What is acceptance?

Acceptance means being open to your thoughts, feelings, and circumstances as they are. It doesn’t mean approving, wanting, liking, or giving in. It simply means letting go of trying to control when control isn’t working for you.

Why is acceptance important?

Studies show that trying to escape or suppress thoughts and feelings can cause them to linger. You may have heard the saying, “That which we resist, persists.” Struggling to control thoughts and feelings may amplify their intensity. Similarly, denying reality – how things are right now – can add more suffering to your life.

Practicing acceptance can help minimize suffering, while freeing up energy for you to invest in the life you want.

Practice acceptance of…

Your emotions in the moment. You can’t choose what emotions arise in any moment. Emotions just happen, like rain. Before doing anything to change your emotion (e.g., using Surfing the Moment skills), do your best to simply allow it to be, with kindness. Remember: all emotions have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The past and present as they are. What happened in the past happened, even if you disapprove of it. The present situation is the present situation, even if you don’t like it. Struggling against what you can’t immediately change just makes you more miserable.

Your thoughts in the moment. When thoughts are distressing, you can simply notice them. Or you can become curious, and question them. But you don’t need to fight them.

Other people. You can’t control the behavior of others. You can’t make them feel or think the way you think they should. You can only control your own behavior.

How to build your acceptance skills

Cultivate compassion. Hold an attitude of empathy and kindness toward yourself and others.

Practice “willing hands.” Relax and open your hands. Turn the palms upward, as if to receive a gift.

Take perspective. Practice seeing your situation from different perspectives. Perspective-taking builds mental flexibility.

Demonstrate acceptance with your actions. Be kind to someone you don’t like. Do something you’ve been avoiding because it makes you anxious.

Concentrate on what can be changed. Focus on behavioral change first and foremost. No matter what’s going on inside (e.g. feelings) or outside (e.g. circumstances), you can always choose how you want to act.

Make time for contemplation or reflection. Take time to enjoy and savor nature (e.g. viewing a sunset, smelling a flower, watching the stars); pray or practice being grateful; notice all that is good, positive, or beautiful in your life.

Practice mindfulness. Institute some form of daily mindfulness practice. Mindfulness builds acceptance.

Take up a practice of paying attention to your body and how it feels. Activities such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong address your body in a mindful way, one that doesn’t ask it to be different from what it is.

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