Practicing acceptance can transform your life.
Acceptance means embracing reality. It is a willingness to experience things as they are, instead of insisting that they be as you want them to be. At the same time, acceptance is not any of the following:
- Acceptance is not agreement—you may not agree with what happened, but you accept it, because it’s useless to struggle against what is.
- Acceptance is not acquiescence that what happened is just—it’s a fact that there is often injustice in the world.
- Acceptance is not weakness—it takes a lot of courage to face reality when it’s not in your favor.
- Acceptance is not giving up—it’s realizing your time and effort are best applied elsewhere.
- Acceptance is not quitting—it’s shifting your focus and attention from what you cannot change or influence, to what you can.
- Acceptance is not resignation—it’s the first step to overcoming any misfortune you experience.
Although learning to accept the things you cannot change can be challenging, there are many benefits to doing so. Here are three of them:
- Practice acceptance because whatever you’re refusing to accept is causing you pain, but your nonacceptance is making it worse. Consider a common saying in Buddhist philosophy: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. You may be going through a painful experience but refusing to accept what happened will simply increase the pain.
- Desiring the world to be something it is not at the moment is frustrating, demoralizing, and draining.
- Acceptance allows you to move on instead of being perpetually stuck in a quagmire of “should haves” and “would haves”.
In this post I’m going to share with you three ways to practice acceptance:
- Practice Detachment
- Practice Letting Go
- Practice Stoicism
The first way to learn acceptance is to practice detachment.
I’m a big believer in setting goals, planning how to achieve them, executing your plan, and monitoring your progress. However, no matter how smart you are and how hard you work, there are lots of things that are simply not within your control.
Once you’ve done everything you can to achieve your goals, practice detachment. That is, take a step back and simply allow things to unfold. Become an impartial observer who is just taking in what happens. Look at the following:
- If you achieve your goal, you’ll be fine.
- If you don’t achieve your goal, you’ll be fine.
As author Donald Miller once said, “Hold your dreams and aspirations with open palms.” We all want to achieve our dreams, but if we hold on to them too tightly, we can’t change course if need be, or accept that we need to choose a different dream if the original one proves to be unattainable.
I recently read that the trick is to behave like an actor playing a role: become fully immersed in the part of someone who is one-hundred percent committed to obtaining your chosen objective. However, at any point you can step out of character and detach yourself from the desired outcome.
Don’t Attach Who You Are to Any Desired Objective
Detachment is knowing that you are complete in and of yourself, without anything external needing to happen. It’s understanding the following:
- Your happiness does not depend on achieving a certain goal, having someone else’s love, or on how any situation unfolds.
- Your love, respect, and appreciation of yourself do not depend on any particular outcome.
- Things, other people, and situations don’t define you.
Osho–the Indian philosopher and spiritual guide–, wrote the following in his book, “The Secret of Secrets”:
“Remain in the world, act in the world, do whatsoever is needful, and yet remain transcendental, aloof, detached, a lotus flower in the pond.”
Detachment is realizing that you’re okay as you are. You can find wholeness within. Practice acceptance by practicing detachment.
Practice Letting Go
Do the following: pick up a pencil and hold it tightly in your hand. Hold it tightly, hold it tightly, hold it tightly. . .and then let it go.
When you refuse to accept something—an outcome, a situation, or an event—you’re holding on to the way you wish things would have happened like you were holding on to that pencil. And just like you can let go of the pencil, you can let go of your insistence that things should have unfolded differently.
I’m going to share with you an anecdote to illustrate the principle of letting go.
My College Flat Mate
When I was in college at Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., one of my flat mates was from northern Italy. She was in a relationship with an Austrian—who also went to Georgetown—and she thought they were both very much in love and had a future together.
However, one day, he broke up with her. He just didn’t want to be in a relationship with her anymore. This woman refused to accept the fact that the relationship was over.
She pestered him for months. Whenever I—or any of our other flat mates–spoke to her all she wanted to do was talk about her ex. She would go on and on about how perfect the relationship had been, and how they were meant for each other.
As time went on and he showed no interest in getting back together with her, it became abundantly clear to everyone around her that she was simply refusing to accept reality. Here’s what she was doing:
- She was wasting her time—time she could have spent studying, having fun with friends, taking advantage of the cultural opportunities available in D.C., and so on.
- She was causing herself a lot of stress and mental anguish—she was upset all the time and always seemed to be on the verge of tears.
- She was limiting herself—after all, as the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
There was nothing she could do to get the outcome she wanted. He wasn’t going to get back together with her. Eventually she managed to let go and started dating someone else, but she would have spared herself a lot of unnecessary suffering if she had let go sooner.
When You Should Let Go
If there’s something that you’re refusing to let go of, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I beating a dead horse?
- Am I wasting my time and effort?
- Am I limiting myself?
- Am I deceiving myself by thinking I can change the way things are when it comes to this situation?
- Is it better for my mental, physical, financial, and/or emotional well-being to just let this go?
When the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes”, it’s time to let go. Take a deep breath, begin to loosen your grip, slowly open your hands, and let go.
As I write in my post, “7 Lessons on Life and Happiness From a Stoic”, stoicism is a philosophy of life which was founded in ancient Greece. Stoicism can be summarized as follows:
“Stay calm and serene regardless of what life throws at you.”
That right there is acceptance in a nutshell. I’m going to share with you two stoicism exercises that will help you to practice acceptance.
First Stoicism Exercise
Among the most fundamental maxims of Stoicism is the idea that it is foolish to focus on things that are not within your control. Here’s how Epictetus—one of the most well-known practitioners of Stoicism–put it:
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
Worrying, complaining about, and ruminating about things we cannot influence, or change is irrational and useless. On the other hand, when we focus on things that are within our control—our attitude, interpretation of events, habits, thought patterns, and actions—we can begin to change things.
In my post on “How to Take Back Control of Your Life”, I recommend that you give yourself a challenge that’s within your Circle of Influence—which includes all those things which are within your control.
For example, let’s say you’ve recently suffered a disappointment, and you’ve come to the realization that there’s nothing you can do to change things. Do the following:
- Make a list of as many things you can think of that are within your control.
- What challenge can you give yourself that would fall within your list?
- Maybe you’re ten pounds overweight, and you decide to challenge yourself to lose those ten pounds. After all, starting an exercise regime and cleaning up your eating habits are two things that are within your control.
- You can’t fix the event or situation that disappointed you, but you can fix the problem of being ten pounds overweight, so focus on that.
Practice acceptance by taking your attention off the things you can’t control and placing it on those things you can control.
Second Stoicism Exercise
You can think of whatever you’re refusing to accept as an obstacle. When you come across an obstacle, you can stand there and stare it as you bemoan your fate, or you can accept that you’ve come across an obstacle and deal with it as expeditiously as possible.
The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius recommended the second approach. He admonished that we should deal with any obstacles we find along the way quickly, instead of wasting time complaining about the obstacle. Look at the following:
“A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, ‘And why were such things made in the world?’”
Here’s how to apply this stoicism exercise in your own life:
- If you lose your job, apply for another job.
- If your novel does poorly, write another novel.
- If a friend betrays you, look for a better friend.
Don’t argue with what is. Practice acceptance by moving on.
The poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” Live your best life by practicing acceptance.