When Things Suck We’ve Gotta’ Learn to Accept It

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel BrandenWhen things aren’t going your way, or just plain suck, do you know what the most important thing to do is?

Accept it.

Yup, stop fighting and accept whatever’s going on.

Stop resisting, denying, blaming, if only-ing and why me-ing.

Whatever is happening . . . is happening.

There’s Truth In the Cliché

OK, you can start the eye-rolling now.

I get it. I might as well have said you should “Follow your passion,”  “Believe in yourself,” or any of a dozen other platitudes.

All of these statements are true and yet cliché.  They’ve all had me rolling my eyes and wanting to scream, “Sounds good, but how!”

So here’s the not-so-secret formula to learning to accept and move on from whatever sucky thing is getting you down.

What Do You Mean Accept It?

Warning: I’m going to go all Zen on you for just a moment.

We cause our pain with our thoughts.  Everything that happens or exists is neither good or bad, it just is.  How we think about these things is what makes us perceive them as pleasant or unpleasant.

Think liver and onions.

Take two plates of perfectly cooked liver and onions; give one plate to someone who loves liver and onions and the other one to me. Then make both of us eat it.

One of us is going to find this a pleasurable experience, and one of us is going to find it to be just short of torture.

The liver and onions didn’t change, but the thoughts of the people are different.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

But My Situation Sucks and I Want Out

When things aren’t going the way we want, the last thing many of us want to do is accept it. Our fight or flight instincts kick in.

When we’re stuck in a job we hate with a boss or co-worker who seems to be out to get us, it’s hard to just accept it.

When we don’t feel like we’re making progress toward our goals, we stress out.

When someone we care about hurts us and maybe even leaves, we want to fight for what we had or hide under the covers.

So we create excuses, we fight against what’s we’re feeling and what’s happening. We create elaborate stories in our head to deny or transfer blame. Some of us go all tiger mom on the problem trying to force it into submission with logic, routine and hard work.

Then we set in on ourselves and all the reasons the situation won’t change.  We fall asleep worrying and scheming about the problem, and wake up dreading the day ahead.

We wallow in our misfortune and spend a lot of time making ourselves unhappy without even realizing it. We spend a lot of time obsessing over what we don’t want to be happening, making us acutely aware that it is happening.

We let it consume us.

I think some of us are just hardwired to resist. Somewhere along the line we’ve picked up the idea that if we don’t like something we have to fight it with all we have.

But the more we resist something the more power we’re giving it over our lives.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the first step to making things better is to accept that things are the way they are.

Yah, I know that doesn’t make sense. And yah, I know that it’s really hard to do.

Accepting Frees Up Time and Mental Horse Power

When we learn to accept what’s happening we open ourselves up to be calmer, less stressed and happier.  We create some space in which we can notice and enjoy the good things around us instead of being miserable.

We give ourselves time to think clearly and decide what actions we want to take to change the situation.

Realizing When Our Story is Getting in the Way

The trick is learning to realize when we need to step back and accept what is happening in our lives.

We need to learn that when we’re sad and grieving, it’s OK to be sad. Feel it, and move on. This doesn’t mean wallow in sadness and use it as an excuse not to do anything, it means feel it when it’s there, accept it and move on.

We need to learn that when things suck there are still good moments, and it’s OK to enjoy them and make the most of them.

We need to learn that when we aren’t achieving our goals and getting to where we want to be in life, we need to accept where we are, and back off a bit instead of pushing harder.

Often we are afraid that accepting is the same as complacence or not caring. We worry that we won’t move forward, that we’ll get lazy and stagnate.

We worry that if we accept where we are we’ll stay where we are.

But the opposite is true. If we can accept where we are, without all the drama of the story in our heads, we can relax, think, plan and act with more clarity, direction and focus.

Learning to Accept by Starting With the Small Stuff

So how do we learn to accept where we are and drop the story?

It’s as simple as deciding to do just that. We just have to decide to drop the story and accept that what’s going on is going on.

But our stories are often so entrenched that  it’s really hard to do. The key is to practice on the small stuff. Here’s an example.

I’m 5’7” and my husband is 6’5”.

I used to get in the shower every morning to find the showerhead adjusted for him, which meant that as soon as I turned on the shower cold water sprayed on my head and out the door.

For the longest time I’d wince and flinch as the water hit me and I’d wonder why he couldn’t put the showerhead back where it was when he was done. Surely, he could see that the water was going to spray out the door.

Then one day it dawned on me. He’s 6’5”. He is going to adjust the shower every time he uses it and I should just accept it.

As soon as I thought of it that way instead of bitching in my head, the solution came to me. All I had to do was adjust the showerhead myself BEFORE turning the water on.

An obvious solution, but one I hadn’t seen because I was too busy complaining. Acceptance brought clarity and an immediate solution.

Now I take the few seconds that I used to spend whinging as I got and making myself a little bit unhappy as I got in the shower, and I intentionally recognize the lack of pain and how simple and elegant the solution was.

Here is another example.

My husband travels a lot.  And I’ve always considered it his job to take out the garbage (a little bit of a left over Leave It to Beaver complex I guess).  When he is travelling, I take it out. Or, to be more accurate, I try to remember to take it out. I used to forget more often than not.

I ’d end up angry with myself for being unable to remember such a simple task week after week.

Then one day it dawned on me that my husband was away more often than not on garbage day and I should just accept that taking out the garbage was my job.

Ta da. It was that simple, I can remember to take out the trash – most weeks.  No more stress and frustration over forgetting and, when my husband is home and takes the garbage to the curb, it’s a treat for me.

These are small shifts with small results, but in both cases small pain points went away when I accepted the situation for what it was instead of fighting.

I feel a bit silly admitting that I let these things bother me, but I bet there are some equally small things that bug you needlessly.

It’s easy to see where my thinking was less than perfect in both situations, but at the time I’d created and kept reinforcing a story in my head about how things should be without even realizing it.

Every time you let go of the story you’ve created – even for the small stuff – you let go of a little stress. When you take a moment to notice the change, you can create a moment of happiness to replace the former stress, and reinforce a new thought pattern.

Try it. See what happens.

Work Up to the Big Stuff

It’s great to replace minor pain points with positive thoughts. It brings you more into the present and aware of what is going on, but you are also getting ready for the big stuff.

Being able to let go and accept what is going on when it’s big stuff is much more difficult. But if you work on the small stuff, making sure to notice how you feel before and after, you start building a new skill that lets you separate yourself from the situation and your thoughts so you can see when you need to let go and accept what is happening when the big stuff happens.

What do you think?

Do you think it is important to accept our current situation to move forward? If so, how do you do it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Here’s what other people have to say about the importance of acceptance and resistance:

Photo by: harold.lloyd
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