One of my favourite quotes is from the author Will Garcia, who writes: “The first step toward change is acceptance. Once you accept yourself, you open the door to change. That’s all you have to do. Change is not something you do, it is something you allow.” I find that such an empowering concept, and it also comes as something of a relief for those of us who expect change to be effortful and exhausting.
Some people are instinctively suspicious of the idea of acceptance – they think it means resigning yourself to a bad situation, or sheer laziness in the face of a new behaviour or situation. But think of it this way for a moment: if your partner or best friend told you they were unhappy with a particular behaviour or habit of yours, had been fed up with it for ages, and wanted you to be different immediately or they’d be very unhappy, how would you feel? Would that kind of approach inspire you to change, or would you feel hurt, angry and defensive, and more likely to continue with the same behaviour?
Nagging someone we love to change rarely produces the results we desire, or if it does, they are usually short-lived and accompanied by much resentment. But if they make a gentle observation, follow it up with facts and information, and then give us the space we need to decide if we want to change or not, without coercion or emotional blackmail, we are far more likely to see their point of view and decide to alter our behaviour for our own good. Their acceptance of us as we are is essential for us to feel safe and comfortable enough to change.
In the same way, we need to accept ourselves and the situation we would like to change before we can move forward in a positive and healthy way. When we are feeling attacked and defensive, we waste a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy that would be much better used creating strategies for change. We obsess with thoughts of blame and “shoulds” and excuses, none of which will help us achieve the change we desire.
Of course, if you’re used to giving yourself a hard time, you’ll need to practice the habit of acceptance. Start small, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a big mental leap to make all at once. It could be as simple as accepting the fact that there’s nothing you can do to make the rush-hour traffic go faster, or accepting that a delivery you were expecting didn’t turn up on time. Instead of rushing headfirst into blame and anger, try and physically relax yourself. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes. The fact is that no amount of trying to force things to be different can change the impossible. By giving yourself some space and time to relax, you’re far more likely to come up with practical solutions to your current situation rather than waste time and energy focusing on how things “should” be.
When we are in a state of calm about our present circumstances and have accepted things, and people exactly as they are (and this includes ourselves) then we can work on the change we so desire.