The one thing in life we can count on to remain constant is fact that things are always changing. Change is like the undercurrent of an ocean. It’s always there, surrounding us. It affects us whether we like it or not. One minute, the waves of change are imperceptible and we float along feeling peaceful and safe. And then, without warning, the tide suddenly shifts. The waves grow bigger and become more threatening. They crash down on us, creating a sense of panic and instability. How do we navigate choppy waters when we find ourselves up the creek without a paddle?
The balance between acceptance and change
When we find ourselves in unpleasant and distressing circumstances, our first instinct as human is to spend a lot of energy resisting or avoiding the situation. It seems helpful in the moment because we are preventing ourselves from experiencing suffering. But how would it play out if we caught in an actual riptide? Would we say to ourselves “hmm, this is quite unpleasant…maybe I will feel better if I pretend this isn’t happening to me”. Of course not. Nor would we resist the situation by fighting against the current–that would be self-sabotaging and just lead to more unnecessary suffering.
This is where the balance of acceptance and change takes place. To cope effectively with any unpleasant situation, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. That is not the same as condoning or approving the situation we are in, or resigning ourselves to our fate. Acceptance involves recognizing and embracing the current circumstances and ourselves or others as they are. It is about acknowledging reality and finding peace with it.
Change, on the other hand, represents the desire or need for improvement and growth. It involves challenging the status quo, exploring new ideas and taking actions to bring about positive transformations. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. It is then that we can begin to look at all the piece of the puzzle, determine what you have control over and identify potential action steps. Just like the riptide, reality will not change for the worse or better just because we accept that it exists.
The virtue of patience
It is natural to experience fear and uncertainty when conditions are tumultuous. It can seem like that the storm will never pass and we wonder how we will survive. But eventually, the storm does pass and things do quiet down. Embracing reality can be distressing. But it is important to ourselves that life is inherently full highs and lows downs, and that we have experienced and survived all of the ups and downs in the past. In times when we don’t have control, all we can do is patient and ride out the storm.
Reflect upon what strategies you have been using to deal with unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself honestly if those strategies resulted in less suffering and made the problems go away. Most people would likely say that they intentionally or unintentionally “check out” from unpleasant feelings or ruminate on them—making things feel completely out of control.
Here are a few points to consider:
- CULTIVATE SELF-AWARENESS: Develop a deep understanding of yourself, your emotions, and your reactions to different situations. Recognize your strengths and vulnerabilities. Simultaneously, develop self-compassion and accept your strengths and weaknesses, embracing yourself as a work in progress.
EMBRACE IMPERMANENCE: Understand that life is inherently in flux. The ups and downs are temporary, and no situation, whether positive or negative, lasts forever. Embracing this impermanence can help you maintain perspective during difficult times and appreciate the good moments.
- BUILD A SUPPORT NETWORK: Surround yourself with supportive and positive people who can offer guidance, empathy, and encouragement during tough times. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, family members, or a therapist. Knowing that you have a network of support can provide a sense of security and resilience.
- DEVELOP RESILIENCE: The journey of life is challenging and setbacks are inevitable. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Cultivate a mindset that will allow you to embrace these setbacks as part of the process and learn from them.
- CREATE PERSONAL BOUNDARIES: Understand your own limits and boundaries. While change is important, it’s essential to maintain a healthy balance and not push yourself beyond what you can handle. Self-care and self-preservation are essential for long-term well-being.
- PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: Cultivate mindfulness by staying present in the moment, without judgment or attachment. Mindfulness can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, and enhance your overall well-being. Focus on the present rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
The balance between acceptance and change is an important aspect of personal growth and societal progress. Embracing acceptance allows for peace and contentment, while change fuels growth and progress. Keep the two simple lessons in mind and know that you have the freedom and competence to chart your own course though life.
Seeking Mental Health Support
If you find yourself struggling with the ups and downs of life and are unable to cope effectively, consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!
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