Practicing Acceptance: The Secret to Achieving Any Goal
5 days into 2019 I had broken 4 out of 5 New Year’s Resolutions. 5 days in I hadn’t stopped drinking alcohol or eating sugar, hadn’t really worked out the way I wanted to and hell if I got out of bed when my alarm actually went off unrealistically early. I wasn’t surprised at all by this. It’s my normal January pattern. This is why I get more excited about the everyday opportunity to start over rather than the once a year big push. Since then however, its been better- not perfect, but better, and I believe it is because there was one resolution that I managed to keep: Practicing Acceptance.
Acceptance is at the heart of self-compassion. Accepting that we are going to make mistakes, that we are still worthy, that we can begin again, that is it ok and totally normal to not stick to resolutions every single day. Acceptance acknowledges that there may have been a good reason as to why we did not do what we planned and perhaps instead we experienced something else instead that proved to be positive although unexpected. (Like eating Oreo truffles-lots of them-and falling asleep on the couch). Acceptance stretches our psychological flexibility, the ability to see a situation from many angles, and often wrapped within its many layers is the gift of resilience. This is that quality often hard to come by in these first world lives many of us live, but one that pushes us to persevere.
But why is Acceptance the key to successful change? Steven Pressfield writes in “The War of Art” that anytime we are moving toward a higher or better version of ourselves there will be universal resistance. It is normal and to be expected. I’m SO sure everyone can relate to this when you have been trying to achieve any personal goal. Clearly it is easier to stay comfortable and complacent in a mediocre version of ourselves rather than work towards who we feel we have the potential to be. In the spiritual realm, we often call this warfare, the force trying to prevent us from believing in ourselves or in God’s good plan for us. Yet, when we start this internal battle allowing our own thoughts to be our worst enemy, the critical voices, the “you should have” or “why haven’t you” statements, I believe we add an extra, thicker, opaque layer of this resistance to push through. We begin to lose motivation, clarity and our will to try. We just don’t need it. This layer we unknowingly create, we actually have the power to eliminate and move closer toward our goal simply through acceptance and self-compassion.
Acceptance is NOT approval. We are not saying this is where we should be or what we should do, nor is it giving up our goal. It is acknowledging that whatever happened happened. That it is what it is and it will not define us or stop us. It is simply reminding ourselves that we can keep going, that my football Oreo truffles were delicious and made up for a super boring Super Bowl, that we are still capable of being all that we want to be, but in this moment we are still enough and beautiful AS IS. It is thinking about the fact that we still have 11 months in the year to keep a resolution, so all is certainly not lost and most of your friends are in the same place. (Except maybe that one friend, but don’t think about her right now!) It is loving and encouraging ourselves to get up and get on with it, speaking to ourselves as we would our closest friend.
So now a month later, I have started over a few times, but I am further along than when I began and definitely kinder to myself- something that I can get used to fast. It is this one change in my thought life that has enabled me to not be discouraged by the setback or fear the process, which means I keep trying. If we can do this, we will get there. Maybe not on the time line we envisioned or as often as we would like, but it is coming. And when we do get there, there will be setbacks and we will have to get there again. Perhaps this time though with a little more self-love and perspective, so that we might even enjoy the view along the climb back up.