How to Practice Acceptance When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Despite what Hoku’s tried to tell us, perfect days just simply don’t exist. No matter how many planners we purchase, to-do lists that are crossed off and fingers that are crossed, there’s hardly ever a time where things go exactly as we plan.

But even accepting this reality doesn’t make dealing with mistakes, failures and letdowns any easier. Most inspirational quotes and self-help books will tell us that acceptance is the key to letting go of any past disappointments and moving on, but how do we learn to actually put that so-called “acceptance” into action? Maybe it’s not easier said than done. Experts let us in on a few of their tips for accepting what is and moving on to what will be.

Let go of the idea of control

Calling all control-freaks—we know that this isn’t easy. Even if the temptation to try and fix a situation is strong, it’s important to at least try and admit to yourself that controlling even the most unfortunate situations is just not possible.“We cannot control external events, and we cannot change what has already happened. We can only choose our responses moving forward,” says Joy Rains, author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind.

Put a stop to the ‘ping-pong effect’

Most of us are guilty of overthinking problems, but going back and forth between trying to accept and not wanting to accept will only make matters worse. “If you have a debate in your mind—for example, ‘I hate that this happened, but I must get over it, but I can’t get over it, but I know I should—that ‘ping-pong’ effect will only add to misery,” says psychologist Dr. Paul Coleman, author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces. “Positive thinking or even realistic thinking cannot always defeat negative thoughts. Then, it is best to simply allow both sides of the issue to peacefully co-exist without further debate.” Let yourself fully feel your rational desire to move on while also recognizing your pain and internal wishes, and then you will feel truly at peace.

Think about why it’s so hard to accept

You may hate hearing the words “everything happens for a reason” when struggling to accept something unfortunate, but internally there are some past experiences, bad habits or negative memories that be the reason you are resisting acceptance so strongly. “Acceptance is beautiful when you’re able to accept the fact that you’ll never have answers to many questions, but you’ll be able to resolve any interpersonal conflicts that are preventing you to experience healthy relationships with yourself and others,” says licensed counselor Shannon Battle, LPC.

Realize that life just isn’t fair

As much as we wish, hope and yearn for it, we simply don’t have all the answer’s to life’s biggest question: Why do things happen the way they do? We can rack our brains and never come up with reasoning for the bad things that happen in our life. “The major struggle people have with acceptance is that they often make two faulty assumptions—basically that life is fair, and life is just. It’s not,” says Dr. Ramani, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology and author. “In the quest for fairness and justice, people find it difficult to practice acceptance.”

Reminding yourself that as much as you believe it should be, not everything we obtain in life—good or bad—is allocated fairly, and the more we think it should be, the harder it will be to accept when it’s not. “The more one can recognize that life is inherently not fair, the easier it is to achieve and practice acceptance,” Dr. Ramani says.

Understand that reacting won’t change your situation

Bottom line: No matter how down you may feel about a situation, getting upset or angry simply won’t change the outcome. Just telling yourself that you literally have no choice but to accept it is what it is can lead you on a greater path of overcoming distress. “So much of acceptance is about mental flexibility and rolling with the punches, things that are often easier said than done,” Dr. Ramani says. It may not be easy, but boy, will it be worth it.

Stephanie Limiti is a born and raised New Yorker living out her dreams of palm trees and sunshine in Los Angeles. When she's not zenned out in yoga class, she's reading biographies and volunteering at dog rescue shelter. Follow her on Instagram.