The idea of acceptance and “Let it go”

I’ve recently been going through training and reading for the application of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).  It is one thing that was difficult for me at the start to get the hang of.  My brain has always been very logical and sometimes the idea of “just letting go” really hits that aspect of “this doesn’t make sense.”  ACT has been the first time something illogical has actually turned out to be more logical.

In “Frozen,” Princess Elsa sings about letting go of expectations and feelings.  It is a great idea (and I’ll let the parents debate how catch they lyrics are), but it also goes very unexplained.  The song simply teaches us to do it, but not why.

The idea of “just tolerating” a particular feeling or thought runs counter to a lot of the assumptions behind CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Theory).  In reality, they work very well in conjunction with each other.  CBT teaches you how to re-frame and challenge unwanted thoughts.  ACT teaches you that you will not always be able to do this.  Then it moves on to teach you how to accept the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.  (Acceptance does not mean you agree with them or that you want them, only that you can acknowledge them.)

The biggest challenge with ACT, and where I think it stands out from CBT, is this: you may try something that should be helpful, but that effort may fail, and it is okay if it fails.  For example, you can go to the gym for a month but still not lose weight.   Should you get upset that you didn’t lose weight?  You could, but is that feeling of frustration helpful?   Generally, it’s not.  Doing something good for yourself will not always result in a positive outcome.  Getting swept up in the expectation that you should have a positive result is almost always a recipe for disaster.  If you can re-frame your thinking to be glad that you still put in work to move toward your value (being healthier), instead of focusing on your goal (losing 10 pounds), you will be better able to handle disappointment if it happens.  If I’m always striving towards a value, I’m usually making progress whereas if I’m only looking at goals those are things you either achieve or you don’t.  That is certainly more logical for me than just “let it go.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about the ideas behind this, I’d suggest the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.