An article I wrote for Mumbai Mirror on September 17th, 2018
We go ballistic when someone rings the doorbell twice, the Wi-Fi slows down, or we’re stuck in traffic that seems to move at snail’s pace. These may seem like small problems, but sometimes they can frustrate you to the point of rage. However, all these emotions are natural. The problem really arises when we try to pretend we’re not feeling what we’re feeling and we end up blaming others or reaching for solutions that are often just mindless. The result of reacting this way is an increase in suffering. Instead, we should try to accept the situation as it is.
Marsha Linehan, the iconic psychotherapist who introduced to the world a therapy called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), calls such acceptance “Radical Acceptance”. Simply put, radical acceptance means tolerating what cannot be changed with calmness instead of increasing inner pain by saying “This isn’t fair” or “I can’t stand this”. Your colleague got a bigger raise than you did, you missed an important meeting because of traffic, someone you care deeply about was just diagnosed with a life threatening condition. These experiences evoke sadness, despair, anger and a sense of loss.
When you are sitting in a bus and the temperature outside is 43 degrees, you can either grumble or accept the moment. When you complain, you often end up cursing the “pathetic system”, the heat, the pollution so on. Before you know it, the basic discomfort of heat is exacerbated by the way you have built it up. But when there is acceptance, you find ways to manage the situation — you can divert your mind, drink cool water, change your seat or put on your sunglasses.
Acceptance doesn’t come easily: Radical acceptance doesn’t mean being weak or overlooking someone else’s wrong actions, giving up your needs, or keeping from asserting your feelings. It merely means accepting the moment, so you can plan a productive course of action.
What is the cost of suffering?
• You stay with negative emotions much longer. Small and petty issues cloud your mind, making you lose focus.
• Your reactions to events are stronger.
• You get anxious and agitated and seek immediate change
What are the benefits of acceptance?
• Your reactions come from a calmer and more empathetic place, taking into consideration all sides
• You move on more quickly from stressful events.
• You reduce your personal pain and yet, hold the other person responsible for what happened.
• You find yourself being happy even in the company of people whose ideas may be completely different from your own
So, here is what you can do the next time you face a situation where you want to fume or curse fate:
• If you find yourself having “mental battles” with a spouse, boss or relative: Pause. Let the thoughts pass and take a breath. Then reexamine the situation.
• Complaining when stuck in a queue or traffic jam: Fume less and observe more. Notice the surroundings, observe how the operations around you function.
• Frustrated by a loved one’s behaviour: Stop complaining about them for a day.
• Getting angry at being mistreated: Focus your thoughts inwards, towards your own behaviour and emotions. Watch how the anger dissolves.