Acceptance in life

How to Practice Acceptance

Acceptance is a mindfulness technique that I practice with and teach my clients. Essentially, acceptance is about learning how to live in harmony with conditions that we cannot change, rather than expending a great deal of energy struggling with anger and resistance when things surprise us or don’t go our way.

Using the strategy of acceptance in life to deal with depression and anxiety is a technique that is helpful for people who suffer from unhappiness of any kind.

Our goal with acceptance of reality is to learn to engage and cooperate with reality and say to ourselves, ” This is the way things are right now.” Instead of ” I can’t stand the way things are right now, and I won’t allow it.”

I like this quote and believe it helps illustrate the way we use acceptance in therapy.

“Acceptance is observation of life and suspension of judgment about whether what is happening is good or bad, right or wrong.”

Ron Smotherman

Anytime you are in a state of struggle against reality, or you are harshly judging an experience, you create distress and cloud your problem- solving ability.

Dropping judgment assists you in being able to eventually evaluate situations and also to make decisions about how to handle them effectively.

Evaluating situations, actions, feelings, or thoughts as “good or bad” and “right or wrong” often triggers feelings of guilt and shame or conflict that are overwhelming.

The use of acceptance is a strategy of changing your oppositional  reaction to unchangeable situations in the moment to one that is less resistant. Some other ways  to describe acceptance are: not arguing with reality, dropping the struggle with what is, or dropping resistance to your experience.

Acceptance of emotions is a potent thing. We often have no idea how much judgment of our emotional state exacerbates the difficulty  of our experience. If you are angry, sad or anxious, and you resist it and judge yourself, it will take much longer for you to return to a balanced and calm state.

Learn more here about accepting your feelings. 

Below is a form I use with my clients to help them to learn how to practice acceptance when they are stuck. An image of page one of the form is shown below.

 What does it mean to not argue with reality?

Not arguing with reality is, essentially, not causing yourself more distress when something is happening or has happened that you don’t like.

Some examples of non-acceptance are focusing on thinking how:

  • Someone or something shouldn’t be the way it is (including yourself)
  • You shouldn’t feel or think a certain way
  • You or someone else should or shouldn’t have done something in the past

This focus in your thinking generates anger, jealousy, insecurity, and unhappiness. Also, it does not help you to solve relationship or life problems but causes you to get stuck in an emotional state that is not comfortable.

When you are in a state of non acceptance, you get stuck in the place of resistance rather than being able to problem solve effective ways to deal with things.

Check out acceptance on the mindful website

 Non Acceptance and How it Keeps us Stuck

Let’s use eating as an example to explore acceptance versus non acceptance

Non acceptance

You ate a chocolate bar last night even though you were  on a diet. You focus on how you shouldn’t have eaten a chocolate bar last night.  That stirs up feelings of guilt and shame about emotional eating. You can
easily get stuck there rather than moving on.

You say to yourself : “Why did I do that? I shouldn’t have! What’s wrong with me? Why won’t I ever make a good food decision? I am bad, and my eating habits are bad. I’m never going to be successful at this diet”

This way of responding is likely to lead to unhappiness and failure. 


You ate a chocolate bar last night even though you were on a diet. 

You acknowledge that you ate the chocolate bar, and you can’t un-eat the chocolate bar. You dont want this to happen in the future because you are trying to be healthy. This nonjudgmental accepting way to approach your feelings will enable you to get curious about the problem and what led to the chocolate bar eating incident so that you can make a different choice next time.

My clients like this example in helping them learn how to practice acceptance.


Let’s use traffic as an example to explore acceptance versus non acceptance

Non Acceptance

Let’s say you are sitting in traffic. You did not anticipate the traffic and  will now be late to work. You become agitated and angry in such a situation. You may say in your head over and over how it shouldn’t be the way it is or how you should have done something differently to avoid the traffic. You may work yourself up into an angry and agitated state, at others, or at yourself for your perceived failure to predict and outsmart the traffic.

In this situation, how will you feel? Likely angry, depressed, worried, distressed, stressed, or even guilty. Yet you haven’t changed the fact that you are stuck in traffic.



In this same situation, practicing acceptance would like something like saying to yourself ” I don’t like this, but it is the way it is. I’m stuck in traffic. There’s no way I am going to get there on time.  I may as well strategize a way for it not to  happen next time, and also enjoy the moment by listening to some music or making a phone call to a friend.”

If you can practice acceptance, you reduce the stress you cause yourself ( in the form of your thoughts and insistence that things are other than how they are).

It’s a subtle difference between acknowledging and moving forward or getting stuck in resistance or non-acceptance.

 Acceptance is not giving up

Some people confuse acceptance with giving up. Acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance does not mean that you “accept” that you are overweight, in an unhappy marriage, or depressed. It merely means that you honestly appraise the situation and stop expending all your energy, insisting it should be different when it isn’t.

Marsha Linehan uses the example of a car to illustrate the concept. If you go to a mechanic because your brakes have been squeaking and not working correctly and the mechanic says you need new brakes, what would happen if you spent the
entire time insisting it shouldn’t be the case? Well, likely you would get in a car accident!

The concept of acceptance in life functions the same way, even though we can’t see quite so clearly how it holds us back. Acceptance helps us drop the resistance and unskillful feelings that keep us trapped. It then allows us to move to a logical place of making a skillful decision about how to solve something in our lives that is not working.

You may also be interested in these other pages on
 self compassion, 
how to be more self compassionate,  
what is mindfulness meditation , and more about 
components of mindfulness,
mindfulness in therapy

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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