We all have persistent problems we are currently experiencing, or problems from the past that simply won’t go away; they haunt us. They disturb our sleep and come to us whenever our mind isn’t fully occupied. We dwell on them, our mood goes dark and we become anxious, angry, fearful, resentful and depressed. People tell us to “get over it”, “let it go” or “just move on”. It is good advice, but it tells us only what to do, not how to do it. But when we dwell on these things we bring ourselves down. For some things we need to recognise that what’s done is done; there’s nothing further to be done to change the event so continuing to think on it will yield no benefit. We need to accept them for what they are and move on. But accepting things that we deeply want to be different is difficult. Some issues keep coming back into our minds seeking resolution, and we never find it, so they keep coming back and going around and around. We need to find ways to bring these problems to a conclusion so that they don’t keep coming back. This post looks at ways of engaging these problems to bring them to permanent closure. The way to do this is to accept them for what they are; unchangeable, and in order to do this (when we’ve failed to be able to do so in the past) is to find a new way of looking at them.
“Accept” is a verb; it is an active process not a passive one. If we can’t change a situation we don’t like then we must change the way we think about it, or continue to suffer. The trick here is in finding the key that allows us to change the way we perceive the issue, and this takes deliberate thought. The more issues we are able to bring to closure, the more the pains of their past are diminished and the brighter is our mood. It is quite difficult to do, but it is a task well worth the effort… it makes us happier.
If a particular issue cannot be changed then it must be “accepted” for it to cease to cause us distress. In this case “accept” means we have to come to fully believe that an issue, or the outcome of an issue, can’t be changed. I.e. it happened in the past and there’s nothing to be done to change it, or it is happening now or in the future and it is inevitable. Dwelling on this matter further will never achieve a different result, it will only bring anguish. We have to change that. We have to change our emotional experience of the problem. We have to change the issues from being “but it is wrong!” to “I don’t like it, but I understand why it is so”. When we achieve this then the issue will cease to be constantly presented for resolution; our brain accepts that, unsatisfactory as it is, it is as resolved as it is going to be. We achieve this by inspecting the issue thoroughly and carefully. We keep looking at it until are completely satisfied that there is nothing to be done to change it, and we understand why we find it unsatisfactory.
The task is to bring each issue to a position where it is closed and emotionally neutral; that is when it is truly accepted.
The previous post ended showing how to identify which problems to try to bring to acceptance. If you followed the advice in that post you should now have a list of issues to be dealt with and it is time to start putting these to rest for good. There is no quick fix for this, we make progress by knocking them off one at a time. It takes time and concentration to deal with each issue, but one by one they can be made to stop troubling you, and your list of problems isn’t infinite. Progress is slow and incremental, but it is definitely progress.
You need a little preparation before starting on this. You are going to need to concentrate, so find yourself somewhere quiet and comfortable for a while where you can work un-disturbed. You are going to need your list, and a pen and some paper. You are going to make three new lists on the paper. One list is headed “Things I’ve done that hurt others”, another is “Things people did to me” and the third is headed “Resolved”. Run down your list of issues and copy anything from that list to the two new lists if they match the headings “Things I’ve done that hurt others and “Things people did to me”. Strike these from the original list of issues, they are not yet ready to accept… there is something to be done first before it is possible to fully accept these. Separate posts will follow addressing the items under these two headings. Re-name your list of issues “Things to be accepted” and you are ready to start.
Take one item from your list; any will do, you are going to attend to them all in due course so it doesn’t matter which you do first. Take some time to fully immerse yourself in this issue and explore why this thing is so hard to accept; this will narrow the possibilities and give you some focus on what it is you are trying to overcome. Now try to find explanations for why you’re still holding onto this. Again, this is identifying what it is preventing you accepting it. Make notes if it helps. What you are doing by asking these questions is concentrating on the issue and bringing it fully into mind. Now, take the issue and inspect it very slowly. Take your time with this part as you will refer back to it in the future. Examine it from all angles and ask yourself one final time… is there anything that I can do to change this? Turn the problem in your mind and check again… is there anything that I can do to change this? Do not rush away from this, and keep your focus on only that single issue… is there anything that I can do to change this? If the answer starts to come back “no” then it’s time to move on.
Look at these factors and see if any of them fits your issue.
Control. We can only change issues that we can exert some control over. Is this event outside of your sphere of control? If it is then there is nothing whatsoever you can do about it. You cannot change it, you don’t have the means to. Therefore thinking further on it will achieve nothing… ever.
We will never know the answer to some questions. If we are never going to know the answer then continued searching is both endless and completely fruitless… thinking further on this will never yield a solution… ever.
It isn’t fair. Bad things happen. Bad things happen to everyone. Nobody has ever said that life was meant to be fair; life is not fair. The more we can recognize that life is inherently not fair, then the easier it is to step past misfortune when it comes. Don’t hold onto something from the past because it wasn’t fair. Something being unfair does not change the fact that it happened. It is not going to magically change itself back again because it was unfair. Fair or not, it is done. The only person affected by “it’s not fair” is you. The issue is unchanged, and the world is unchanged. “It’s not fair” doesn’t change anyone or anything, but it has a really bad effect on you. It makes you feel sorry for yourself. Nobody else is doing this to you, you are doing it to yourself. Say “It’s not fair” one last time, then say “but life moves on”.
We are not perfect. We might try hard, and aim high, but we are not perfect. Nobody knows everything, nobody is always right, and nobody goes through life without making mistakes… nobody! If we expect constant perfection from ourselves we have set an unachievable and invalid expectation. We do not have to have all the answers. It is OK to be wrong, and it is OK to make mistakes… really! it is! People make mistakes. You are a person too. If you have made a mistake then don’t try to hide it from yourself, or minimise or justify it to yourself… you won’t be able to. Acknowledge the mistake. “I got that one completely wrong”… and move on down the road.
Is this only a problem because of pride? Are we too proud to accept this? Do we look at this and think it’s beneath us or not good enough for us? If so then pride is the obstacle, not the problem itself. Take the pride away from it and just look at the facts.
Other people are not perfect. Just as we make mistakes, so do other people. Other people aren’t perfect, other people aren’t always right, and other people make mistakes. Try to allow other people to have failings instead of requiring them to be perfect. Then you will be better able to accept their words and actions
Forgive yourself. People are allowed to make mistakes. You are a person too. Try not to repeat the mistake in the future, but forgive yourself for the mistakes you make.
Being ‘in the right’ will not fix this. Believing that we are right achieves nothing whatsoever if the outcome is unsatisfactory; the event remains unchanged. In the same way being angry, remorseful, resentful, aggrieved etc. also achieves nothing whatsoever. The event does not change; we are simply inflicting suffering on ourselves for no purpose by thinking about this in terms of right and wrong. Try to get off your high horse, stop complaining about it, and move on; everyone else has.
Find the lesson. Make the pain behind an issue meaningful. Sometimes the “worst” thing that happens to us ends up being an important part of our personal growth. Try to find and accept the lesson, and having learned, move on
There is no choice except to accept. This is a catch-all solution. If the other ways to look at the issue haven’t helped then there check to see is no choice but to accept it, regardless of any reservations you may have. What’s done is done. If there is no other course you can take then this is the course that you are on. Let what has happened stay in the past. Acknowledge that you may not like something that is happening or is to come but don’t make yourself miserable on top of that. Put it away. Learn from it, forgive it, release it, and work to live each day starting from a clean slate. Take the lesson you should from the past, but don’t allow it to hold you back
Acceptance is achieved by looking at each issue in turn. This can’t be done in one sitting and we need to deal with only one or two very few each day.
Look very closely at the issue from all angles and ask: Is there something I should do to change this, or can’t it be changed? There should by now be nothing further to change. If it can’t be changed then look again. If there truly is nothing to change then it is what it is. Think about the headings in the list above. Does any of these make the issue easier to put away? Tell yourself now “it is finished with”. Thinking further on it is simply wasting time and energy. You must put it down. When you can say of the matter “it is what it is” and feel no adverse emotional reaction, then it is accepted.
Add this item to the list headed “Resolved” and cross it off your original list of problems.
As you are able to accept more and more of the issues in your list then your day-to-day mood will lift. Your past issues will cease to come back and haunt you. The memories are still there, but they are not constantly brought to your attention and if they do they don’t bring with them all the associated negative emotions.
At this point the recurring problems should drop away, but occasionally they will come back stirred by related memories. When this happens you need to press them back firmly. Picture the list headed “resolved” and visualise this particular entry in it. Tell yourself “I’ve done all the thinking I need to do about that, and the subject is closed”. This issue has been fully examined and resolved, it is not necessary to think about it again, and you need to instruct your brain that this is the case; out loud if possible (it works more powerfully). Once the issue is resolved then there is no value at all in rethinking it, and you need to reject any call to do so. In time your brain will learn this and stop serving it to you.