There is a lot of value in adopting an attitude of ‘acceptance’ in the face of personal or professional challenge, but the concept of acceptance is filled with traps that can create deeper, long term problems and ensure people stay stuck.
Positive acceptance is something that is a powerful step in moving forward (when done right) in personal, business and relationship scenarios alike.
What comes to mind when you hear about ‘acceptance’?
In many definitions that people unconsciously run, the idea of ‘acceptance’ become tangled into ‘surrender’, and even ‘lack of agency and control’. When you are encouraged to accept a circumstance that entails surrender or powerlessness as part of the outcome, then acceptance can be harmful and lock you in to being stuck for much longer than you need to be.
How can we find ‘acceptance’- but use it to empower positive change?
Let’s define what acceptance is valuable and what is not:
- Valuable acceptance emerges from honestly understanding what is going on right now, and being able to objectively identify what this moment contains.
- Non valuable acceptance emerges from believing that aspects or element of this moment are fixed into the future. Surrendering to an idea as being now fixed over all future moments, not just descriptive of this moment.
They produce radically different outcomes. For example; If I am experiencing a really tough or terrible moment, valuable acceptance would have me accept this moment and what is going on, so that I can decide on my responses and actions to make my future as good as it can be. Not overplaying the positive or negative elements of the moment, and recognising what is fixed into that moment.
Non-valuable acceptance would happen when I overplay the positive or negative aspects of the experience, define things as fixed that are not and things that are out of my control that I perhaps could influence.
Consider Rex, who received very bad news in the form of a medical diagnosis. Rex was stuck, believing that ‘bad things happen to him;, he has no control over his future and that ‘bad times ahead’ were guaranteed.
Rex worked through the grief cycle (see this post for more) and landed on non-valuable acceptance. This acceptance shaped his outlook and motivation to act.
Working with Rex, we shifted his thinking to valuable acceptance. Defining what was actually happening in this moment, what he controlled and what he didn’t, what he could influence and seeing the future as being more flexible than he imagined.
This allowed him to shift himself to a much more valuable place – understanding the true nature of what was going on for him (the facts of his diagnosis, not just his fears about them), and the actions that he could now take.
Rex was able to see that with treatment and care, he had a lot to look forward to and many magic moments to enjoy. As I suggested to him, if you are only focusing on the plane crash, you simply fail to see all the magic that exists on your runway.
Creating valuable acceptance
So when you face a tough moment, how can you begin a process of coming to acceptance – valuable acceptance?
- Spend the time to define what is fixed and flexible, where your focus can be and what actions you can take.
- Being aware of what is in the moment and what is continuous also is valuable.
- Staying out of emotional reasoning (as much as possible, emotional responses are always going to happen)
- Taking the time and getting help from external sources (like a coach or therapist) to really see the moment from an external (objective) standpoint. This can give you additional information, challenge your thinking patterns and open more possibilities to allow you to evaluate the nature of the moment and what positive acceptance can look like.
Acceptance is never ‘surrender’. It is instead clarity of what is truly fixed and flexible, what options are in play and how you can gather your skills and resources in useful ways to make positive forward steps from where you truly find yourself.
If this has triggered any thoughts about your own experience or there is some issue in which gaining positive acceptance would be of value, please reach out and let’s have a conversation.
(*as always, case details are altered to protect the confidentiality of the client involved)