Resilience Boosting Exercise #5: Acceptance

Acceptance is a concept that is not well understood although it is often recommended as a coping strategy. Perhaps you are familiar with the Serenity Prayer which begins “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” But what is acceptance and how does it apply to doctoral study?

Acceptance is seeing how things really are by separating your story from the circumstances. Circumstances are the facts of any situation such as receiving a C on an assignment. Your story is the meaning you assign to the circumstance. For instance, you might tell yourself that the C grade was underserved, that the faculty member was being too hard on you, and that you don’t fit in with your classmates who are all doing better than you.

We accept something by acknowledging it for what it is while setting aside our judgment of it. In the example of the grade, some students would find it difficult to separate their story from the circumstances, they would be stuck in judgment of the faculty, their classmates, and themselves. But all circumstances are neutral until we make them mean something. You have the choice about what you make the circumstance mean. In this example, the student could make the C mean nothing more than what it is, a grade, not an indictment of them as a student or person.

Acceptance is not agreement, acquiescence, approval, or resignation. You can accept something and still want to change it. Accepting that a circumstance happened or exists opens you up to choices about how to respond.

As a doctoral student, it is vital to accept the things you cannot change about your program and educational experience and redirect your energy to what you can influence. For example, many students stew in dissatisfaction with their supervisor or dissertation chair and let that dissatisfaction rob them of their motivation, energy, and enjoyment.

How to practice acceptance

When you are faced with a situation that you wish were not happening to you, the faster you come to accept it, the faster you can move through it. Learning to accept yourself and all your emotions is some of the best work you can do to make yourself more resilient. Accept yourself and your emotions by noticing your resistance to your experiences like shutting down to avoid dealing with anger or criticizing others to cope with feelings of inadequacy.

Once you’ve noticed when and how you resist your experiences and emotions, consider why these patterns might exist. When you were sad or angry as a child, how did the adults in your life react? Did they allow you to work through these emotions, or did they tell you to put on a brave face or stop throwing a tantrum? Becoming aware of your patterns allows you to work on changing them if you want to.

To take self-acceptance to a deeper level, think about yourself as a child, before the life experiences that shaped into who you are today. Remember your pure essence, innocence, and vulnerability as a child. Stop judging yourself so harshly and treat yourself the way you as a precious child should have been treated in an ideal world.

If you are having trouble accepting aspects of your doctoral journey, let’s discuss why. Click here to coach with me.