Years ago, when I decided I wanted to live a better life, one of the first things people taught me was practicing acceptance. While I thought I knew what acceptance was, I soon realized that I had never practiced acceptance in my entire life. One of my favorite quotes is from the meditation teachers, Shinzen Young, and he says, “Suffering = Pain x Resistance”, and holy shit is that true.
Like you, I want things my way, and I have expectations of everything in life. Expectations are tricky because they’re these little camouflaged parts of our thinking that we hardly ever notice. I guarantee that if you start paying attention, you’ll find that all of your problems boil down to a lack of acceptance and unrealistic expectations. Even down to your smallest little annoyances.
An experiment in expectations and acceptance that I always used to do with my clients was to ask them about holding the door open for someone and how that’s supposed to go down. I’d say, “By a show of hands, how many of you get pissed when you hold the door open for someone, and they don’t say ‘Thank you’?” Over the three years working the rehab and hundreds of times I asked this, I’d say the average amount of hands that went up was well over 80%.
When I was a kid, my dad taught me to always hold the door open for people. Aside from that, he taught me to always say “Thank you” when someone held the door for me. It was a pretty simple concept. So, as I grew older and continued holding doors open for people, like most people, I noticed how many people didn’t give a simple “thank you”, and I’d get pissed too.
I’d explained to my clients that I eventually realized that this was based on my expectations, and my expectations lead to a lot of my own problems. I expect thanks every time I hold a door open, so I tried changing this up by never expecting a damn thing. It worked. I went from being pissed every time someone didn’t say “thank you” to being pleasantly surprised every time someone did say “thank you”.
Whenever I’d walk through this story with people, without fail, people would say, “No! You’re supposed to say ‘thank you’ when someone holds the door open!”, and I’d give a little smile because they proved all of my points.
The word “supposed” as well as words like “should” imply an expectation.
The resulting feeling is from a lack of acceptance of people being the way they’re going to be.
So, it looks like Shinzen was right that suffering = pain x resistance. It’s our own resistance to acceptance that puts us in a bad mood. The great thing about realizing this is that we start to realize that we’re in control and nobody can make us feel a certain way. If we feel upset, we can make the conscious decision to change our perspective and not feel as upset. This is easier said than done, but I promise that as you continue to work on it, it gets much easier.
Life is Suffering
One of my biggest pet peeves for many years was when people would talk about something crappy happening, and then they’d say, “It is what it is.” I wanted to slap them in the face and scream, “No shit it is what it is! Why would you even say that?!” (I told you I used to have anger issues)
What I didn’t realize until much later was that when people say that, it’s a form of acceptance. Once we begin working on our acceptance that things are going to happen and we can’t do much to change certain circumstances, we begin to finally feel peace. This doesn’t mean we roll over and give up, but it means we stop wasting energy on the things we cannot change and accept that life isn’t always going to be this magical experience.
The Buddha figured this out thousands of years ago. In fact, he made it the first Noble Truth, which states that life always involves suffering. That’s cool and all, but that’s definitely not something we want to hear. We want someone to tell us that there’s a chance that life will be perfect someday. The problem is that if anyone told us that, they’d be a damn liar.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to become a Buddhist or anything, but we’d all be silly to not look at what these people figured out and try to practice it in our daily lives. Again, most of our problems are coming from expectations and a lack of acceptance. We expect someday for our life to be free from suffering, and we don’t accept that this is something that will never happen.
In the book Good Reasons for Bad Feelings by evolutionary psychiatrist Dr. Randolph Nesse, he explains the biological reasons that we feel pain. Although it sounds like it’d be pretty awesome to never feel pain again, we’d die pretty quick. Imagine if you didn’t feel pain when you put your hand on a hot stove or cut your finger while cooking. You might catch yourself on fire or bleed out. If you didn’t have anxiety, you’d play in traffic and try to wrestle a bear at the zoo.
Now, what’s the evolutionary reason for depression? Not surprisingly, it’s because of a lack of acceptance. Dr. Nesse and his colleagues discovered that when we don’t let go of an unattainable goal and waste energy, and low mood is the body telling us to do something else. So, although there are some biological reasons for depression, sometimes we’re making it worse by refusing to accept what’s happening.
We Have Two Options
If you’re like me, you overcomplicate the hell out of everything. In a time where we’re inundated with choices, we fear making the wrong decision. The good news is that when it comes to acceptance, we have two simple options: do it or don’t.
You don’t have to accept anything. Neither do I. It’s the joy of being human and having free-will!
But, I hope you realize what I realized years ago, which is that being resistant just leads to me causing my own misery. I used to be able to dwell on things for days on end just because I refused to accept things the way they were. It’s much different now.
I didn’t get over any of my exes until I accepted that the relationship was over, and then I moved on. I didn’t stop being mad at my bank because of my overdraft fees until I accepted the fact that they have a policy, and my irresponsible ass wasn’t good with my money. I didn’t start improving my mental health until I accepted the fact that I have mental health issues.
One way some of us get this whole acceptance thing twisted is by thinking just because we accept it, we need to like it.
When I first got sober, I asked my mom who is also in recovery, “Mom, they keep talking about acceptance, but this guy is a complete dick. Does this mean I need to be best friends with him and accept him?”. She replied, “No, you just need to accept that some people are assholes and may never change.”
This helped my outlook on all future situations, and it can help us quit wasting so much valuable time. Sure, we might have got a ticket for speeding, but how much energy and effort are we going to waste being mad? Are we going to let it ruin our day? Our week? Or, do we just accept it, figure out how to pay it and move on? If we feel it was an unjustified ticket, we accept it, and take the steps towards fighting it, and then we accept the results no matter what they may be.
Even with 7 years of practicing acceptance and managing my expectations, I still run into some roadblocks in certain situations, and this is where therapy has been a lifesaver. My therapist is great at helping me recognize that the main source of my suffering or frustrations is coming from a lack of acceptance and irrational expectations. By using methods like Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), I’m able to work through these things in a healthy way.
As I said, you’re a grown-ass adult so you can do whatever you want, but I’m letting you know from my experience that working on your willingness to accept things exactly the way they are is going to go a long way with bringing you peace and serenity.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 21, 2019.