Acceptance of What is vs. Changing What You Don’t Like.

Ever learned how to surf? Surfers will tell you it’s about being patient and accepting the ocean just as she is. You have to be present to the moment if you are to be ready. To ride the next wave as it changes energy and crashes to the shore you have to be open to accept what it is, as it is. Today we are looking at how to use self regulation to bring acceptance to the moment you are in, not the one you wish was happening.

Many people I see in my office are able to regulate themselves when things are going good. When things get challenging however … many struggle to maintain practices that keep them focused on what is working. 

Many ask me how they are supposed to maintain hope when things are hard. It is a tricky dance between acceptance of what is and awareness of what is not wanted. Holding this paradigm in balance can help make sure you are focused on what is working and what needs to be changed. This can be a tough balance to find and relies on maintaining enough self regulation to help yourself be present to what is, just as it is.  

An easy way to remember how to care for yourself is the acronym HALT. Are you:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

If you are any of these things you will be more irritable and struggle more relationships and completing daily activities. As you work on taking care of yourself, making sure these areas are covered goes a long way toward helping you handle difficult situations with grace. 

Let’s break down each of the letters into actionable steps. It is here that you have power and control. You may not be able to change the situation you are in, however you can change how you are orienting to it and how you show up. Thus helping yourself accept what is, just as it is.

H – Are you hungry? Then eat. A nice balance of good fats, protein, and carbohydrate goes a long way to help you regulate your emotional experience. In its basic form, this is about taking care of physical needs, however, it can be about much more. If you have enough to eat but still feel hungry, what are you hungry for? What are you feeding yourself? Is it nutritious? Does it fill you? Think about not only the food you eat but the media, music, social experiences, physical spaces you find yourself in. Are they nourishing or do they feel depleted and bland? Take care to feed all of your senses well. Without nourishing intake you will feel empty and life will lose its sweetness. When those things happen we begin eating for reasons other than physical hunger. 

A – How are you with your anger? Many of us were taught that anger is bad or violent. That is not true. Anger is only violent when you act out violently to discharge it. It is only “bad” when the results of your actions have created further complications (guilt and shame) to deal with. When we are suppressing anger it leads to all sorts of issues. 

Anger revs up our inflammation system, thus we feel more body aches, joint pain, have concentration issues, memory problems, and heart stress. It wrecks havoc on many of our tissues because all that extra inflammation has no where to go. It cycles through the body looking for an outlet only to circle through the system again and again. 

Emotionally suppressed anger often leads the despair that underlies depression. When you feel so trapped to influence anything well, the world looks pretty hopeless. I often coach people to feel their anger in little bits. This keeps it manageable,. As noted above may of us have seen and experienced negative outbursts of anger. Anger doesn’t have to be explosive, but it does need to move out. Anger’s job is to help you notice something unjust or when a boundary has been crossed. It is a catalystic emotion, one that makes change happen. It wants something done and feels better once expressed. It is in the expression mistakes of acting out are made in ways we are not proud of.  

Learning how to gather the information and then make decisions based on the most effective expression of those emotions is called emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is something we all learn. Emotions are just here to give us information. Once we get the information and respond to them, rather than impulsively react, they dissipate. 

L – Feeling lonely, even in a crowd. There is a great quote on the poster “How to Build a Community” it says, “no one is silent, though many are not heard”.  Often we feel like no one is listening to us even when they ask for our thoughts. Many of us do not have someone in our lives who can deeply hear us, beyond our words and actions, but really hear what underlies our experiences. Sometimes we can’t even hear ourselves at this level. 

Again on a basic level, if you are feeling lonely reach out to your support system. Get around people where you can smile and feel at least a little connected. Notice how you keep yourself disconnected when you are in a crowd. Do you go to the coffee shop and make no eye contact, wear your headphones, and make sure you are nowhere near another body? You might want to take off your headphones and try to make some eye contact, you can decide how close to stand in line, but paying attention to natural connections in our surroundings is a way to begin to reconnect the world. If you are feeling lonely in a crowd it may be time to start doing therapy to experience the sensations of being deeply heard or to learn skills to be more effective in your communication patterns

T – Tired. This could be truly physical, you didn’t sleep well last night or it could be deeper and more extreme like I am tired in my being. If you are feeling physically tired, work to get better quality sleep by practicing sleep hygiene. If you are feeling tired in your being you might want to look at the emotional load you are carrying. Many of us are unaware of our deep sadness, anger, or fear, it has always been there. It may be something that was handed to us by our families and so we know it well. 

Or it might be that life has been hard and you are weary of the burdens related to living or losing. In this case, relieving the fatigue is about taking a life inventory and beginning to get rid of that which no longer serves you, grieve what you have lost, and work to build positive experiences into your day no matter how small. Again, this may require the help of a professional and someone who can really support you through your process. 

As you work to help yourself navigate changes in your life with grace, remember it is acceptance of what is that makes all the difference. It does not mean you have to like it, want it, or agree with it … but you do have to accept it is what you are dealing with if you want to shift. 

By taking care of these 4 areas you are already moving toward being able to move through change with less disruption and strife. 

Want to feel more regulated and in control of yourself? Remember: HALT

  • Hungry – feed yourself well. This included nutritious foods as well as everything you consume – media, social experiences, music, art, nature, anything you let into your body.
  • Angry – feel your feelings, notice what boundary needs to be set and take action in a productive way. Work to let it out a little at a time if it feels too big to do at once. Be patient with yourself. This can be difficult. 
  • Lonely – reach out to a member of your support crew. Notice how you keep yourself separate and defend against connecting. Work to engage with your environment and others with more ease. 
  • Tired – get some rest. Even a small break, short walk, or simple breathing exercise will help shift your mood. Get some sunshine. Sunshine is known to help raise energy levels. If you are feeling the heavy burdens of living life, get some support and help to determine what you can let go of and what to keep. Then learn new skills to cope with in more healthy ways that leave you feeling energetic not depleted.  

Upcoming Programs:

Focus on What Works

Today focus on what you want and ignore all those things you do not want.

Do not waste your energy focused on what is not working.

Note the problem, create a solution, and move in the direction you want to go. Do not look back. What is done, is done. Just move forward.

Make Yourself More Happy … Turn the other cheek

Think you have to meet violence with more violence – physical, emotional, or spoken? Think again. By using effective communication skills and the art of grace, you can be happier regardless of how the people around you are acting. Practice finding the light in everyone you meet today.

Turn the other cheek is something many of us have been taught as we grew up in a society that works to have moral rules, laws, and structure.

Today give someone the benefit of the doubt. Offer them grace as you find yourself frustrated, stressed, annoyed, or irritated by another person or situation. Look for the light in the situation and in the other people involved.

If this is hard re-read last week’s conversation on communication here

Finding the Light in Others

Ready to challenge yourself to let go judgment and negative thinking patterns? Read on to take the challenge and make your life better.

One of the hardest things is finding the best qualities of those we do not like. However, if you can muster this level of compassion, empathy, and kindness your life gets better. One of the reasons we struggle so much to show a high level of acceptance is judgment. Many of us are plagued by judgment. We judge ourselves, others, situations, places, you name it we judge it. 

Now judgment is not all bad. I am grateful I am able to judge how another driver is driving. Not to call them an asshole and flip the bird, but so I can determine how to pass, if to pass, or just move away from them. We need judgment to help us navigate the world without being overwhelmed by every decision we have to make to get through our day. 

Judgment becomes problematic when we use it to shame ourselves and others. The more we judge, the more scared of authentic connection we become. We shut parts of ourselves down so we do not become vulnerable to the judgment of others. We hide pieces of ourselves to fit in. We eliminate potential experiences to stay safe in what we know and avoid being judged by others for being different. Thus our unique gifts are marginalized and the world loses out on our full expression of ourselves. 

Today work on finding the light in others. Start with those you like (can be yourself) and move toward those who are neutral in your life – like the store clerk you see regularly. Finally, try and find the good in those you do not like or even hate. Remember it is not all or nothing. You do not have to like all of them or even the majority of them, just aim to find something positive about them no matter how small. Aim to practice this for a week or so and notice the changes in your life. I guarantee (I do not do this often) if you do this for a period of time, life gets easier and your negative self/other talk gets quieter. 

Align With Your Authentic Self

Last time we discussed how getting out and being alone can help us “hear” ourselves talk. As we spend more time with ourselves we build a strong sense of self and deeper connection to the type of person we want to be.

As great as this sounds. It can be really, really, really, hard to develop your best self. Especially if you have trouble hearing your own voice over the loud, sometimes very loud voice of society. Last post, we looked at values and how to determine your value set. Now we’ll look at how to put the values you identified into action and create your next best self. 

First, determine which values are your top priorities. These might be overarching themes that help guide you in a variety of places (i.e. be kind to all people) or they may be specific and help set you up for successful decision-making (i.e. family is important to me). Once you have the themes and/or specifics, making daily decisions to live your most authentic self gets easier. If your top value is be kind, you know you need to work on being kind to every person you encounter regardless of differences. If you view family as most important, any decision that takes you away from a family connection should be evaluated to determine if it moves you closer to your goal of deepening your connection to family members or moves you away from those connections. If it moves you away, you say no. 

Next, take a solid look at your life. Are you doing things everyday to show that these are the most important values to you? Many people talk a great game about family, relationships, health, work, etc, however when you look at their lives they are not working out or eating healthy, spending time with friends when they say family matters most, watching  A LOT of TV instead of being present to their kids – you get the picture. Are you talking the talk AND walking the walk around what’s most important to you? If not it’s time to change things up in your daily routine. 

As you take a hard look at your life, what habits and beliefs can you shed to move closer to your goals? Begin by writing down your daily routine. When you wake up what’s the 1st thing you do? Then the 2nd? 3rd? And so on. As you examine your routines in detail you will find there are places you can eliminate wasteful current behaviors and replace with those that get you where you want to go. If you find this overwhelming hire a therapist or a coach to help you step back from your daily grind and create the life you want, not just the one you were handed. Once you know what you want to do differently it’s time to set up practice. 

According to Magen and DeLisser (2017) experiential learning (learning by doing) is an effective way to to learn. The environment that set up practice in their program helped trainees learn skills in a safe, comfortable environment. Practice looks different for different folks. You might need to break your new behavior into small steps and practice the small steps until they become routine; only then move to the next step in the process. Other changes will require you tackle a bigger project and dedicate some time and space to trying out your new behavior in a variety of environments to find success. As you look toward behavior change, recognize it’s hard and possible. With some planning and support you can become whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, and grow into your best self.

Once you’ve set your new behaviors in motion you have to assess along the way. Is your new behavior working? Impacting your life the way you want it to? Adding value and authenticity to your living? Cutrer et al., (2017) state “individuals learn and innovate in response to practice challenges”, (pg 70) and report reflection and self assessment are a critical pieces to help move from those uncomfortable places of new behavior change to integrating new skills until they become second nature. Through self assessment we can acknowledge what is working and what isn’t, making micro changes to study the experience of trying new things, and adjusting until it’s just the way we want it … at least until we decide we want the next change. 

Finally, you have changed to the point of being a different person in the environments you wanted to shift. You have aligned your new behaviors with the values you determined matter to you most, and have enlisted reflection and assessment to help you make small shifts until it was exactly what you wanted.

Now, some advice for along the way. Making changes can be hard. Really hard. It may impact the way friends and family relate to you and/or how you relate to them and activities you used to do together. In my work, I often work with people who are struggling to change while those in their environments aren’t helpful. In fact, they may even encounter people they love sabotaging their efforts. Often this isn’t malicious, just a response to the fact that as you change you impact those around you, and they may not want to change. They may like the patterns you’ve set and feel threatened by your personal development. Your development may require that they become more responsible for things around the house or in your relationship, or it may require they release some control. There are all sorts of ways we impact each other and ways to work with change to make the bumps easier. If you feel overwhelmed by this idea, get some support. A good friend who believes in you, a therapist, a support group, a coach, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a health coach can all be options. Check out this previous poston behavior change and setting realistic goals to help focus your efforts.

So as you look through your values list and contemplate your next steps, it’s important to evaluate a few things. What makes them so important to you? Are these values yours? Not initiated by an outside source (i.e. person, group, etc), but really yours? This step is important as you begin to determine life changes. You’ll need to understand why these values matter to you. Your why keeps you motivated and buoys the hard times during the change process you’ll inevitably face. Once you have your why and know the changes needed to align your life with your values list, you’ll be able to put into place daily practices and rituals that help you meet your authentic self right where she belongs  … with you at all times.

References:

Cutrer, W. B., Miller, B., Pusic, M. V., Mejicano, G., Mangrulkar, R. S., Gruppen, L. D., … Moore, D. E. (2017). Fostering the development of master adaptive learners: A conceptual model to guide skill acquisition in medical education. Academic Medicine, 92(1), 70-75. 

Magen, E., DeLisser, H. M. (2017). Best practices in relational skills training for medical trainees and providers: An essential element of addressing adverse childhood experiences and promoting resilience. Academic Pediatrics, 17(7S), S102-S107.