In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility. Valued Living, Mindfulness, Acceptance, Commitment, Observing Self, and Disentanglement (Anstiss & Blonna, 2014). In this post I want to focus on Acceptance.
Acceptance has four components:
- accepting reality for what it is
- accepting what you can and cannot control
- accepting that trying to avoid, eliminate, or control painful internal factors actually makes them worse
- accepting that the best way to manage painful internal factors is to accept them, and co-exist with them as you shift your focus off of them and onto taking values-congruent action l
Let me spend a few moments discussing these four components.
Accepting Reality For What it Is
The Japanese call this arugamama, accepting reality for what it is. Accepting reality for what it is implies two things, (1) you accept whatever thoughts and unpleasant feelings you are experiencing at the moment and (2) you accept that experiencing painful and troubling thoughts and feelings is part of being human. If you can accept these two fundamental truths, you can begin to shift your attention away from these troubling and painful thoughts and emotions and begin focusing on some purposeful work. In time the negative thoughts and emotions fade and are no longer stressful (Krech, 2002).
Accepting something and being willing to move forward while coexisting with it doesn’t mean you necessarily want it. It just means that you admit that it exists and you don’t deny it. It also means that you accept the fact that most of the goals you set for yourself will not come easy and will involve sacrifice, discipline and pain and suffering. You accept the existence of your pain and suffering as a starting point for dealing with it.
Accepting What You Can and Cannot Control
Acceptance training revolves around learning to accept things that are beyond your control. There are two sets of factors related to control; internal factors and external factors. Internal factors are the things that go on in your mind; your thoughts, personal scripts, mental images, and emotions. These internal factors come and go like the wind and most are beyond your conscious control. For example, if I told you to “feel happy”, you could not simply close your eyes and conjure up happiness. Similarly you could not summon up sadness, lust, or any other feeling.
External factors relate to your behavior and your environment. While you cannot control most of your thoughts or feelings, you can control your behavior. You can choose how you behave in relation to your thoughts and feelings. There is a relationship between behavior and thoughts and feelings. For instance, you can trigger happy feelings by doing something that you know makes you feel joy. For example, I know from past experience that going for a sunrise run along the beach on my native Marco Island triggers feelings of joy and euphoria. If I want to experience those emotions I could simply go for a sunrise run along the beach and chances are I could trigger those feelings. You also have some degree of control over your micro-environment (home, work space, car etc.). You can make modifications to any of these to enhance your mental well-being.
Accepting That Trying to Avoid, Eliminate, or Control Painful Internal Factors Actually Makes Them Worse
The most important aspect of acceptance—and the one that makes it the key component of AC Coaching—is the fact that when clients try to avoid, control, or eliminate painful thoughts and feelings, they actually worsen. AC Coaching isn’t based on speculation or mysticism. It’s based on solid Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)-based psychological research that studies the relationships among language, emotions, and behavior (Luoma, Hayes, and Walser 2007). Another key point is that clients cannot control, avoid, or eliminate their troubling thoughts and painful emotions by trying to figure them all out in their heads. Clients need to accept that trying to avoid, control, or eliminate troubling thoughts and painful emotions by figuring them out in their heads only makes them worse (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes & Roche, 2001, Luoma, Hayes, & Walser, 2007).
You Can’t Figure Them All Out in Your Head
Accepting that the best way to manage painful internal factors is to accept them, and co-exist with them as you shift your focus off of them and onto taking values-congruent action
Instead of trying to control pain and suffering (and the self-talk that accompanies it), AC Coaching and ACT use acceptance and commitment to reduce pain and suffering by helping people learn how to coexist with it, while taking values-congruent action. In a sense, you teach clients how to take their troubling thoughts and painful emotions with them as they take valued action. In time, clients learn that they do not need to control, avoid, or eliminate their pain and suffering to take action and meet their goals.
A key component of coexisting with troubling thoughts and painful emotions while taking valued action is helping clients learn how to shift their focus off of them and onto behavior that is congruent with their values.
This involves being more willing to engage in helpful behavior and create more helpful environments. ACT studies found that control and willingness are inversely related; the more people try to control troubling thoughts
and painful emotions, the less willing they are to take action.Conversely, the more people are willing to accept troubling thoughts and painful feelings, the less they need to control them in order to act. Giving up control
and being willing to take values-related action, while coexisting with pain and suffering, is a key step in AC Coaching. 11,12,14,19
Krech (2002) believes that the best way for clients to shift their attention away from themselves (and their thoughts and feelings) is to engage in constructive action that involves the large muscle groups working at a moderate to fast pace. Any kind of work or play that involves this kind of activity will eventually take clients minds off of themseves and their problems.
Krech’s (and one of my) personal favorite is playing basketball. Basketball is a fast-paced game involving explosive use of the legs and arms. It involves random, fast-paced motion and is physically demanding. Chopping firewood, turning over soil in the garden, raking leaves, and washing the floor by hand are all examples of household activities that involve larger muscle activity and are physically demanding.
It is important to remind your clients that besides engaging in the work, it is also important for them to focus their attention on the work, not their troubling thoughts and painful emotions. This is called being fully involved in the present moment. Explain to them that if they find their attention drifting back to their problems and the negative thoughts and painful feelings that accompany them, they need to shift their focus to the behavior they are engaged in.
Using the basketball example, they could pay attention to the feel of the basketball itself. A basketball has a pebbled finish (little rubber dimples that improve your grip) and is criss-crossed by recessed seams. When they are dribbling and shooting, they should pay attention pay attention to the feel of the ball’s finish and the seams. They could use the seams to get a better grip and put rotation on their shots as they release from their fingertips. Tell them to pay attention to the actual release and feel the ball as it spins off of their fingertips when they shoot. Next they could watch their shots spin off their fingertips, move through the air, and swish of the net as they hit home.
Learning to accept and co-exist with troubling thoughts and painful emotions while taking values-congruent action is not easy. It takes practice and repetition but in the long run is well worth the effort as it is a key to increasing psychological flexibility.
My AC Coaching Course will show you how to help your clients become more psychologically flexible by using Acceptance and other easy to learn techniques derived from AC Coaching and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Find out more by getting a free copy of my Training Course. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free .
Antiss, T., Blonna, R. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Coaching. in Passmore, J. Ed. (2014). Mastery in Coaching :A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaching. London: Kogan Page Publishing.
Krech, G. (2002). Naikan: Grace, gratitude, and the Japanese art of self-reflection . Berkeley, CA: Stone
Luoma, J.B., Hayes, S.C., & Walser, R.D. (2007). Learning ACT: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
skills-training manual for therapists. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.