Acceptance, it’s something we all could use a little more of these days, whether it’s giving it or receiving it.
This past year has been one for the books, one that has become a negative connotation.
Even being positive in 2020 is a negative thing. It seems that one major stressor after another continues to pop up. These stressors, whether within our control or not, can affect our mood, sense of wellbeing and behavior, and over time, may result the decline of our physical and mental health.
How do we manage such heavy stressors, especially if they are beyond our control? One strategy that may help is practicing the art of acceptance. I refer to acceptance as an “art” because it often does not come naturally and takes practice.
Acceptance is simply defined as “the act of taking or receiving something offered.” Another definition, provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the “willingness to tolerate a difficult situation.”
Both definitions accurately describe acceptance, however, I found this quote by Kabat-Zinn from “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” captures the essence of true acceptance more fully:
“Acceptance doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is — especially when you don’t like it — and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed.”
When we truly arrive at acceptance, there are many benefits to our health.
In fact, new therapies and trainings have been developed utilizing acceptance as the main focus in order to reduce rates of depression, anxiety, and increase self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Once such therapy is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which includes six steps:
- Cognitive Defusion: Learning to perceive thoughts, images and memories for what they are, rather than what they appear to be.
- Acceptance: Making room for unpleasant feelings instead of trying to suppress them. This allows us to move on more quickly and these feelings bother us less.
- Connection with the Present Moment: Being present by focusing on what we are doing in the moment and being fully aware of our present experience, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future (also known as mindfulness).
- The Observing Self: Distinguishing thoughts that arise from thoughts we observe as they arise. Becoming aware of thoughts and feelings and understanding that these are constantly changing, helps us understand that this is not the true essence of who we are.
- Values Clarification: Clarifying what is most important allows us to gain more direction in our lives and experience a deeper sense of purpose.
- Committed action: Setting goals and practicing behaviors guided by values.
In addition to different types of therapies, acceptance has been a part of other programs, as well.
The Alcoholics Anonymous program, for example, utilizes acceptance in many different ways, including in their literature. According to “The Big Book”: “Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
The idea of acceptance in not a new idea. In fact, it dates back to the origins of Buddhism, circa 500 BC, and is part of The Four Noble Truths. These truths are a contingency plan for how to deal with the suffering of humanity. The First Truth is to identify the presence of suffering. The Second Truth seeks to determine the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire — wanting reality to be anything other than what it is — is at the root of suffering. Therefore, desire translates into a lack of acceptance.
So, where do we begin to improve our practice of acceptance?
First, we must identify and become aware of what we are struggling to accept in our lives. What are we desperately trying to control, to no avail? It could be the pandemic, the election, a job, school, relationships, ourselves, finances and the list goes on. Although these events may be out of our control, we can control how we respond.
Slow down. Be present. Practice gratitude. You may also wish to try some of the techniques mentioned previously in this article.
Remember, acceptance is an art and must be practiced consistently if we want to improve. We have the ability to rewire our brains as we continue to practice acceptance.
Overtime, this will become easier and come more naturally, and thus, you will begin to see positive changes in your mood, behavior,and wellbeing. You may notice you’re happier, calmer, more present and able to enjoy what is.