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The psychology of extraordinariness: acceptance
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I'm reading
The psychology of extraordinariness: acceptance
Pass it on
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I'm reading
The psychology of extraordinariness: acceptance
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
13 March 2014

The psychology of extraordinariness: acceptance

Acceptance is about making room for the full spectrum of human emotion that colours our lives.

Written by Anna Box

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

For many the term ‘acceptance’ evokes images of Zen-like meditators doing seemingly very little, or nothing at all. For others it conjures up associations of being submissive, overly accommodating, or giving in. But nothing could be further from the truth. Look no further than to a change-maker you admire, and you will find acceptance. So what, in a nutshell, is acceptance all about? And why is it central to living a rich and meaningful life?

Beyond those people who seek to understand and knowingly practice acceptance, it remains a relatively misunderstood aspect of cognitive and spiritual thriving. First and foremost, acceptance is not passive. It’s active. It is absolutely doing something. And that something is not about giving up or giving in. Acceptance is about making room.

Making room for the full spectrum of human emotion that colours our lives. Allowing all emotions to exist by acknowledging those that bring comfort alongside those that bring discomfort. Not all thoughts and feelings are pleasurable to experience, and life is not about feeling ‘good’ all the time. Just as our physical goals can’t be achieved if we set out to avoid physical discomfort, so is the case with psychological growth. The discomfort and pain even, is essential to the process and necessary for any change to occur. Whether we like to think of ourselves as having psychological goals or not, life performance plays out mostly between the ears. Psychology—that is our experience of thoughts, feelings and perceptions—is front and centre.

Acceptance is about knowing this, and allowing room for a variety of thoughts and feelings to come and go—as opposed to avoiding, ignoring, or struggling with those that fail to bring pleasure. A simple metaphor of acceptance is waves rolling into the shore. Life brings ups and downs similar to the waves that come and go. While it’s human to wish at times the waves could stop, expecting them to do so is denial. Acceptance is learning to ride them.

The Dumbo Feather community is packed with examples of change-makers that demonstrate acceptance. And while some of them practice formal meditation and live overtly spiritual lives—many do not. Many juggle family, business, and creative demands as most of us do. Their skills in acceptance may not even be apparent or obvious to them… they just seem to do it.

Clare Bowditch is one of my favourite examples. She is a writer, musician, mother, and businesswoman whose decade-long and now realised dream, is to teach creative people more about business, and businesses more about creativity. Her own venture, Big Hearted Business, continues to attract a growing community of people with talent, great ideas, and passion. So did Clare ever make room for some emotional discomfort in order to make all of this happen? Absolutely. And, for a while there, did paralysis kick in while she waited for certain I’m not good enough feelings to abate? Seemingly so, because she’s human.

And this is what sets Clare apart. Her experience and intellectual property, though highly impressive, are only part of the deal. Her chemistry however, is irreplaceable. This is why she can light up the room with her insight. She’s been there, and she’s not afraid to share it. And by ‘been there’ I refer not to stage, screen, or creative success—I refer to her daring to feel vulnerable. “We can torture ourselves with, I’m not enough, I’m never enough, I don’t have this together, I don’t have that together. What if we’re fucking perfect? What if we’re completely exactly where we’re meant to be and the only challenge is to have the inner courage to be ourselves?  To be real?”

So having made room for the discomfort of certain thoughts and feelings, then what? Must they rule us in that very moment? In short, no.  Acceptance isn’t about wearing your heart on your sleeve—it’s more internal and disciplined than that. Acceptance is about signing up to live a life that is guided more by our values (what we want to stand for), and less by seeking to avoid feelings we consider uncomfortable. It’s about acknowledging that a rich and meaningful life brings feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty, so waiting for such feelings to disappear entirely can only lead to stagnation where nothing moves, nothing grows, and nothing changes.

In short, acceptance is committing to tackle the ‘analysis paralysis’ common to us all at times. “One of the reasons it took me so long to take Big Hearted Business seriously—it had been sitting there as a cocoon of an idea for a decade—I was terrified of letting go of the security that I had in my career as a musician. It was hard for me to make myself vulnerable”.  But she did it. And she’s alive to share that really good things happen when you lean beyond your comfort zone.

Acceptance remains a practice central to many ancient traditions, and far more is known about it than covered in this blog. The evolving fields of contextual behavioural science and positive psychology continue to explore acceptance and how it contributes to thriving in contemporary lives. And then there are people like Clare who nail what acceptance is all about in their own words:  “There’s a part of me that will always be tortured, because I’m a human being. But what if I’m not constantly playing to that bit? I had to stop trying to make it neat and accept it is messy. It is chaotic. This is the act of creation. This is what we’re part of.”

And that is why Clare Bowditch is a rock star. Literally and metaphorically.

Anna Box

Anna Box is a psychologist, consultant and writer who mashes the art of story with the science of thriving.

Feature image by David Abraham Michael

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