Embracing Radical Acceptance: How to Take Control by Letting Go
Life is full of ups and downs, and the way we deal with them plays a significant role in our overall well-being. In my day-to-day life, I often find myself in scenarios that are not what I would describe as perfect. In truth, we have little control over what happens in the world around us, what happens to others or how others think and behave. Surprisingly we even have little control over how or what we think and how we feel moment to moment. I find this especially true when I first wake up – My mood and thoughts on first waking seem to be defined by the quality of sleep and the dreams that I was having during the final part of my sleep.
However, we can learn to develop a great deal of control over how we respond, both to the world around us (events, people etc) and to our own mind, body and emotions. We effectively have two options: either we resist what is happening; or we accept what is happening. This somewhat binary choice hides an enormous depth, complexity and subtlety that allows us to learn to master our world, and to experience life in a much more fulfilling and satisfying way. At the same time, as we practice this radical acceptance, we become more present to all the layers of how things really are. This increasing awareness and presence allow us to be more successful in all aspects of life.
Acceptance vs Resignation
Before continuing, I think it’s important to address the comment I often hear: I don’t want to accept the way things are because I don’t like the way they are, or I don’t think they are fair. For me this is an important point, and so there is a distinction I’d find useful to draw.
Acceptance of the moment is simply allowing reality to be how it is, right now, in the moment. This is fundamentally different to resignation, which is a kind of giving up and accepting the way things are as the way they will always need to be. If we accept this moment, and at the same time notice what we don’t like about it, then we can chose how to respond and how we want to create the world going forward. This may mean putting in boundaries and telling people what we find acceptable and what we don’t; it may mean thinking and acting differently ourselves; it may mean all sorts of things. But that is for the next moment. Right now, the world and everything in it (including ourself) is how it is!
Going Easy on Yourself
In the journey of radical acceptance and taking responsibility for our own experiences, it's crucial to practise self-compassion. Trying to change long-standing mental habits can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating endeavour. Many people fall into the trap of becoming self-critical when they don't instantly succeed, which only adds another layer of emotional strain. Going easy on yourself doesn't mean neglecting responsibility or avoiding necessary change; instead, it means treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a close friend in a similar situation. Acknowledge that this is a process that takes time and effort. The path to change is rarely straightforward, and it's okay to encounter setbacks as long as you don't give up. By showing yourself compassion, you create a safe and nurturing environment for genuine self-improvement and make it easier to develop a new, more constructive approach to life's challenges.
Sometimes life throws us a curveball, and it's natural to feel overwhelmed or stuck. In my experience as a life coach, one of the most common challenges people face is learning how to accept their situation—both what's going on inside them and what's happening around them—rather than trying to fight it. This acceptance is crucial because struggling against what you can't change only leads to more stress and frustration. In this article, let's delve into the concept of radical acceptance, what it means, and how it can improve our lives.
Why bother with radical acceptance?
What happens when we resist the reality around us or within the workings of our own mind? This resistance can create a cascade of negative emotions, leading us to spend unnecessary hours, days, or even weeks feeling unhappy, stressed, or worried. This not only clouds our judgement but also prevents us from experiencing life as it truly is. By exploring the alternative - learning to be with our situation just as it is - we can discover a more constructive and enjoyable way to go through life.
One example might be the nagging inner voice that criticises us for our perceived shortcomings can become a constant companion, telling us we're not good enough or that we've messed things up. That is bad enough!
Another example might be when someone treats us unfairly, especially in comparison to how we expect to be treated or how others are treated around us.
But, when we add another inner voice telling us we shouldn’t be feeling or thinking those things, that we’re a loser for not being able to sort ourself out, or that we should have acted / reacted differently in a situation, we are compounding, extending and amplifying the misery that we experience. I use the world misery because the alternative – a clear and open mind where we feel light and happy – is truly blissful in comparison! And, this shift doesn’t meant that we don’t take responsibility or that we somehow negatively impact our life, our relationships or our success. In my experience it is quite the opposite, this shift continues to allow me to grow and to develop more success, better relationships and to live a more fulfilling life.
The benefits of practicing radical acceptance can be:
Reduced Stress: Accepting your current situation helps to reduce stress because you top fighting against the inevitable.
Increased Clarity: When you're not clouded by stress or extreme emotions, it's easier to think clearly and make good decisions.
Improved Emotional Wellbeing: Accepting things as they are, instead of how you wish they would be, can significantly improve your emotional health.
Better Relationships: When you stop projecting your issues onto other people, it's easier to build strong, authentic relationships.
A helpful metaphor
Imagine you’ve gone out for the day, and suddenly it starts raining. There you are, standing in the rain without an umbrella or a raincoat, and you’re at least 10 minutes from the nearest shelter. To make it worse, a gentle wind has started blowing. Now you’re getting wet and a little cold. Your perceive the situation as bad, it sucks! Your inner voice starts up and you start wishing you had at least brought a small folding umbrella, perhaps you normally do but you took a different bag with you today. You start to get could get frustrated, blaming yourself for not being better prepared, or not having checked the forecast for the day. Or perhaps blaming the weather for being so unfair to you, and wishing it would change. But does any of that stop the rain? No!
A few weeks later exactly the same thing happens. Unexpected rain, no umbrella, no waterproofs. Yet this time you change your perspective. You simply notice that it is raining. You realise there is nothing you can do right there and then in that moment. You accept that you’re getting wet and a little cold. Even though there is a little fear about getting too cold and too wet, and looking bedraggled when you arrive at your destination, you remember what it was like at a time when you felt freer in your life simply to enjoy messing around in the rain. And there you go – no frustration, no anger or blame, and no nagging inner critic voice. You’re simply there, wet and a little cold. The next thing is to act - maybe that's making a run for the nearest cafe or maybe it's just enjoying the rain for what it is. The story will finish however it finishes. The important thing is that your experience of that moment is much nicer and much more fulfilling. Your shifted mind state also allows you to be more present and joyful, which means you’re more likely to have a good interaction with whoever or whatever shows up next in your day.
When we spend energy fighting against these things, we end up feeling drained and powerless. Accepting the situation helps you save energy and reduces stress.
The Inner Struggle: Thoughts and Feelings
The same goes for what's happening inside you. We all like to think we can control our thoughts and feelings, but more often than not, they seem to have a mind of their own. The first step in improving your mental state is accepting it. This doesn't mean you're settling for being unhappy or stressed; it just means you're acknowledging your starting point. From there, you can work on making changes in a healthy way.
It's interesting how the human mind works when it comes to accepting difficult truths about ourselves. Sometimes, rather than facing these truths, we project them onto other people. This may provide temporary relief, but it stops us from making any real progress. So the next time you find yourself blaming someone else for something you don't like, ask yourself: is this something I need to address in myself?
Taking Responsibility or Escaping Accountability
Our minds often seek the path of least resistance, which includes avoiding responsibility for our experiences and emotions. It's easier to blame external factors or feel victimised by circumstances than to acknowledge that we have a role in shaping our own reality. This avoidance can manifest in various ways, such as blaming others for our feelings, projecting our insecurities, or even feeling powerless to our own thoughts. Shifting the responsibility allows the mind to escape the discomfort of introspection and the work that comes with change. However, this avoidance is a double-edged sword; while it may offer temporary relief, it ultimately hinders personal growth and keeps us in a cycle of reactivity rather than proactivity. Learning to accept that it's up to us to create our reality is a challenging but necessary step in breaking free from this pattern, leading to a more fulfilling life experience.
Taking Control: Choosing How to React
Whether the situation is external or internal, radical acceptance doesn't mean you can't take action to improve your situation. It just gives you the mental clarity to decide the best course of action without being clouded by emotions or stress. One of the main principles of radical acceptance is understanding what you can change and what you can't. This means taking an honest look at your situation and identifying the aspects that are under your control.
One of the most empowering aspects is the ability to shift the focus of your thinking. After encountering a challenging situation, it's easy to fall into a negative spiral with thoughts like, "Why did I do that?" or "That's so unfair," or even "I'm such an idiot." These thoughts only amplify negative emotions and limit your experience of life. However, you have the choice to shift your thinking into a more constructive direction. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, you can opt for thoughts like, "What can I learn from this?" or "How might this unexpected turn of events actually benefit me?" or "How can I enjoy this situation just as it is?"
Such a change in focus allows you to own your responsibility for the experience you're having, without resorting to blame, projection, or playing the victim. It's about developing new mental habits that empower you to create the life experience you genuinely desire. Once you do this, it's easier to let go of the rest. This shift takes practice and discipline, but the rewards are a more constructive and enjoyable life. I believe it is an important life skill that can save you a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration.
Radical acceptance is not about giving up or admitting defeat. It's about facing reality and then taking sensible steps to improve your situation. It helps you recognise what you can change and what you can't, giving you the freedom to focus your energy where it matters most. And this is incredibly empowering.
The one thing you can learn to control is how you react to both external events and your internal emotional state. Let's say you get stuck in a traffic jam when you're already running late. Your immediate reaction might be to become frustrated or anxious. However, with the practice of radical acceptance, you could acknowledge your lack of control over the traffic and choose a more constructive reaction, perhaps using the time to listen to an audiobook or simply take some deep breaths. Radical acceptance provides the mental space to decide how you want to react, free from the clouding influence of immediate emotional responses.
By incorporating radical acceptance into your life, you'll find that you're better equipped to handle whatever comes your way. You'll feel less stressed, make better decisions, and generally enjoy life more. It's a simple concept, but it can make a world of difference. So the next time you find yourself fighting against something you can't change, take a step back and ask yourself: what can I do to accept this situation and make the best of it?
Embarking on the journey of personal growth is a courageous act, and it's important to remember that true transformation takes time; granting yourself the patience to adapt and the compassion to make mistakes is a vital part of the process. If you’re interested in exploring this further, please get in contact and I’d be happy to talk about the options of working with me through coaching and retreats.