You might have read self-help books or articles that mention cultivating inner peace and/or reality acceptance, but you still don’t really understand how to apply it to your own life. Maybe you’ve tried hard to be calmer in your life and relationships, but it just doesn’t seem to work. This article explains why you might feel frustrated with the techniques you’ve tried, and suggests a different, more simplified approach.
Your focus is on the future
Humans are wired to constantly imagine the future, whether near or far away. On a macro level, this is one of our greatest strengths because visualizing future possibilities enables us to develop as a species. But on a micro level, our constant mental pictures of the future too often lead us to anxiety and distress. Even when we have a positive picture of how things are going to turn out, the reality seldom matches up to our vision.
When your expectations don’t match the reality
For example, if you planned a surprise dinner for your partner, you may have imagined their delight when they get home. But if they call you to say they’re going out to meet a friend, or if they come home in a furiously bad mood and tell you they’re not hungry and they just want to go to bed… well you’re likely to feel all kinds of things that aren’t anywhere close to cultivating inner peace.
Mental health isn’t only positive feelings
And that’s ok. You really don’t have to feel only positive emotions in order to be psychologically healthy. The so-called ‘negative’ feelings like sadness or grief or anger are healthy responses to painful situations. Feelings are a bit like the weather, they come and go and often you don’t have much (or any) control over them. Of course there are techniques you can apply to help clear these negative feelings, but the problem isn’t the negative feelings, it’s the meaning you attach to your feelings.
How you interpret your feelings makes you feel more feelings
To continue the example, you might feel disappointed and upset that your partner isn’t responding to your gesture in the way you would have hoped (and in the way that you visualised). But if you then become angry at yourself for getting your hopes up, or furious with your partner because they didn’t respond in the way you wanted, you’re compounding the problem. Instead of dealing with your feelings in the moment, you now have to deal with self-blame, anger and distress on top of the original disappointment and feeling upset.
Reality acceptance: recognise and own your feelings
Reality acceptance is about acknowledging what is, in the present moment, even if it’s hard and unpleasant. It’s about mindfully recognising and owning your feelings, even if they’re painful. A situation can be awful or painful and we may experience difficult emotions, but we can accept them as they are without adding to them.
Where we go wrong
Acceptance isn’t a once-off decision. This is where most of us go wrong and feel frustrated and even hopeless. You can’t say to yourself: “From now on I will always be mindful of the present moment. I’m always going to recognise and acknowledge my feelings” and expect that this will result in calm and cultivate inner peace. You can’t read a book or do a course or meditate in the morning and expect it to last ongoing, or even for the rest of the day.
You have to practice it, over and over
Reality acceptance is a practice that you choose (or don’t choose) moment by moment, day by day. Like any other skill, practice makes perfect. The more aware you become and the more often you practice choosing acceptance of the reality that you find yourself in, the better you become at cultivating inner peace.
Blue-Footed Booby Success Formula: How to practice reality acceptance
- Check in with yourself (very frequently)
- Identify, and thus acknowledge, your feelings in the present moment (name it to tame it)
- Practice accepting the reality of the situation by using positive self-talk – say helpful things to yourself
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