to manage our experiences in these ways we are not acknowledging reality.
I remember the (metaphorical) face slap when I told my mindfulness teacher that I was exhausted with being angry and sad and I wanted it all to go away, and she calmly blinked at me and said “and yet, here it is”. I mean, what do you do with that?! I confess I didn’t understand her point at all – she of course went on not only to explain, but to lead and to teach me how to accept. It was desperately frustrating to begin with, and I really do appreciate how small it sounds in the face of adversity, but nothing can conquer it.
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Michael J. Fox
How can we start to practice acceptance?
In the first instance identify how you experience difficulty.
Awareness: Where does your mind go? Do you repeatedly go to the same place – a thought, a feeling, a bodily reaction?
Notice your reaction: do you drift away? Hold on? Do you avoid or push it away?
Write down your thoughts and conclusions – yes, I know this is the part most of us just skip past – but spending just a minute writing, moves this from being half a thought, into something tangible that you can work with.
Practice being present: this is the getting out of your head part – the shortcut to interrupt those well practiced thoughts and habits. Use your breath, use your body – move your attention to the physical. If you haven’t tried meditation – try it before you reject it. I’m not a regular meditator I confess, but it is how I learnt to move from my head to my body over and over. Yoga works, walking works – but you must be with it, with the body, and keep coming back when your mind kicks in – which it will.
Sitting with it: When we are in a more aware place and we are regularly practicing being in the moment, then we can start to sit with the tough. Not trying to change it, not trying to solve it, or find a way out from it. Just sitting with it and letting it be there.
What are we fearing?
It’s natural to feel fear at the prospect of acceptance.
And here I want to put in the part that if you are in distress with your difficulty, you may need and wish to seek professional support from your GP and/or a therapist.
I feared that acceptance would be too much, that I would be overwhelmed and that I wouldn’t be able to resurface. I had already overthought and ruminated to exhaustion and I feared that to accept would take strength and effort I just didn’t have anymore. There was also the question of “then what?”. The very fact that acceptance meant making it real felt like I was closing down opportunities to solve it. In fact, when I actually did sit with it, look at it, and finally accept it, I experienced nothing of what I had feared, it was instead incredibly freeing and restorative.
Acceptance is acknowledgement of what it real, what is fact. It doesn’t change the ‘it’ – it remains. But by acknowledging it, accepting it just as it is, it loses some of the power it had over us. I am immediately transported to Labyrinth and Sarah telling Jareth “You have no power over me…” and the whole illusion shattering…
Acceptance doesn’t mean it stops being painful, or difficult, or embarrassing or whatever it has made us feel, but it does provide us with a real place from which we can move forward. Contrary to my fears it enabled me to see new possibilities, new opportunities. And because I was no longer putting all my efforts into fighting this thing, because I allowed it to come with me, the exhaustion I had felt lifted, and I began to have energy and appetite for other things. Which is just as well, because there will always be another wave coming at some point. The more we can lean towards acceptance, the better we get at it and the more resilient we become as the next wave approaches.
Acceptance is not resignation.
How to work with me:
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