Years ago, when I was feeling concerned about my son’s future, my husband looked at me and said, “So what if he ends up working on a St. Bernard farm? He’d be happy!” The concept was so unexpected it made me laugh (at age 7, our son loved St. Bernards). It also brought about an epiphany for me. I needed to practice letting go of all my judgments and pre-conceptions – about what’s “normal”, what’s “successful” – and just roll with it.
It turns out this coping skill is called Radical Acceptance, and it’s used (in slightly different ways) in both the practice of mindfulness (for you Buddhists) and in Dialectical Behavior Therapy or “DBT” (for you scientists). What’s so radical? Well, this isn’t about deciding to accept that you’re stuck in traffic. It’s about extraordinary acceptance. Radical Acceptance means looking at the world – yourself and others – in an entirely new way. You let go of your ideas about how things “should be” and simply accept them the way they are.
Meditation author and teacher Tara Brach, who coined the term, explains it this way: “Radical Acceptance means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding it with compassion.” Radical Acceptance opens up new choices in life. Once we accept the present as it is, with no judgments, we are free to identify what needs to be done and begin to make changes.
Here’s How to Begin Developing a Radical Acceptance Mindset:
Start Exercising Your Acceptance Muscles. Having acceptance as a default response feels much better than dwelling in emotions such as anger, resentment or sadness. When you encounter a situation you cannot change, try to embrace it by saying this mantra to yourself: I may not love this situation, but I accept it.
Focus on the Now. By accepting life as it is right now, instead of ruminating over what you “could have” or “should have” done, you can get yourself unstuck from circular thinking patterns. We can acknowledge how we feel, but allow ourselves to move on. This is how it is, let’s work with it.
Drop the Judgments. The next time you catch yourself thinking about how something in life “should be”, take a second look and try to see it with fresh eyes and no strings attached. Say to yourself: What’s “normal” or “the right way” anyway?
Soothe Yourself. In situations when we are triggered by words, actions or experiences (for example, if someone makes a hurtful comment, or your child has a crisis), radical acceptance is one more coping tool you can use. Instead of reacting to the situation in an equally emotional or aggressive way, you can move past the incident with less turmoil by throwing up your hands. We like to think we have control over most things, but we really don’t! Soothe yourself by saying: This sucks. I’m so upset. But ok, I’m accepting that it happened.
Make Space. In tough situations, try to take a deep breath and observe the moment first, instead of reacting automatically. An unknown author said this: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Radical Acceptance can help you move towards that blissful space.
I’m interested to know what helps you move towards Radical Acceptance. Please share your thoughts and tips!