October 2023

LEADER PRACTICE No. 8: Difficult Situation? Consider Acceptance.

We’re regularly faced with challenging situations that we can’t control or influence. Maybe our organization adopts a strategy or restructuring we don’t like. Or we don’t care for the new boss’s style. Perhaps a change to the IT system rankles. To better cope with these situations, I work with clients on the practice of acceptance.

Pema Chodron describes acceptance as the ability to not make a bad situation worse. An ancient equation is illuminating: Pain x Resistance = Suffering. Pain is a subjective experience sparked by a challenging situation. The intensity of suffering corresponds to the degree with which we resist the reality of the thing that disturbs us. Many of us spend considerable time and energy resisting what is. We make bad situations worse – for ourselves and others.

High performers often confuse acceptance and apathy. They’re different. Apathy is a state of not caring. When we work with acceptance, we continue to care, yet we suffer less. To be clear, we should take action when it makes sense to do so. If you are willing and able to impact the situation in some way, then go for it! And you don’t have to go it alone. Ask trusted friends or colleagues if there is something you might do to improve a troubling situation. If not, practicing acceptance is a productive strategy.

As you work with acceptance, you might find it helpful to take a break and acknowledge your frustration. You might choose to rant privately, scream into a pillow, or cry. With a little catharsis you can refocus on what you can and are willing to do to deal with the challenge at hand. When we bring an attitude of acceptance to situations that exceed our capacity to effect change, we ruminate less, waste less time and mental energy, and feel less stress. Acceptance enables us to clearly see the reality of disturbing situations – and be creative in the way we respond to them.


Practice acceptance in response to challenging situations:

  • When you are resisting something, ask yourself: “Is there something I can do?” And if yes, “Am I willing to do it?” If the answer is no, ask a trusted advisor if they see other options. Sometimes this discernment process is complex and takes time and repeated check-ins.
  • Once you have decided working with acceptance is the best course, acknowledge the reality as it is now. When your mind wanders to resistance and rumination, note it, acknowledge the discomfort, and return your focus to your breath and/or what you were doing. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

A favorite short practice that also supports us in working with difficult situations is the “Self-compassion Break” by author and researcher, Kristen Neff, Ph.D.

Until next month…

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Founder and Principal Coach