It Is What It Is
Recently I went camping up the coast with my brother and a few mates. We’ve been going on this annual trip for over 20 years now. This time it was a little different, as it happened to coincide with the once-in-a-hundred year rain event that saw large parts of the Mid North Coast flood.
Rock fishing is one of the main activities, and getting to our particular spot involves a two-kilometre walk along the headland through some pretty dodgy terrain. We knew we’d be trudging through water and mud up to our knees, which didn’t terribly excite me. My brother, the Rex Hunt of our group, noted my reluctance and yelled, “Come on mate, it’s only water, what’s the worst that could happen?” After contemplating his remark, I decided to accept that I was going to get filthy and just went with it.
It was quite a liberating feeling. Sure, I might get wet, cold and muddy, but by simply accepting this fact it allowed me to see the situation for what it was and pushed me to move on. With fishing rods in hand and a fresh new mindset, off we plodded, only to come back hours later with a bucket full of fish. I felt glad I went.
The concept of acceptance is a technique often used in therapy to help people cope with the situation they find themselves in. The type of therapy in particular is called ‘acceptance and commitment therapy’ (ACT), and was first pioneered by Dr Stephen C. Hayes back in the 1980s. ACT has one central message; to accept what is out of your personal control and commit to action that improves and enriches your life. ACT revolves around the idea that distress or pain is actually increased when we focus on trying to get rid of it, so instead of trying to get rid of it we can just accept it. This doesn’t mean we should try and defeat such feelings, but rather we allow the painful emotions to be present and create room for them without trying to struggle against them.
Let’s try another example using the acceptance technique. Say it’s a hot sunny day, you’re down at the beach and you get caught out as you realise you forgot your sunscreen. You may simply say, “I might get a bit burnt,” and accept that you’re going to get a bit fried. It doesn’t mean you won’t find some way to cope like finding shade, nor does it mean you’re pleased about getting sunburnt; it simply means you are seeing things as they are and accepting it. With a thought or an emotion, by accepting we are simply recognising that the thought or emotion exists, like an outside observer standing back in a non-judgemental way, not trying to control what is happening in the present moment.
Acceptance is essentially saying, ‘It is what it is’. It gives us the power to see things for how they are and not ruminate, criticize or complain, especially when the situation or experience is out of our control.
An exercise I often use in therapy is to ask what’s the worst that could happen, and what does that mean? Say you get a flat tyre on your way to work and you can feel you’re getting angry. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen and what does that mean?” You might answer, “Well, I’ll be late, miss the 10am meeting I’d scheduled and get yelled at by the boss.” Ask the question again, “What’s the worst that could happen and what does that mean?” You answer, “I’ll have to call the boss, explain what’s happened and ask everyone to reschedule.” Keep asking the question, and before long the impact of the situation will have whittled down to practically nothing. In essence, we are using this exercise to help us accept something that’s happened and park it in the here and now. The technique can be used as a way to cope with most situations regardless of the magnitude.
The take-home message? By accepting it we are not suppressing it. Easier said than done, but perhaps worth a try.
Have you got a question? Please contact Jeremy at bondicounsellingservices.com.