Action and Acceptance: Two Sides of a Good Life
April 22, 2019
In my own life, I’ve been thinking about the tension between action and acceptance. I’ve come to recognize that both are essential parts of living a good life. We can’t just have one or the other. We need both.
The first part of a good life is action. It’s absolutely essential to be able to take action and create the life you really want. So many people struggle to get moving and implement changes in their lives. They let life pass them by. Because of their inaction, they never build the type of life they really want.
I think there are two key aspects of action. The first is power. Nothing in your life changes unless you enact a powerful enough force to shake up the system. Things just don’t “happen.” You have to make them happen. Power allows you to do that. Power is closely linked to motivation. If you aren’t motivated, you won’t be able to muster up the energy you need to make a change. Motivation is all about tapping into your core values. What do you really want? What is most important to you? That’s where motivation and power come from.
The second key aspect of action is discipline. To make any significant change in your life, you have to sacrifice what you want right now (usually pleasure or relaxation) for what you want long-term. Most positive changes require hard work over a long period of time. This hard work isn’t often “fun,” like watching a movie or playing basketball. You have to be able to get yourself to do the hard things. That’s discipline.
There are limits to action, however. For example, we run into our physical, intellectual, and biological limitations. You might work as hard as you possible can and be the most disciplined person ever, but you still might not make it to the NBA. Everyone ages. We have limited power to change another person. Sometimes bad things, like a medical diagnosis or natural disaster, just happen. What do we do when we have tried our absolute hardest, and the outcome is still not what we desired?
That’s where acceptance comes in. Acceptance recognizes that we have some limitations as human beings. We can’t always get what we want. There is usually a space between our fantasy of how our lives will turn out, and our actual reality. This space is just the way it is, even if we are living a good life.
There are two key aspects of acceptance. The first is letting go. We all have a fantasy of what we would like our lives to be like. This fantasy might be general, but it also applies to specific situations. When we have done everything we can reasonably do to build our life how we would like it, we need to let go of our fantasy, grieve the loss of our fantasy, and learn to love what is. Letting go of our fantasy gives us the space to appreciate what we do have.
This brings us to the second key aspect of acceptance: gratitude. Gratitude is all about appreciating what we have. Most of us tend to focus on the negative and what is wrong. Gratitude counteracts this natural tendency and encourages us to focus on what is good. What in our lives are we thankful for? What is going well? What can we appreciate about our lives today?
Two Sides of a Coin
Action and acceptance are two sides of a coin. They seem like opposites, and in some ways, they are. Action involves trying to change or improve things, whereas acceptance involves letting go of our need for change and appreciating things just as they are. But to live effectively, we need both tools in our toolbox. We need to be able to apply action and acceptance flexibly, depending on what is required of us at that time.
When you think about your own life, do you tend to engage more in action, or more in acceptance? Which is more difficult for you? Whichever tool is more difficult for you to use could be a sign about your next area for growth.
For example, I like to stay in action. I like to change and improve things. Acceptance is more difficult for me. Because of this, I run into trouble and can get depressed if I run up against one of my limitations that won’t budge. Or I can have the tendency to try and control other people, which hurts my relationships. Acceptance is my work. What about you?
[…] Write down your answers to these questions. A big part of happiness is learning to differentiate when you need to act and when you need to accept. These questions can help you navigate down the right path, and save some grief in the […]
[…] people have the opposite problem—they struggle with acceptance. The reality is that even if we maximize our effort and discipline, there will be some things in […]