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How to Accept Reality Without Giving Up Your Dreams

Acceptance is key to a happy life. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, but to stop fighting reality.

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 15, 2019

Accepting reality does not mean resignation.

“It is what it is. It’ll become what you make of it.” — old proverb

Whatever we resist, persists.

Most people don’t want to be where they are — they are not comfortable in their own lives.

Whatever we fight, we make it stronger. What seems nasty or painful can be a burden or a source of growth. Being at war with reality is a choice — you became a casualty or make peace with life.

Acceptance is giving up the fight, not your dreams.

Acceptance Is Anything but Passive

“A weed is but an unloved flower.”― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Many people confuse acceptance with resignation. They believe it means lowering their bar, stop caring, or just quitting. On the contrary, you can’t improve something you don’t fully accept first.

Acceptance is experiencing life fully without resistance. You stop trying to change what you can’t control. And, instead, focus on what you can: yourself.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “For, after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” Acceptance is recognizing that it might rain whether you like it or not. An umbrella can keep you dry, but you can’t stop the rain.

Noah Rasheta uses Tetris as an analogy to explain how people deal with reality. To win, we must position the piece that comes next in the best way possible. We can’t choose their shapes though — we must adapt to whatever piece the game throws at us.

When we try to control the game, we get stuck. “That’s not the shape I was expecting. That’s not the one I need!” You don’t win on Tetris by yelling but by positioning the pieces the best way possible. What you do matters more than how you emotionally react — a lot like life.

We get paralyzed when things don’t go as planned— we see things through a lens of anger and fear. Acceptance helps us neutralize frustration. It gives us permission. Instead of getting stuck fighting reality, we jump into action.

Acceptance is a choice — you decide to play with the pieces you get instead of expecting them to have a different shape.

That doesn’t mean condoning harmful situations. You simply recognize that you are in a specific situation but must choose what you are going to do with it. Acceptance is not passive behavior — when you struggle against the pain, you create unnecessary suffering. Most people fail to change because they start from the wrong place. You can’t improve yourself, your workplace, or relationships if you don’t accept your current state first.

When we accept ‘what it is,’ we gain clarity — we focus on what’s under our control. You work on what you’ll make of something rather than wishing something else to happen.

Acceptance is not surrendering your dreams but to stop fighting a pointless war with life.

The Opposite of Acceptance Is Avoidance

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” — Nathaniel Branden

Most of our trouble is self-inflicted — we keep expecting things to be different, versus accepting them as they are. That’s why we are always trying to change other people too.

We avoid the truth of life: things are not under our control. We are not perfect. We can’t change others. And we can’t control the future. We can’t change the past either. We can’t expect people to think or react as we would. We will all die. When we accept this universal truth it’s easier to accept more straightforward matters.

Acceptance is letting go of the need for control.

You can’t face what you don’t understand. You can’t act on what you fail to see either. The first of the twelve steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is admitting that we cannot control our addictions. Acceptance requires courage — you must confront, not avoid, yourself.

To accept reality, we must experience it first.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) describes our mind as a problem-solving machine.

A problem is something unwanted — we find a solution to get rid of it. Experiential avoidance is escaping from our thoughts, feelings, memories, and other undesired experiences — even if that harms us in the long-run.

For example, take the case of a leader who’s not getting the results promised to his/her stakeholders. Acceptance means acknowledging that he/she must either adjust the forecast or change the strategy. Sticking to the same plan is avoidance — to keep acting as if everything is fine.

Mindfulness expert Tara Brach defines acceptance as “recognizing the truth of this moment without resistance.”

‘Acceptance’ in ACT means opening up — we make room for uncomfortable experiences such as feeling, sensations, urges, or emotions. We give them some breathing space and allow them to be as they are. We don’t resist the truth of the moment.

Opening up doesn’t mean liking everything but not running away from what we dislike. To accept the actual feelings you have about a situation. You are open to experience it fully. When you take things as they are, you can choose a wise response over an emotionally charged reaction.

Eckhart Tolle said, “Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

Trying to suppress our subjective experience — in response to suffering — is the opposite of acceptance. Saying yes to reality is not resignation. You confront the piece instead of complaining because you expected a different shape.

Appreciation is focusing on your potential — when you stop fighting reality, life starts working for you.

Surrender to the Moment

“Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and become comfortable with not knowing.” — Eckhart Tolle

How do we transition from resistance to acceptance?

We must surrender.

That’s what Eckhart Tolle, the most popular spiritual author as per The New York Times, recommends. We must get past the ‘like-dislike’ reactive relationship with reality. To allow the moment to be as it is. Resisting reality adds stress to our lives.

Are you creating unnecessary conflict between the inner and external world?

Most people don’t want to be where they are, according to Tolle. We don’t want to be in traffic jams, airport security checkpoints or toxic workplaces, to name a few. Sometimes, walking out is a good option. But, constant escapism is dysfunctional — we turn avoidance into a habit.

Surrender means transitioning from resistance to acceptance — we say ‘yes’ to life.

We realize that living is less painful when we don’t expect specific things to happen in the future. We focus on doing our best with the pieces we receive. We stop defining ourselves in good-or-bad terms. And make space to observe ‘what is.’

If you don’t surrender to the moment, you will surrender your happiness. You can’t appreciate what you have if you are always fighting reality.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) uses the term ‘Defusion’ to describe the ability to separate ourselves from our thoughts. We must learn to observe our thoughts, not to see life through them — acceptance is gaining clarity by ‘removing the fog.’

To surrender means accepting this moment, not the story you tell yourself about this moment. You cultivate the ability to face difficult thoughts and emotions in the service of achieving what you want the most.

Stop asking, “why is this happening to me?” Instead, focus on what you can do with what you have. When you stop placing impossible demands on your life, everything becomes more satisfying, more peaceful — you don’t need to be at war with reality.

Acceptance is a skill that requires practice. You still will feel frustration or disappointment, but you won’t additional and unnecessary pain. Practicing acceptance in everyday situations will help you prepare to accept more challenging ones.

Surrender to the moment but don’t give up winning the game of life.

What do you think?



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