Some Days Just Don’t Go to Plan… Acceptance
I’d like to tell you a funny story.
I was recently filming live to Facebook. The words “Have you ever had a day that just doesn’t go to plan?” had just fallen out of my mouth when one of my little people opened the door, saw me filming, and said at the top of his voice: “What the heck!”
It’s been a day like that all day and it gave me the idea to talk about acceptance, which underpins a lot of what we do in psychological therapy these days .
Have you ever heard the Serenity Prayer?
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been well-researched and is the gold standard of psychological treatments, typically, in clinical psychology. But a treatment modality called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is gaining momentum. And one small part of the philosophy behind that therapeutic approach is this concept of acceptance – acceptance and change. So, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is about accepting the things that are immutable and committing to change what we need to. Committing to action and committing to forward momentum.
Sometimes we all have days or incidents that we have no control over, and we just have one mishap after another. We find ourselves throwing our hands up in the air and saying: “I think I should just go back to bed to start again.”
Acceptance as a concept refers to accepting things that have happened and finding a way to move forward. And how do we do that? How do we draw a line in the sand and say: “Okay, that’s in the past now!”
I had a client once who told me a story about a book she had read. The book was written by a woman who had suffered from depression for a very long time. As part of her recovery, she devised a system for herself where she thought about three key categories for the things that troubled her. She would ask herself whose “business” was this issue (in other words, who had control over the outcome). The first question she would ask herself was: Is this God’s / The Universe’s business? Was the situation something completely out of anybody’s ability to intervene. Weather disasters, for example. The second question she would ask herself was: Is this my business? Was the situation something that she personally could control or change? And the third question she would ask herself was: Is this somebody else’s business? Was the situation not in her capacity to control or change, but it was in somebody else’s capacity to control or change?
So, think about a situation in your life where someone behaves in a way you really don’t like. You feel like you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall trying to get them to change their behaviour. The challenge here would be to accept that their behaviour is not in your control. It is “their business”, it is in their control. You can ask them to change and encourage them to change, but at the end of the day it’s not in your power to make them change. Once you can accept that, then you are in a better position to decide what you want to do next. Being in a relationship and recognizing that the other person’s behavior is not something that you can control, and accepting that, can be quite a challenge. However, identifying the things that you can change and working on those is also a kind of a challenge. Another example of acceptance is looking at things that have happened in the past. We can’t change those, but we can choose how we wish to deal with the present.
If you’d like to read more about acceptance, I recommend a book called “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris who is an Australian therapist. He talks about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and he has a couple of books on this topic. You can find out more on his website www.thehappinesstrap.com
The idea of acceptance involves a number of skills. I’m not going to go into all of them now because it is quite a big topic. But for today, I just want to plant the seed of accepting things that you can’t change, changing the things you can, and knowing the difference between the two!