The Delusion of Acceptance
A portion of the following article comes from my new book, The Path of No Resistance: Why Overcoming is Simpler than You Think. More posts from the book in the weeks ahead, and more information about the book coming soon.
I don’t know about you, but over the past few weeks, I’ve heard plenty of self-help experts, coaches, and spiritual teachers promote “acceptance” as a practice. Just yesterday, for instance, I watched author Eckhart Tolle say that acceptance of a troubling situation is the first step toward effective action and change.
To me, acceptance is irrelevant. The more you try to accept something, the more attention you are placing on something that has nothing to do with the way you feel in the first place. So by suggesting acceptance as a strategy, Tolle and others are looking outward, toward one’s circumstances to explain one’s feelings, when our feelings have one source only: Our thinking.
The truth is that it’s impossible to make someone do something, or feel something, they don’t think. Including yourself. To illustrate, if you suffer a loss (an unsuccessful competition, a failed job interview, or even a tragedy) and your thoughts are aggrieved, overwhelmed, or “unaccepting,” looking to this circumstance and trying to accept it will only fill your jam-packed head with more thoughts—thereby escalating your distress. But if you look inward to explain your feelings, you’ll notice the direct link between your thinking, moods, and perceptions no matter what’s happening externally. The loss then loses its gnawing grip; providing the opportunity to learn and grow from it.
It may seem otherwise at times, but there’s never a cause-and-effect relationship between a person’s circumstances and his or her feelings. That’s why trying to do something about one’s circumstances (change them or accept them) for the purpose of feeling better simply doesn’t work. Have you ever gone through a low period in your life and tried to change, or accept, your career, house, hairstyle, or mate because you identified this external circumstance as the source of your discontent? I bet that didn’t work out as planned, did it?
Don’t forget: Any time a self-help method requires doing, fixing, or accepting, it does so in complete disregard for the state of mind of the person in question. People are just not capable of accepting anything (nor should they try) when their thinking is bound up, and, thus, they are suffering. People are always capable, however, of understanding why they currently feel bad—their thinking, not their life, has inadvertently trended lower.
And, by the way, we don’t need to strive to “accept” or do anything with a low feeling. We simply need to remember that these glitches of consciousness are designed to self-correct, with no effort on our part, at all.