Practicing radical acceptance when we are faced with a challenging situation is a skill that requires practice and luckily, life gives us lots of opportunities to do just that. The goal is not to eliminate emotions you may experience in relation to what’s happening – it’s important to allow for feelings of anger, disappointment, sadness, or any of our other wide range of emotions.
The goal is to feel those feelings, while also accepting the situation as it is. Remember, we don’t have to like it or want it to be happening, but we choose to accept it instead of dwelling and resisting, which ultimately does not work and only succeeds in depleting our energy and making us more miserable than we were initially.
Let’s use as an example a pretty common one: you are unhappy in your current job, but are unable, for financial reasons, to leave that situation. You have a choice in how you navigate this experience. You can complain about it to anyone who will listen, telling them just how much you hate it, all the while constantly reminding yourself of the same thing, “I hate this, it’s not fair that other people like their job and I don’t!”
Can you feel your stress and anger building?! Alternatively, you can choose another response - you can choose to switch your thinking and decide to act as though this situation is something you’ve chosen. You can accept that this is your reality, not forever, but for now. And you can make the most of it!
Instead of focusing on aspects you don’t like, that bother you, you can choose to practice radical acceptance, which makes way for problem-solving. Instead of giving all that energy to the emotions associated with your resistance towards the situation, you can switch gears and put that energy into planning mode instead. It’s basically like saying, “okay, this is the situation. And this is how I feel about it. And now how do I want to handle it?”
Before switching to problem-solving, it’s important to honor your feelings and recognize what you can and cannot control. Remember, we are often not able to change a situation and at those times, the only control we have is in being able to choose how we will respond.
So, how do we do it?
I have used expressive journaling for many years and 2.5 years ago made it a regular and ongoing practice. It is so helpful in exploring such aspects of life as core beliefs, conditioned responses, and associated behaviors. I’ve been able to notice patterns and make more conscious choices based on them. It is a perfect way to reflect back on our reactions and learn what we could potentially do differently next time.
A helpful philosophy to keep in mind related to practicing radical acceptance is this: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Choosing to practice acceptance, in the moment, even in situations we do not like, essentially removes the suffering.
Resilience is strengthened when we’ve been able to triumph over a difficult experience. Each time, new insights are gained, and we develop healthier and more effective coping strategies. Keep in mind, changing our relationship to the challenging situations we encounter takes practice, so also practice self-compassion, knowing that we are all human, and by no means perfect. There are going to be times when we react in an unconscious, habitual manner, rather than responding from a tuned-in, conscious place. But the important thing in the end is this: did you take a bit of time to process and learn whatever lesson was attached to the experience in order to be able to learn and grow from it? Don’t worry, if you feel like you didn’t handle a challenging situation as well as you would have liked, there’s always next time 😊
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What has helped me hold on during times such as these is developing a practice of Radical Acceptance. In the book Radical Acceptance – Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha, by Tara Brach, she writes, “Radical Acceptance reverses our habit of living at war with experiences that are unfamiliar, frightening, or intense. It is the necessary antidote of years of neglecting ourselves, years of rejecting this moment’s experience. Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom”.
Now this does not mean that because we are accepting the reality of our circumstances, we intentionally stay stuck in situations that are difficult. It does not mean that we choose not to strive for better in our lives. It does not mean that we passively accept things that make us unhappy or unfulfilled, and give up our power.
It simply means that, in the moment, we breathe and accept the reality of what is – that we understand that we don’t always see the big picture and that perhaps this very difficult situation is a necessary lesson to propel us further along in our quest to grow, evolve, and create our ideal life.
As humans, we love to label situations as “positive or negative”, “good or bad”. But, ironically we never know if a positive situation will somehow lead to negative consequences or alternatively, that a situation that seems challenging and difficult is not actually a blessing in disguise. If we can choose to lose those misleading labels and consider circumstances as just that, we can take all that emotional energy we’re investing in fighting against or resisting the situation and put it towards taking positive action and developing a growth mindset. Basically, we accept it while we’re “growing through it”.
You may be thinking, “well, that’s easier said than done!” And it’s true, it’s not easy to shift our thinking in this way because our deeply unconscious belief system and lightning-quick thought processes are dictating our perception and interpretation of what is happening. Our brains are programmed to look for things that will hurt us and focus on them. But the goal in self-work is to learn to catch those conditioned impulses and reactions, take a mindful pause and then respond, from a more conscious place, rather than reacting in a habitual way that often causes more stress, pain, and problems than were already attached to the initial situation!
So the next time you hear yourself saying some version of, “but this isn’t fair. I shouldn’t have to be going through this. I hate this!”, remember to pause, take a deep breath, and harness all the energy that is being directed at what it is you are resisting.
At that point you can use that energy as a launching pad to propel you forward into problem-solving or taking action to address your concern. Of course, it takes practice to develop this approach, but I’ll leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Want to work on developed Radical Acceptance? Learn more about Mindset Coaching
This new phase of life can present a whole bunch of challenges and roadblocks to navigate. It can be a bit confusing because this is a positive change, right? The brain can’t distinguish between positive and negative at this point. It just sees change and change is scary.
Initially, parents/supporters and students may enter into the honeymoon stage, which is just what you would expect from the name. Everything is new and exciting – filled with potential. It’s easy for students to get caught up in the hype and energy of orientation events, the prospect of new friends and new freedoms. It’s all so awesome!
And then, “real life” sinks in and that excitement can be quick to fade. Students start to realize that the supports they counted on over the past number of years may not be quite so available to them. Everything is “different” and it’s not going back to “normal”. This realization can bring along with it a feeling of homesickness – even for those still living at home. Pressure can start building because things just aren’t the same.
But then, things tend to hit an upswing as students settle into their new normal and see some successes. They have an opportunity to face situations where they can effectively plan and problem solve, which helps to build their confidence that they can tackle this new situation. In short, they experience an adjustment period.
Following that, however, students can feel a little disjointed and may question where they fit. They may feel like they’re on a roller-coaster, trying to navigate everything that’s coming their way. They may feel distance from friends and family and start questioning if they are on the right track in doing what they’re doing. A need for independence can cause internal conflict with also wanting support and reassurance.
Finally, with a bit of time, students start to settle into a flow. They know what to expect and have become more involved and/or connected to their new school. They are more confident in their choices and accepting of this new phase in life.
Some tips for parents/supporters:
Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides interactive 1:1 coaching services, as well as corporate workshops.