This article was last updated on December 30, 2015
“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” George Orwell
The above quote shows the necessity of acceptance. If you haven’t ever been told that a major key to success, and therefore general contentment, is acceptance, you will hopefully gain a better understanding of this concept after reading this article.
Acceptance is the key that unlocks the doors of adversity that impede your progress in life. Without a healthy dose of acceptance you cannot overcome any kind of hardship in life. No matter how big or small the situation you first need to accept it.
You are going to encounter tough times in your life no matter how prepared you are. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to fail. Accepting these tribulations is the key to conquering them.
If you are unable to accept a situation for what it is than you, or should I say your mind, is going to constantly ruminate over every detail of your misfortune. Whether or not the adverse situation is serious or not, there has to be a moment where you accept it and make the decision to move on. It sounds simple enough, but many people are unable to accept people, events, and perhaps even their lives for what they are.
Why does this happen? What are the obstacles of acceptance and how do you ensure acceptance is prevalent in your life? I offer you a short list of limiting and false beliefs that obstruct one’s ability to accept. I kept the list short because I want to focus on the major reasons why it is so challenging to accept.
3 Obstacles to Acceptance and How to Overcome Them
1. Your Expectations
We all have them. Usually they are about other people or other parts of your life such as your career, extracurricular activities, beliefs, etc. Often the most unrealistic expectations are those that you hold for yourself.
Over time you construct a belief system at no fault of your own, which is predicated on specific expectations being fulfilled throughout your day and ultimately, your life. Some are realistic, but many, and quite frankly most of them, are unrealistic. I want to focus on the unrealistic expectations that disrupt your attention, and prevent you from accepting everything that comes your way in life.
I would like to discuss a personal anecdote to illustrate. Recently while I was parking a brand new BMW that a sponsor of my basketball club so graciously provided for me, I accidentally backed into a truck trailer that was parked alongside the garage. It was late, foggy, and dark, and I didn’t see it, and despite the rear warning in my car, I managed to somehow slightly dent the back of the car. While I was not happy about my driving blunder I told myself I had to accept it. It was much easier for me to do this because I didn’t carry the expectation that I would never dent such a nice automobile. I tried to drive the car as carefully as I could, but I made a mistake.
This doesn’t mean that I think pessimistically that an accident will happen when I’m driving, but I am cognizant that these situations occur. I try not to tote an expectation that things like this shouldn’t happen to me. In the past, before I was readily willing to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly, perhaps I would have been unable to accept what I did. Maybe I would have been unwilling to fess up for my error. Fortunately, after the accident I contacted the dealership and told them what happened, and it all turned out ok.
I don’t bring up this story to brag about moral fortitude. I mention it to show that you and I alike are going to make mistakes in life, ones much more severe than my little blunder. If you are unable to accept the minor hiccups in life than how will you come to accept the larger ones?
Misguided expectations will hold you back from grasping onto acceptance. If you become so absorbed in your stories about the way people should behave or the way your life should turn out for you than you are consistently going to be disappointed, and most likely, unhappy. Not everyone views life from the same perspective that you do. Others aren’t going to live their lives concurrent with the way you live yours.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t maintain realistic expectations for people and yourself. You don’t expect to lose your job after many years of service to a company. You don’t expect your children to become drug addicts. You don’t expect your partner to be unfaithful. You don’t expect that friends and family members will die suddenly. These are all difficult to comprehend situations, and hopefully, very rare occurrences. Acceptance will help in these situations, but it will usually take some time.
Focus on the daily struggles that you encounter. Imagine those times when you were cut off in traffic, or when your server was rude and ungrateful, or when your partner is irritable. What about the instances where you don’t get the promotion or you get into a car accident that is your fault? What is the healthiest way for you to react? To get annoyed, pissed off, angry? To blame and judge yourself? Another option is to accept and move on.
Remember that every person has his or her own problems including you. When I want to get mad and show emotion towards someone who I feel has wronged me I first try to ask myself what that person is dealing with at the moment. Maybe there is something going on in life that he or she is having trouble with. That makes it much easier for me to accept this person and move on.
It is equally important to manage the expectations for yourself. You have to be patient with yourself. It is healthy to set goals and objectives but when they don’t come into fruition it is not healthy to beat yourself up. This is the opposite of acceptance.
Analyze your expectations in a non-judgmental manner. Determine how they line up with your perspective of the world. See if you can add more acceptance, especially when you encounter difficult situations. Learn from these situations by first accepting them, and then discovering ways to overcome them. Boosting your perspective is not going to automatically make you happier, but it will help you take the positive with the negative with a more balanced approach. This will ultimately lead to more contentment and more peace with yourself and others.
Perhaps you are fearful of accepting particularly difficult people or events in your life because they may never change if you do. You worry that accepting adversity could lead to it being permanent and never improving.
This is one of the most influential ploys of the mind. Your mind will tell you that accepting your failures or accepting people for who they are is nonsense. Your mind will never take into account the benefits of a healthy dose of acceptance.
Past performance doesn’t necessarily predict future performance. Just because you did something in the past doesn’t mean it will repeat itself again in the future. This is important to remember the next time you fear acceptance will hinder your progress in life.
Let’s look at another personal anecdote that will highlight the idea of permanence. My ex-girlfriend ended my last relationship. It wasn’t the right situation for either one of us so she took the brave and necessary step of ending it. I was unwilling to accept that she was breaking up with me. I panicked. I had a growing fear in my mind that I was not only going to lose her forever, even though this was the best thing for me, but I was also going to be alone permanently.
It took me a very long time to accept the situation, and observe the irrationality of my own thoughts which assured me I would never find another woman who wanted to be in a relationship with me. Not until I saw the flaws in my own thinking was I able to first accept the breakup, learn from the breakup, and move on from the breakup. Now I am in a relationship with the love of my life, and I couldn’t be happier!
Permanence will only occur if you fail to accept adversity. If you fail to accept your mailman for the person he is even though he might be disrespectful and impolite than there is no chance you are ever going to share a healthy existence. Maybe this isn’t important for you, but I am willing you are going to be much happier if you accept him, rather than perceive him with animosity and disdain.
I would like to clarify that acceptance doesn’t mean you should enable people in your life who have serious issues. There are going to be times when you need to step in and put your foot down. Enabling is an ingredient for permanent negative behavior. Alcoholics whose family doesn’t interfere with their drinking at an early age often find it difficult to change their lifestyle as they get older. Narcissists who are enabled by family members and friends tend to continue this behavior unless they get the help they need. Accept but don’t enable.
3. Fear of Surrendering or Giving Up
There is a negative connotation with the word acceptance. I have heard people make the assumption that accepting means you are surrendering or giving up. This kind of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth.
Acceptance only means that you are acknowledging the present moment or situation. In most cases there is nothing that can be done in the present to ratify the adverse event, so it’s best to let it be. It is the constant rumination or fear that you need to change something now that obstructs your genuine happiness.
Giving up on a situation or a person can be very detrimental to your contentment in life. When you give up you cease to no longer care about someone or something. People who commit suicide give up in life so they end it. Mothers and fathers who disown their children give up on them and choose to never see them again. Instead of accepting the person they see in the mirror or accepting the children they have raised, they decide to cut all ties with them.
These examples are contradictory to acceptance. They exude a lack of acceptance to the point that they want nothing more to do with themselves, other people, or their careers. Surrendering or giving up to this degree is dangerous. It can lead to misery and depression.
By accepting you are not giving in. You are not becoming a weaker person. Contrarily, you are getting stronger because you are able to confront difficulties and handle them with aplomb. You don’t have to like or agree with the obstacles in your way, but you understand that maybe they were put there for a purpose.
And the alternative, surrendering or giving up, is much less desirable.
Photo credit: Martin Gleason