Are you someone who accepts things easily when something goes wrong?
It’s now 3.55 pm and your internet just went down. Do you go into panic mode because your next assignment must be posted online by 4 pm to avoid incurring a penalty of losing 10 marks? Are you now catastrophising on the possibility of failing this unit because of the technology issue?
Have you ever broken a precious object belonging to someone else, perhaps your Mum’s favourite cat ornament, and rather than fessing up, you sweep up all the bits, hide them in the bin and hope she doesn’t notice? Are you now chastising yourself so being so clumsy and stupid?
As a fallible, complex, and complicated member of the species known as Homo Sapiens, we regularly stuff things up, make silly mistakes, fall flat on our face in front of the person we’re trying to impress or completely forget that all-important appointment with one of your best clients.
We wish it didn’t, but the most important thing to remember is it’s very human to make mistakes, or stuff up.
This is where acceptance comes to the rescue.
What acceptance is
Acceptance is about accepting your current situation. It is what it is for now. You might not like it, you might hate it or feel mad that it’s happened at all, but you are unlikely to be able to change it, especially when the cause is an external event beyond your control.
Why acceptance is important to mental wellbeing
You’re on your way back to the office and you’re in a bit of a hurry because you’ve got a Microsoft Teams meeting in 20 minutes you don’t want to be late for. As you drive past a construction site you hear a clang, followed by a loud bang underneath your car. You stop to have a look and realise a piece of form steel has bounced up under your car and torn a big hole in one of your tyres which is now hissing more ferociously than a feral cat stuck in a trap.
You now have a choice:
- You can throw up your hands in horror and try to flag down the nearest motorist who might be able to help.
- You can call the RAC (you did renew your membership didn’t you?) and plead for them come to you asap.
- Or you can take a step back, accept what has happened, phone the person you’re supposed to be meeting up with to explain the situation and reschedule before getting hold of your friendly car mechanic to see what he would advise.
Four ways acceptance helps
1. Acceptance essentially takes the urgency and panic out of a situation.
Now I’m not saying you should never panic or take urgent action in times of extreme emergency, rather that acceptance allows you to create the headspace required to calm you down so you can think more rationally about what would help you the most in this situation.
That space helps you to keep things in perspective. Yes, a flat tyre is a nuisance, but it’s not a disaster and can be fixed. This is your prefrontal cortex doing its job of down-regulating the emotional response. Here acceptance helps to reduce the risk of your high stress associated with the situation leading to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder or a panic attack.
2. All feelings are temporary.
One of the best and easiest ways to get better at acceptance is to go on standby for 90 seconds. In her book “My Stroke of Insight” neuroanatomist and author Jill Bolte-Taylor shares how 90 seconds is all the time you need to recognise the emotion at play and allow it to dissipate.
For example, if your colleague just said something that caused you offence and made you very angry, acknowledging the presence of that emotion, accepting it by calling it for what it is, (I’m feeling angry) and not trying to change it, reduces the intensity of the emotion and gives you the time for those threat chemicals to be completely flushed out of your body.
The next time your colleague says something hurtful, and you feel anger welling up again, now you can choose to respond differently using a technique such as mindfulness, which is about paying attention to what is happening to you and your environment in the present moment “without judgement.”
If you’ve ever experienced extreme sadness or depression, you’ll know just how bad you can feel. When these feelings persist over time it can get to the point where you just want to get away from all this pain.
Acceptance that how you feel right now is real, but that you may feel differently in 30 minutes gives you the space to respond differently and to feel hopeful that this time of grief or depression will pass with the right support and treatment.
3. We all face challenges big and small regularly in our lives.
Acceptance helps to reduce the pain and suffering associated with the grief and loss experienced for what didn’t happen or got broken.
Living in the time of the Covid 19 pandemic has been associated with massive loss. Acceptance is part of the healing process enabling you to take those first few steps towards healing and recovery.
4. Self-acceptance is vital to your perception of self.
Our monkey mind is frequently chattering away in our heads berating our stupidity, telling us off for making a mistake, comparing you to your friends and colleagues and what you should or could have done differently. Lack of self-acceptance puts you in a place of shame and guilt, you feel bad about your actions and feel less of a good person.
Painful emotions are indeed painful, but they are still providing valuable data. Acceptance of these uncomfortable emotions helps to lessen their pain and leads to greater self-compassion. Railing against these negative emotions makes reconciliation and self-forgiveness much harder to reach.
Acceptance doesn’t always come easy. It takes practice. Lots of practice. But it’s very worthwhile because it enhances your mental wellbeing making you more resilient and able to cope when things go wrong.
Three quick ways to strengthen acceptance
- Recognise that what others may say is their business not yours, and their opinion is just that. An opinion.
- Tap into your strengths and remind yourself of all your capabilities and where you have excelled previously at overcoming obstacles and challenges.
- Give yourself permission to not be perfect, and to challenge your negative self-talk by choosing to reframe that statement of “I’m not good enough” to “I am enough, and I accept myself no matter what.”
Is acceptance part of your wellbeing strategy?
What have you found useful when facing adversity?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.