A Coaching Power Tool Created by Mythili Dinesh
(Transformational Coach, INDIA)
In psychology, acceptance is defined as a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change or protest. Eckhart Tolle defines acceptance as a “this is what it is” response to anything occurring in any moment of life.
It is not about telling oneself that since I cannot change the situation, I might as well accept. It is about saying that no matter how the situation pans out, I will be ok with it. Acceptance is letting go of a desire to change or alter something or somebody. This may be someone’s behavior or beliefs or a certain situation. If one holds onto a hope that the situation will somehow change; then the acceptance is not complete.
Acceptance is not a weakness. It is not about accepting giving up or defeat. It simply means that you recognize and understand your current situation. Acceptance does not mean approving, supporting or even choosing the situation. What you are really saying is that I am ok with the way it is. As Paul Tournier puts it-
Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary it means accepting it AS IT COMES, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.
Then the question that comes to one’s mind is — Is acceptance the same as tolerance? The answer is no. Acceptance is not tolerance either. It is to actually accept the situation as is; whereas tolerance is being fine with it at a superficial level. Tolerating some situation implies that you are just putting up with it and you have not truly accepted the situation.
Real acceptance also needs to be unconditional. In reality, many a times we take refuge in what is called “conditional acceptance”. We apply certain conditions to our acceptance. That is to say, “I will accept this if …”. These conditions could be actual actions, a direct or implied expression of what we really think. If one attempts to put certain conditions to their acceptance then it is not true to the spirit of acceptance.
Also, acceptance doesn’t need to be a forever thing. The idea is to focus on the present with an open mind to whatever the future brings. Situations may or may not change in the future. However, acceptance in the present allows us to detach ourselves from the future possibility and focus on what we can do in the NOW.
Expectance, on the other hand, is defined as the quality or state of expectation; anticipatory beliefs or desires. It includes the expectation on the basis of a norm, average or could even be based on a belief. For example, one might expect that parents love their children because they ARE supposed to – it’s a norm or, “my friends should be happy with my success because they are my friends.”
The question then is – why is there a need to have an expectation? The expectancy theory of motivation, proposes that expectance is the driving force or the motivation. This theory, first proposed by Victor H. Vroom, proposes that an individual will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select specific behavior over other behaviors due to what they expect the result of that selected behavior will be. The individual makes choices based on an expectation or hope for certain results. As per this theory then, if there were no expected results, there would be no motivation.
Acceptance vs Expectance
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.- Michael J. Fox
Most often than not, it is our own expectations – towards ourselves, other people or situations, that results in anger, angst and disappointment. If we actively make a choice to have no expectations, we take away the possibility of disappointment. We move away from living in hope that things will change or people will finally change or realize their mistakes. We will not be as heavily invested in the result of what happens. Whatever happens then, is almost irrelevant because we have moved on. The result doesn’t matter. Acceptance of the situation or the person as is, allows for this freedom whereas expectance becomes the motivation behind our chosen behavior.
How does practicing acceptance help?
Here are a number of things acceptance can do for us:
- It shows openness and humility to make changes. It releases the need to explain or question every action and justify the subsequent consequences.
- It allows us get rid of our obstacles/blocks and move forward.
- It frees us from the burden of a constant struggle or battle and therefore, brings lightness.
- Helps manage anxiety and brings calmness.
- It releases judgement and empowers us.
Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.- J.K. Rowling
One of the most important applications of this power tool of “Acceptance vs Expectance” is for SELF. We are most often our worst critic. We tend to be very hard on ourselves and often have a very high standard of expectation. “I have to be best in what I do; the best child, spouse, and parent, make the most money, travel the world, be the best friend and an awesome cook” – the list is never ending!
Self-acceptance, in the true sense, allows one to be more “one’s self”. There is no more comparison and therefore you are unique, special even. There is only one of you. Instead of worrying over who you are not and what you don’t have, you tend to be grateful for what you ARE and what you do HAVE. It allows you to practice more gratitude. This, however, doesn’t mean one should not challenge oneself. Challenge without the onus of an expectation of a particular result. The motivation is not the end result, but the chosen path itself.
Acceptance is a process and one has to make a conscious effort to practice it every step of the way. Also, the process is a dynamic one and will always keep changing as the situation changes. One needs to be able to quickly adapt and change to accept whatever happens. It requires a great deal of effort and can be very frustrating and challenging at times.
Steps for moving into Acceptance
Step 1: Acknowledgement – the REALITY
Dr. Phil McGraw, from the popular television show, often says– “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.” So the very first step to any kind of change, including acceptance, is acknowledgement. One needs to acknowledge that this is not a situation I CAN change. It could be about circumstances or another person’s behavior. The idea is to be able to see “AS IS” – i.e. reality.
Step 2: Powerful Questioning – the WHY
Once there is acknowledgement, then there are several powerful questions that may help move towards acceptance. Some of these could be:
- What am I tolerating and why?
- Why should I accept this person or situation as is?
- What is in it for me?
- What good will it do?
- What is likely to happen if I don’t accept the situation?
Finding the answers to such powerful questions will help the client to uncover and seek clarity into their purpose for change. This is a good technique since the ownership of making the transition comes from the core of the client’s being rather than them doing it due to some external influence.
Step 3: Setting Direction – the HOW
The next step is – HOW to get there. The path is different for every individual. It is for the client to work out what works best for them. Once the client begins to see road ahead then the change is almost automatic.
Summary In our effort to practice this power tool, the questions that need to be asked are – Why am I disappointed with a person or a situation? Is it because I had set certain expectations? Were my expectations unrealistic? Were they based on my own underlying beliefs? Once these questions have been answered honestly, we can make it a habit to practice acceptance in every sphere of our lives.
Beginning with ourselves would be a great start – our beliefs, family, friends, personal health, and emotions – pretty much anything. We can then apply it towards a wide range of things such as other people, beliefs, thoughts and situations and be able to say every day —“today I will live in acceptance rather than expectance”!
Fish, J. M. (2014, February 25). Tolerance, Acceptance, Understanding. Retrieved May 16, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/looking-in-the-cultural- mirror/201402/tolerance-acceptance-understanding
The definition of expectancy. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2016, from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/expectancy