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Faced with negative outcomes, it's disheartening to accept what is. We want control over situations, and when events don’t go our way, it can feel like we’ve lost all agency.
But accepting what is does not mean giving up or resigning yourself to a fate you don’t want. It simply means acknowledging the facts as they are, and then deciding about how you will proceed considering them.
When we refuse to accept what is, we get caught in a loop of thinking that circumstances will change if we can just keep trying hard enough—but this often isn’t the case.
When we accept reality as it is, we free ourselves up to make better decisions about how we move forward because there’s no longer any pressure to force our circumstances into something they’re not.
"Acceptance is the road to all change." - Bryant McGill
Why We Can’t Accept What Is When Reality Sucks
There are many reasons we fight upstream against a downward spiral. Here are just 7 of them:
1. We’re all human—We all have the same basic emotions and reactions, and a “me-oriented mindset” makes us feel like we’re the only ones who are suffering when we’re going through a hard time.
2. Our culture is very focused on solutions—If we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we just figure out what we’re doing wrong, we can fix it, then naturally when we don’t know what the answer is, we will feel defeated, hopeless, and frustrated.
3. It goes against our nature—As a species, humans are almost genetically programmed to come up with ideas for how to make things better, even when faced with impossible circumstances.
4. We’re perfectionists—We want to be in control of everything, and when things don’t go our way, we may feel like we’re in over our heads. But the more we try to force things to work out the way we’d like them to, the more difficult it can be to just relax and go with the flow.
We might also feel like accepting something means we’re giving up on our actual goal of making that thing different—but if we never accept what is, then how will anything ever get better?
5. We don’t want to let go—Acceptance means letting go of an old identity and the security it provided, even if the new identity is not worse off than the old one. And even if we're inclined to embrace acceptance, we feel we're unable to do so because of conditioning, childhood trauma, etc.
6. We’re paralyzed with fear and uncertainty about the future—We’re afraid of what will happen next, and we don’t want to stop fighting for a chance at a better future. “What ifs” are immobilizing and when they rear their ugly heads, we feel fearful and helpless, which makes us want to run away or try to control whatever’s going on around us.
7. It feels like giving up, and we’re not used to doing that in today’s society where everything is about winning at all costs.
These reasons are all understandable, and unchangeable negative outcomes are distressing, depressing, and threatening.
But my goal in this “accepting what is” blog post is to inspire hope and provide reassuring strategies to deal with the stormy side of life and help you move forward.
Accepting what is can be hard because it means letting go of the stories and beliefs that we have about what should be.
Accepting what is means letting go of ideas that aren’t true, such as “It’s my fault” and “I’m not good enough.”
Accepting what is means being okay with the way things are, even if they’re not ideal.
Accepting what is means permitting yourself to feel the complete range of emotions at the moment — anger, sadness or frustration — without trying to change them or escape from them.
Accepting what is means not judging yourself for your thoughts and feelings, good or bad.
How to Deal - 7 Strategies to Cope and Accept What Is
There are a variety of coping strategies to accept what is, especially when the outcome is negative. Here are 7 of my favorite ways::
1. Embrace Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of therapy that focuses on mindfulness, acceptance, and values. It’s not about trying to change your emotions or thoughts, but working with them in a healthy way.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what’s happening in the present moment without judging it. When you’re mindful, you can focus on what’s happening around you, refusing to allow your mind to veer into the past or future, or getting caught up in emotions like anger or sadness.
Acceptance means acknowledging that things are what they are, regardless of whether they’re good or bad. Accepting things as they are allows us to take action toward reaching our goals rather than wasting energy fighting against reality.
Values are what we believe are important in life—things like kindness, honesty, justice, etc. Having strong values serve as a barometer of how we should live our lives, and how much effort we want to put into achieving our goals.
Basically, the approach is based on the idea that there’s no point in fighting against our own thoughts or emotions—it’s much more helpful and healthy to work with them constructively by taking an alternative approach, embracing our values, such as gratitude.
2. Learn about Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It’s all about helping people learn how to manage their emotions in a healthier way. It involves identifying negative thoughts and feelings, evaluating their accuracy and usefulness, then replacing them with more positive ones.
It’s a lot like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), except that there are four “dialectical” components to it: mindfulness, managing perceived or actual distress without feeling overwhelmed, continuing to regulate emotions to reduce feelings of pain, and understanding how your responses are affecting your interpersonal relationships.
These components are taught through exercises that help people practice these skills and build upon them.
When you’re feeling upset or angry, try to think of the situation from another perspective. Ask yourself: “What do I need right now?” This may be engaging in a healthy diversion, such as taking a walk or conversing with a friend, trying to get your needs met.
While it’s not always easy to let go of negative thoughts, it’s important because they can make us feel worse about ourselves and our situations.
3. Implement Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of what’s happening in the present moment, taking note of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations from a detached perspective. The goal of mindfulness is to develop greater awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations so that we can be more aware of how they affect us.
MBCT teaches you how to live in the moment instead of concentrating on yesterday or focused on tomorrow. This helps you stay grounded, appreciating the present moment rather than dwelling on things that have already happened or worrying about what may happen in the future.
By learning how to focus on being mindful in daily life, you can better manage stress, improve your mood and lower your risk of depression relapse and other mental health issues.
Through mindfulness exercises, such as breathwork, meditation, and yoga, MBCT teaches participants to recognize when they’re having unhelpful thoughts or feelings and respond in a new way by focusing on their breathing or another aspect of their environment instead of getting wrapped up in their thoughts or feelings.
4. Reframe the negative experience. Reframing is a tool for accepting what is. Reframing helps us focus on the positive aspects of an event and see it in a new way.
For example, if you are going through a difficult time with your partner, you can reframe this negative situation by focusing on the good things about your partner.
Reframing allows us to shift our perspective and see everything in a different light. It helps us realize that there are other ways to look at things than simply focusing on the negative aspects of an event or situation.
When we reframe, we also realize the commonality of our experiences and problems, taking some measure of comfort that other folks survive similar circumstances.
It’s natural to feel disappointed, resentful, and angry when things don’t go our way. When we’re in a negative state, it’s hard to see anything positive in the situation. We can’t see that there are lessons to be learned or opportunities for growth.
Once you feel more relaxed, ask yourself what you can learn from this experience. What is the lesson? How can it strengthen you? What does it mean about who you are as a person? By focusing on what’s good about the situation, you’ll see all of its benefits and growth opportunities.
5. Remind yourself you can handle adversity. This strategy can help you feel more empowered and confident in your adaptability and ability to handle distressing events.
When we feel helpless in our circumstances, it's hard to believe that we’ll ever be able to handle them. But if we stay positive and focused on what we can control—our thoughts, actions, and words—we can eventually make things better.
Realize this method does not deny the reality of the situation or feeling; instead, it acknowledges it, but serves as a reminder you can handle the stress or emotion. Most times, just knowing that you can handle something is enough to get rid of your fear or concern about it.
This strategy would also be useful for people who overthink things and worry too much about the future.
6. Use the “This too shall pass” mantra. Acknowledge that negative emotions come and go like the tides. Whether it’s anger, anxiety, sadness, or frustration, remind yourself that they will move through you in time. What’s most important is to mitigate the severity of the episode.
“This too shall pass” is a classic mindfulness mantra that we can use when facing many circumstances: from the unpleasantness of going through airport security to the pain of hearing that a loved one has passed away. It reminds us that things change, situations evolve, and trials eventually pass—and it helps us let go and move forward amid any uncomfortable situation.
7. Practice self-compassion. When we’re stuck in a negative place, it can sometimes be hard to see that there is any other route forward. Our minds are too focused on the past or what we’re afraid of in the future. But by practicing self-compassion and accepting what is, we can come around to another way of looking at things.
Self-compassion is an alternative to self-criticism. Self-compassion means that you first recognize when you’re feeling down, and then you practice being kind and understanding toward yourself.
It’s important to note that self-compassion isn’t indulging in our destructive feelings—it means allowing ourselves to be with them, but without judgment. Abandoning responsibility for our feelings is not what this is. It’s simply acknowledging that they exist and making room for them in the present moment.
Self-compassion gives us a nonjudgmental perspective on our current situation. This can help us look at the obstacles we face more objectively, seeing both their potential gravity and our ability to overcome them, regaining peace of mind.
Being compassionate toward ourselves gives us all the tools we need to overcome whatever life throws at us.
Let's close our eyes, quiet the mind (through meditation, journaling, or any preferred activity), and love ourselves through any crisis.
When faced with a disturbing
reality, you can:
a. Acknowledge negative thoughts.
b. Reframe the circumstance to change the way you look at things.
c. Focus on the things you can control (including your thoughts, feelings, and reactions), not what you can’t.
d. Brainstorm options, if any exist, but know you can handle any possible negative outcome.
e. Understand that rejection, failure, or untoward news are a natural part of life.
f. Envelope yourself in love and compassion—free of self-condemnation and ridicule.
g. Practice consistent mindfulness and refuse to dwell on things that have already happened.
h. Realize that everyone has problems and setbacks, and others have risen above them.
But What if You Can’t Accept What Is and Move On?
While the cliché of the grieving widow who can’t let go of her late husband has its basis in reality, it’s not just those who have lost a loved one who struggles to accept what is.
Anyone who cannot move on from a negative experience, whether personal or general, is likely suffering from an inability to accept what is—and while some forms of this can be healthy and necessary, prolonged unhealthy lack of acceptance can cause some serious and harmful consequences.
Trying to seek acceptance by ignoring what happened in the past seems prudent at first, but it could keep you stuck in your past, with no way to progress or heal. You’d be ignoring anything positive that came from the experience and any lessons you could learn or actions you could take that would help you grow as a person.
The same goes for letting your negative feelings control you—if you’re unable to let go of them, they can hold your life back from moving forward by turning into destructive habits or behaviors.
The best way to find acceptance is to face up to whatever situation it was that brought about the initial struggle. It might be hard, but facing whatever it is head-on will give you the opportunity for true healing and allow you to move forward with a clear mind and a determined spirit.
The Importance of Accepting What Is
One thing that’s important in the practice of Zen is learning to accept what is. Many people believe they can change situations they don’t like, but this isn’t always a realistic or beneficial approach.
As many people have learned from experience, if you continue to fight against something you want changed, it just makes you feel frustrated and upset about it, and you can’t enjoy your life because you’re focused on what isn’t working for you. This is true whether it’s something big, like serious marital issues or something small, like a silly disagreement with a friend.
When someone considers the idea of acceptance, they often think of it as a passive process. We often perceive acceptance as the opposite of effort and of growth.
People think that by accepting a negative experience, they’re avoiding changing their emotions and avoiding working toward achieving their goals. Acceptance can be a way to appreciate things in your life that you might not have appreciated before so you may even be more inclined to go for your dreams.
There are many experiences: good ones, bad ones, painful ones, and neutral ones. Often when people experience a negative experience, they feel angry or frustrated about it because they believe that it’s unfair or something they did not deserve.
They don’t want to accept the negative experience because it feels like an attack on themselves and on their identity.
Sometimes people just want to deny a negative experience because it makes them feel weak and vulnerable, or because they are afraid that if they accept the existence of the negative experience, then it will hurt them even more.
If you look at acceptance from a psychological perspective, you’ll see that accepting something can make you grow as a person by helping you learn from what’s happened to you and appreciate things in life, even if they aren’t perfect.
If you can understand how something can help you grow as a person and strengthen you, you will better navigate life, especially when storms blow in.
Final Words on Accepting Life as It Is
Having the ability to accept what is and move on in life is not an easy feat—in fact, it’s a vital skill. Often, people struggle with accepting what is because they can’t imagine how to live without changing something or someone, or they have a hard time seeing things as they are if they’ve been wishing for something else.
But, while we can’t control what happens to us, we can control our responses.
In order to accept what is and move on in life, we need to learn some coping skills. The first thing you can do is think about why you don’t want to accept what is.
If it’s because you’re afraid of the consequences of accepting, such as giving up hope or feeling like a failure, then remind yourself that the present moment is all there is.
Imagine how your future will be better if you accept what is and let go of your fears and worries. Also, consider that being at peace with your situation may even help you find a solution to whatever problem you’re facing.
Another key part of coping with acceptance involves being realistic about the situation at hand. Try to get beyond any illusions or delusions that may prevent you from accepting what is.
Instead, take a good look at your reality and be honest with yourself, including acknowledging what you can be grateful for.
Acceptance can be incredibly freeing. It’s about making the choice to accept what is happening right now, rather than dwelling on the wish that it weren’t so or trying to change it. Accepting what is means letting go of resistance and moving forward in life, despite your feelings; it’s a decision to face everything that comes your way.
In order to accept what is happening in your life, let go of your attachment to how you think things should be. This can feel impossible when bad things happen. But with time, patience and practice, you can learn how to live with acceptance as a part of your life, even in the most difficult situations.
I leave you with this provocative thought:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor Frankl