Acceptance as a tool for better mental health

I’m often asked about the tools and practices that have made the biggest impact in my life.

A simple approach that has consistently brought me peace is the practice of acceptance. I truly understood what this meant (beyond the intellectual) when I first started meditating.

Acceptance is an important tenet of Buddhism, and perhaps one of the most powerful forms of mindfulness. Meditation isn’t the only way to cultivate mindfulness. But this was the specific channel through which I learned how to observe and accept things as they are, not just as I want them to be.

Accepting challenging situations is also a key part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a model of Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy (CBT), which uses mindfulness-based strategies to take values-directed action.

Unwanted and unpleasant experiences are a part of life. And it’s normal to feel angry, sad, or disappointed sometimes. But we can waste a lot of time focusing on what “should” or “shouldn’t” have been, wishing that things were different, and clinging to an imaginary version of events. A chronic sense of frustration and regret when things don’t go our way can keep us stuck in a cycle of suffering.

By fighting with reality, we lose our personal energy (and peace) and capacity to make changes. We may struggle to accept that something has happened. We can’t tolerate the way that we feel. But when we let go of this resistance, we can move forward. We can redirect our energy towards something more empowering like problem-solving, learning, or simply feeling okay.

Acceptance doesn’t equate to condoning something. It doesn’t mean that we stop caring or trying and that we do nothing. It isn’t the same as denying or pushing away our emotions. Acceptance is simply the acknowledgement of how things actually are, rather than how we think they should be or wish they could be.

We can’t magically stop or change how we feel. But we can learn to surrender to challenging experiences and feel our way through them. We can let our emotions pass through us rather than being caught in a struggle. We can adjust to what is being presented to us.

Acceptance and its application in real life isn’t always easy, but it’s possible to integrate it into your mindset and behaviour over time. Here’s an article on a brief mindfulness-based exercise to help you practice and cultivate acceptance. 


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