Acceptance vs. Complacence

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome in my personal growth is overcoming the seeming conflict between acceptance and complacence. I thought if I’m accepting of my situation, it must mean that I have to sacrifice my desire to grow, overcome my weaknesses and strive for excellence. How can I be accepting of my life if I’m constantly trying to improve?  Doesn’t that mean I’m not accepting of my faults and weaknesses? But on the other side, if I’m accepting of my current situation, wouldn’t that mean I’ve given up my personal power and become complacent?

Why is it that many people seem to confuse acceptance with complacence? If you have acceptance of your life and the world around you, does that necessary make you complacent? Where do we draw the line?

I think resistance to acceptance is caused by a fear of regressing into a deterministic mindset.

Many people feel that if you’re accepting of the way you are, the way things are, you’ve given up. You’ve become complacent and have surrendered yourself to the whims of the universe. Whatever comes along, you’re fine with it, what else can you do right? “It’s just the way things are.”

This is the basic view that you are determined by life, or life determines your circumstances and the life you’ll live. However, we don’t live in a determined universe, we live in a co-creative universe. It’s not a one way street. Our environment influences us, and we also influence our environment.

The smart decision would be to accept this basic fact of life and work with it. After all, when we work with natural laws, instead of against them, we’ll probably get better results.

Uncovering hidden assumptions

Accepting that our environment shapes us isn’t giving up our power, it’s embracing it completely. When we accept that our environment influences us, we’re no longer denying what is. Just as when we accept that we also determine our environment, we’re embracing our response-ability to create our own lives. We don’t have to choose one or the other, why not have our cake and eat it too. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s making cake and not eating it. =)

I used to think that if I accepted life as it is, I was fating myself to whatever life brought my way. I felt that life was essentially pointless, since I didn’t have any real say in how my life would turn out anyway. What’s the point in even making an effort, when my destiny is pre-determined? Luckily I was able to realize that this wasn’t an accurate model of reality. It was only my map of reality that was causing me to view life in a deterministic way. It was my choice to choose to live with this belief or not. That’s when I started to realize that my beliefs were a filter for my reality. They were like holding a blue lens in front of your eyes, you lose your perception of color. The same way that a depressed person views reality through their own mental lens of sadness.

Re-examining your life and making a commitment to finding happiness and joy in your life might cause your beliefs to change. With this change in your beliefs, you’re now viewing reality through a new lens, perhaps one of love or hope. It’s not necessarily that anything “out there” has changed, but the way you see things has.

We have to question our beliefs and ask whether or not they are just assumptions or if they’re actually based in truth. I’ve gone through this process many times in my life. I’ve questioned my beliefs about reality, religion, the nature of our world, relationships, the meaning of life, friendships, sex, drugs, motivation, you name it, I’ve probably questioned it. And if I haven’t, I’m sure I’ll get around to it sooner or later. This questioning isn’t always the most pleasant experience though.

Dropping old beliefs that you’ve carried around your entire life can be very discomforting. The feeling of not knowing and being unsure of what everything means is a very scary place to be. Trust me, I’ve gone through it many times. But ultimately, I’d much rather know that I chose my beliefs consciously, rather than just accepting the ones life happened to hand me along the way.

At first I thought this questioning of life was at odds with the basic need for acceptance. If you can’t find acceptance, you’ll never be satisfied right? This either or approach just didn’t cut it for me though. I had to find a way to reconcile my desire to grow and accept myself as I was. Eventually I learned that acceptance and a desire to grow weren’t at odds with each other at all. In fact, they worked greater together for me than they ever did apart. When I accepted the way things were I stopped working against reality and moved in alignment with it. What’s the point of trying to deny what is? If you’re denying what is, you don’t have an accurate map of reality. It’s like trying to find your way through Los Angeles with a map of Seattle. In the same way, when I realized my response determined my results, I accepted my innate ability to create my own life.

Demystifying the blocks toward acceptance and growth

The real key is to not seek your identity with your position. When we identify with growth, we identify with our position. We resist acceptance because we see all of our flaws and mistakes. We judge ourselves for them and find ourselves guilty. How can we be accepting when there are so many things we see wrong with us?

On the other side we can identify with acceptance, we seek ourselves in our ability to be accepting of life and ourselves. Then we find a conflict in the desire to change and the desire to grow because it violates our acceptance-identity. If we’re constantly seeking growth and excellence, we’re not accepting life as it is. We can’t have that, because acceptance is important. Acceptance brings peace.

What about not accepting yourself because you’re not being accepting enough? I’ve gotten caught up in this useless mind-trap as well. Utter nonsense.

However, if we cease to seek our identity in our position and define ourselves based on our principles and values, we find stability. We our driven by our internal compass, instead of the constantly changing terrain of our life. Instead of the terrain defining us, it will instead define how we apply our values, or compass, to the current situation.

The terrain of life is constantly changing, identifying ourselves with terrain is a dangerous path. We leave ourselves vulnerable to becoming too attached to something that is constantly shifting. If I identify myself with my position today, I might think very highly of myself. I’ve written two articles, I’m caught up on all my correspondence and business matters that need to be taken care of. I also just got accepted to do a guest post on two major personal development blogs. I’ve walked a total of over 5 miles today, practiced my eye asanas, yoga and ate a mostly raw diet. Everything is looking good for me right now, I’m meeting all of my expectations. But if something doesn’t go the way I planned and my expectations aren’t met, I’m left open to feeling disappointed and frustrated. However, if my sense of self is rooted in unchanging values such as clarity, authenticity, love and compassion, I will find peace within regardless of the constant ups and downs in my life. That doesn’t mean I can’t strive for growth and excellence, I just no longer seek my sense of self-worth within my constantly changing position.

This is not easy to do, especially when you’ve spent years doing exactly the opposite.

Finding our sense of self in the permanent

The key to overcoming the conflict between acceptance and complacency, is finding the values that matter the most to you and referring to them for your sense of identity and purpose. My top three values are authenticity, clarity and balance. I know if I’m living authentically, I’ll naturally be happy because I won’t be trying to be someone I’m not. I’ll be expressing my creative energy with everything I do, because I’m living out of a sense of integrity and not a sense of fear. I’m living in congruence with my own truth, not simply what society or others expect of me.

When I strive to find clarity in all aspects of my life, I increasingly become more aligned with the truth. The more we live in truth, the more happiness we’ll find because we no longer let fear hold us back. Another side-effect of increased clarity is our map of the terrain of life becomes more and more accurate. We move from stumbling along an unsure path to having a crystal clear vision of the meaning and purpose in our lives. We know what direction we need to take because we have our purpose to constantly refer to. No matter how much the terrain of life changes, we can constantly refer to it as our guide for the next step we need to take.

Lastly, but not least, balance is very important to me as well. If I work towards balance in all every areas of my life I can find peace and sustainability. The result of all problems in life can always be traced backed to some sort of imbalance. Perhaps your lack of inspiration is due to an imbalance of mind over heart, or an imbalance with meeting the needs of yourself with the needs of others. Maybe your health is suffering because of an imbalance with your desire for money and success and making the time and priority to stay in shape. Or if you’re not finding the fulfillment you want in life, you’re probably not doing a very good job balancing the important with the urgent. You’re just spinning your wheels reacting to the next thing that comes your way. The point is wherever there is a problem, we can always find that somewhere there is a lack of balance.

I have other values that are important to me like health/fitness, excellence/mastery, devotion, drive, integrity, discipline, compassion, love, growth and focus. But there are all secondary to my top 3 values because as long as I’m living in alignment with balance, clarity and authenticity, I’ll naturally create a life aligned with all of my secondary values as well.

It’s important for me that I keep my sense of self rooted in these values. That way even if my position changes or the terrain of life gets rocky, I’ll still be able to refer back to my unchanging values for a sense of purpose and direction. I’m no longer identifying with the hills or the valleys, but my unchanging internal compass.

If you’re struggling with reconciling your desire to accept yourself and life as it is, with your drive to grow and improve, the best thing you can do is to find out what your core values are and start referring to them for your sense of identity and purpose. After all, aren’t your core values such as love, happiness, inner peace and authenticity more important then how much money your making, your social status or how much you weigh? You don’t have to sacrifice your desire to improve these aspects of your life, you just stop seeking your self in them. In this way you can find fulfillment without attachment and acceptance without complacence.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Evelyn April 12, 2008 at 4:40 am

Jonathan,

I go through several episodes of trying to clarify my thinking too. So I can definitely understand how important this process is important to anyone on the path to clarity.

My view is this: there is no point denying what is innate in us i.e. the desire to constantly improve oneself or life’s situation. It is a natural instinct. It is natural for our consciousness to desire for growth, whether it is seen in love, relationships, health, money or spirituality. We do not deny our desire to want to grow but it is the choice of what to grow which is important. Some of us will choose to grow wealth at the expense of other aspects of life. Yet others, like you and I, strive for balance because it is in balance, that we can be at our highest potential.

So I “accept” that I need to grow, as part of human divinity. I am inclined not to accept situations as what they are since it would mean that I would be powerless to do anything. Rather, I hope to SEE life for what it is and in that seeing for its true nature, come to great understanding. Greater understanding connects back to the spiritual growth that I (and you as well) seek.

I agree with what you said about choosing the values that we want to be aligned to, even in our desire for balance. There is that choice of which values are more important. When we are guided by some priorities, life’s decisions are so much easier to make.

Thanks for sharing, Jonathan. It is a very thought-provoking post.

Love and light,
Evelyn

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JEMi | Tips for Life, Love, You April 15, 2008 at 2:02 am

I came upon this question on friday and thought about it for a few days after listening to Eckhart Tolle’s the new earth in its entirety. He did explain of course but my ego is big on striving for the biggest – the best that I can do. I learned a very valuable lesson though and it has drastically improved my life and stress level just by a shift in mindset

Acceptance doesn’t mean you’re being complacent (I thought it was one in the same so I looked forward to reading this piece!)
Accepting things as is and being very present in every moment can actually HELP you
If you’re anything like me, you’re so fixated on the future and how you might mess it up that you can’t really be present.. your resistant to things that can actually be dealt with if you just accept what it is – as it is.

I feel much more productive with this mindset because I am not spending all of my time on what it SHOULD be anymore. Rather, I see what is and I work on producing the best that I can with what is.. and an accumulation of that leads a much more fulfilled life

And I love what you say about identity
Situations are forever changing – you can find steady footing in your strong values and the more I understand that, the steadier I feel
which is awesome because as a twenty-something rubbing her eyes at the new light of adulthood, one can really feel very unstable and unsure of herself

Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway
Jonathan, this is an excellent article!

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Kelly@SHE-POWER April 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm

This is an important post, Jonathan. I think a lot of people get these ideas confused and that’s why they think being into personal development means being perpetually dissatisfied with what you have now. If you accept and are satisfied with what you have today then you’re never going to reah your potential right?

WRONG. I find this distinction easy now but it’s been a long time coming and I spent all my twenties and the first half of my thirties looking outside of me for reasons to feel happy and satisfied with my life. the problem is the only moment you really have is NOW and the only thing you can really control is how you feel and react to life’s circumstances. It’s very difficult to allow yourself to enjoy your life when you’re always striving.

Having kids taught me this because my son lives 100% in the moment and when he wants things he accepts he’s going to get them. He hasn’t learned otherwise yet. Does that mean he obsesses over that object and refuses to be happy and content with today? No, he knows they’re not mutually exclusive. Somewhere in childhood we forget this.

I think you can only reach your greatest heights as a being if you let life evolve. You can still know what you want, but you have the faith that it’s coming and you are still allowed to be happy with what you have today.

I stumbled and dugg this. Good job.

Kelly

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Kaspian April 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Your paragraph on basing your sense of self on your values instead of your actions is exactly what I needed to hear. On one level I already knew this, but I had temporarily forgotten. Thanks for the reminder!

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