“It is, what it is.” For years, these blunt pearls of wisdom irked me. I associated them with people who were feeling defeated and had a ‘life sucks’ attitude. I also heard an underlying ‘get over it’ message that to me was invalidating. It was the practice of radical acceptance that helped me find value in this matter of fact mentality.
Radical acceptance is letting go of what you cannot change and accepting reality as it is. Pain in life is inevitable. Wishing things were different only prolongs the suffering. Imagine you are on your way to work and while stopped at a red light, someone rear-ends you. The damage is not severe, but you end up being late to work and you need some small repairs. The accident, the tardiness to work, and the car repairs are a pain. However, you can actively manage the amount of suffering in this situation. Allowing yourself to dwell on the inconveniences and complaining to others will naturally trigger feelings of frustration and anger. If you follow the radical acceptance steps below, you can move on quicker from this or other painful situations.
Steps to Radical Acceptance
1. Notice when you are fighting reality with what if, should, or why language. “That driver should have been paying attention! Why did this happen to me?” Acknowledge that fighting what happened does not change anything and leads to more unpleasant feelings.
2. State the facts. “I was rear ended and need some repairs,” is likely to illicit softer feelings. Statements like, “That driver who hit me is an idiot! My whole week is ruined!” are not factual and will lead to more painful emotions.
3. Bring yourself back to the present. If your thoughts are traveling to an incident or aspect of your life that you wish could change, use mindfulness to bring yourself to the present moment. Take 5 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Name 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste.
4. Pick your favorite radical acceptance mantra and repeat it often.
This moment is just as it is meant to be.
I cannot change the past.
Although they are uncomfortable, my emotions cannot hurt me.
These are just thoughts.
I can only control myself and my own actions.
Fighting the past blinds me to the present.
The present moment is the only moment I have control over.
Radical acceptance allows you to validate your experience with precise language without getting caught up in a hamster wheel of negative thoughts. The next time you encounter an inevitable pain, give yourself a break from prolonged suffering with the gentle approach of radical acceptance.