If you are constantly feeling depleted yet eating and exercising, it may be time to consider self-acceptance as an energy management strategy.
Our energy comes from four domains: physical; emotional, mental and spiritual and there are specific activities that fuel each domain. In some instances, there are particular activities that span across more than one domain and acceptance is one of them.
Acceptance is the opposite of resistance. To practice acceptance means to acknowledge how you are experiencing the myriad of experiences that make up your day/life and to be okay with the emotions you are feeling.
1. Acceptance does not mean liking, wanting, choosing, or supporting. When we get upset, we can choose to accept the situation, or we can ‘stew on it’ and wish it was better. By stewing on it, we allow that upset-ness (sadness anger, frustration) to control us and lock up energy that we could otherwise be deploying elsewhere more productively.
By accepting the situation for what it is, doesn’t mean we’re no longer upset. It means that we recognise we cannot change the situation and there’s no need for us to feel shame or anxiety, which takes energy. As a result of our acceptance, our energy is deployed elsewhere and the upset-ness will subside and pass over time.
For example: a client of mine who hasn’t had a relationship with her mother for number of years has been blaming herself that she wasn’t enough for her mother to want to stay in the family. She has also blamed herself for her mother not keeping in contact with her when her mother left the family, when she was a teen. Acceptance allows my client the ability to recognise that it’s ok for her to be angry that she has no relationship with her mother AND it allows her to be ok with the feelings she feels towards her mother for the abandonment. It does not mean that she likes the situation or supports how her mother has behaved. It means she accepts the situation and how it is.
2. Acceptance is an active process. It must be practiced. Acceptance is derived from 'accept' which is a verb, indicating it is a doing word, i.e. an active process, and from personal experience, needs to be practiced consciously and regularly.
Rarely do we wake up and decide to accept all of our physical and emotional pain in one hit. It is usually a gradual process that is non-linear as it requires de-layering.
It can get frustrating at times, we may even find ourselves telling a friend “I thought I was over that, but I’m still hurt by it”. This is not uncommon when considering how we process hurt e.g. the break-up of a significant relationship or the experience of a traumatic event.
By regularly practicing acceptance, the muscle for acceptance grows and the neural pathways for it are strengthened. This strengthening makes it easier to practice acceptance in the future, it doesn’t necessarily lessen the hurt. Although the hurt can dissipate quicker, the more exercised the muscle is.
3. Acceptance provides choice. Many people observe acceptance as a ‘giving up’ or relinquishing a point of view. Far from it. Practicing acceptance means that you recognise the situation for what it is and you exercise agency by choosing how to respond.
You can choose to change your approach to future, similar situations or you can choose to behave in exactly the same way next time. Each time accepting your emotions, acknowledging their impermanence, and recognising you may behave differently next time. It’s completely up to you.
4. Acceptance doesn't have to be forever. Relationships change over time and they’re influenced by where you and the other person is, at any given time. A decade later, a difficult relationship may transform into being less difficult or even the other way around.
I have had relationships that were easy per se become very difficult and I’m not sure how they will transform in future. However, I can say that accepting them for how they are, stops me from over-analysing them and ruminating on what could have been. In the process of accepting the relationship for what it is, I have been able to let go of any hopes and dreams that I may have had for the relationship, recognising that acceptance means also letting go of any desire for the relationship to change.
To lessen the pain of a relationship break-up it requires the individuals to accept that the relationship will no longer continue in its current form. Holding on to hopes and dreams for that relationship makes it almost impossible to heal from the pain of the break-up and move on to a new relationship or focus.
5. Acceptance can be practiced in all areas of life. Acceptance isn’t reserved for specific situations; it is applicable to all aspects of life. Everywhere where you hold an expectation, hope or dream. I even had to accept my dog for being who he is and recognising that he was mischievous, and no amount of training would change that. Getting angry with him didn’t help him or me!
We’re naturally hard on ourselves.
Society tells us we need to be financially successful, slim, athletic, attractive, cool under pressure, funny, creative, likeable and have a career that is going somewhere. Most of us will never check all of those boxes at the same time. The further away we are from the list society ascribes to us and we accept it, the more likely we are to struggle with self-acceptance.
Many of us are more understanding and forgiving of others than we are of ourselves. If anyone is going to be on your side, it should be you!
Here are common signs that you’re being too hard on yourself.
1. You dwell on your mistakes. This accomplishes nothing positive. It breeds rumination and distracts you form the present moment. Recognise we’re all human and make mistakes. Dwelling on mistakes will erode your self-confidence leaving you feeling less capable and more miserable.
2. You compare yourself to others. There’s always someone richer, better looking, more musically talented, “luckier,” or has children that do better in school.
- Comparison erodes self confidence. Remember, you don’t know the other person’s background or available resources. They may have had to make significant sacrifices which you potentially aren’t prepared to make.
- You’re also more likely to compare yourself to exceptional people. Do you compare your looks to the middle-age man or woman at work that has three kids? Of course not! You compare yourself to the 21-year old intern that models on the side.
3. You don’t give your own ideas a fair chance. How many great ideas have you had, but ultimately dismissed? Learn to get comfortable exploring your ideas on your own or with others.
4. You spend too much time thinking about your past failures. Oh, the past. You chickened out and didn’t ask for that promotion. Or you chose a different career to the one your friends chose. Maybe you didn’t get that dream job. There’s always something.
- If you focus on negative experiences, you’re failing to accept yourself and your current reality.
5. You can’t take a compliment well. There are good things about you. It’s okay when others acknowledge those things, even if you don’t agree. Your inability to accept a compliment from others is a sign that you don’t accept yourself.
6. You’re unrealistic. Being unrealistic might be seen as being kind to yourself, but it’s not. If you truly don’t have what it takes to become a Cricket star, or a Head of Department, or a CEO, you’re not doing yourself any favors by holding onto unrealistic expectations. You’re ultimately being hard on yourself.
By the way, how will you know unless you are executing against a plan that has milestones indicating your track record and likelihood of success. Sometimes you need data.
There are many more signs that you’re not as accepting of yourself as you could be. Be mindful of when you feel like shrinking or your internal dialogue gets the better of you. They're all signs of resistance. And what we resist persists!
Personal reflection: I encourage you to consider how acceptance could benefit your daily life and how you can practice more of it going forward. Get curious about the emotions you are actively avoiding or trying to push away. They are signs that they’re unpleasant and remind you of past hurts. So, with those past hurts, what do you need to accept about the other and yourself so that you can let that hurt go?
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