Navigating Acceptance and Action

Inevitably, when I write a post about how much I’m struggling to make hard changes in my life, I get comments (and even some emails) with gentle suggestions to cut myself some slack. I appreciate the reminder that accepting myself as I am is an important step, one I have to embrace before I can move forward.

I absolutely believe in the power of acceptance, in the freedom of acknowledgement without judgement. I am working hard to approach myself with compassion and loving kindness in the wake of some really difficult confessions (to myself and others) about behaviors I am not proud of.

I am no longer ashamed of my compulsive spending, nor the fact that I lied to my husband about it. I have owned who I am, the choices I’ve made and the consequences they have wrought for my family. I am working hard to rectify the damage I’ve done and to change so that I won’t inflict further financial harm on our family.

I am also working hard to embrace minimalism, a mindset that is helping me control my compulsive spending. For me embracing minimalism is not just about curbing the flow of things into the house, but purging that which we already own.

I’ve been working really hard on all of this for the past four months and I won’t lie, it’s been difficult. I never feel satisfied by the progress I make around the house; every thing is 50-75% finished and I cringe as areas that I worked hard to declutter fall again into disarray. I know if I had a weekend’s worth of uninterrupted time I could get to that place where I could manage the daily mess, but I also know I’ll never have that time to dedicate to this process.

In the few hours a week that I can allot for purging our unnecessary stuff, I find myself oscillating confusedly between acceptance and action. In my attempt to accept our situation without judgement, I find it hard to push myself to do the hard work of making changes. In the past my frustration and annoyance has propelled me forward. In their absence (or attempted expulsion) I’m finding it hard to motivate.

I’ve encountered similar obstacles on the compulsive spending front. For four weeks I’ve been great about not buying things, and my most recent credit card is proof of how little I’ve spent. But in the last couple of days I actually had to order something from Ama.zon (at the recommendation of my therapist) and then there were some things I truly had to get at Tar.get and I swear it was like taking that first drink after a prolonged dry spell. Suddenly there was all sorts of stuff I “had” to get, like some DVDs to show at school and stickers for when my kids win at Bingo. Do I need to buy those things? No. But I wanted to, very much.

When I slipped a little and bought the DVDs for my Spanish class (DVDs that will be great, but aren’t necessary by any stretch), I was quick to cut myself some slack and forgive myself for my mistake. The problem is that in doing so, I felt the pull to buy other unnecessary but useful stuff for my classroom growing stronger. If I truly forgive myself every time I mess up, how do what is the incentive to not mess up in the first place?

Having two kids and a full time job is kicking my ass something fierce. There are days when I can barely get through the things that absolutely HAVE to get done and still manage five hours of sleep. On those days, I understand the value of accepting that I still haven’t tackled the kitchen and it’s causing me stress. But on the day when I have an hour during my son’s nap and all I want to do is sleep myself, it’s hard to know what is the right move. Do I rest and accept that I just didn’t have the energy to be productive that day? Or do I push myself to sort (and then dump most of) the mismatched Tupperware? If I accept that I was too tired, when will I ever have the energy to actually accomplish anything?

So this is my dilemma. I just can’t seem to figure out how to embrace acceptance while still maintaining my productivity. If you have any words of wisdom on this subject, I’m all ears. I honestly don’t know how to do it.

Which are you better at: acceptance or action? How do balance both?


  1. This is a really good question, and I don’t have the answer. I actually just clicked over to see whether anyone else had the answer and I could read it!

    My only thought is, is there any area in your life where you think you do have a balance between accepting how you currently are & trying to go better? (Parenting? Teaching?) Maybe you could try to use that as a model.

    1. That is a good thing to think about Deborah. I guess the area of my life that I am closest to on this is my marriage and my work. In my marriage I can look to my husband and see if he thinks we’re doing the best we can and if we’re on the same page about it, I can feel good about acceptance, and if I want to make something better we can figure out what works for both of us. I guess my point it, it helps to have the sounding board of my husband to figure out whet to accept and what to improve. As for my job, I think most of the time I just don’t have the resources (time, money) to make improvements. I try hard not to bring home work unless I absolutely have to, so I accept that I can’t make some of the improvements that I want to make, because I just don’t have the bandwidth in my life right now to create new curriculum, or the money to buy resources. It’s harder at home because I do have a little free time here and here (it’s scarce, but it exists) and that is when I need to decide what to do.

  2. This is a challenge for me too (probably for most of us who are driven to self-improvement). I think you need to just concentrate on steady forward motion—which is possible despite momentary set-backs. So you bought some things you shouldn’t have—you are still working on decreasing your consumption & saving. So you took a nap instead of working on clutter (you probably really needed that nap!)—you are still working on minimalism. Acknowledge your slip up, but then move on quickly (easier said than done, I know!) and focus on the positive—congratulate yourself for what you have achieved, and make a plan for moving forward. I have a tendency to be hard on myself when I slip up, which triggers an “all or nothing” behavior and then I just completely back slide. It is far better and more productive in the long run to just forgive myself but stay on the path than to beat myself up so much that I fall right off the wagon.

    1. Maybe what works is creating a realistic goal and incorporating acceptance into that goal (accepting that I may not be able to get something done as quickly as I’d like). That way, I can make more informed decisions about when to do something and when to take a rest. And then, if I don’t reach my goal, be accepting of that but also learn from it (as slowmamma mentioned in her comment). Maybe that is the way to ensure forward motion without beating myself up about it.

  3. This is a one of THE big challenges. I tend toward the acceptance part of the equation, which, as you can imagine, is often great and sometimes a real problem. The answer to balancing these two approaches is one that you have to come up with- repeatedly. Only you can decide when you need action. Sometimes, nice as that would be, you really need rest (and with 5 hrs of sleep a night, that probably shouldn’t even be a question for you right now).

    Luckily, you know that being hard on yourself when you decide that you’ve chosen the wrong path is NEVER useful or productive. The productive approach is to acknowledge that it was not the right anwer and then go on to learn from the slip up. Was there a trigger? What is the particular weakness that drives you down that path? With time, you WILL become more comfortable with your choices, especially as you take ownership. They are YOUR choices and you decide when they work for you and when they don’t.

    1. It took me soooooooo long to learn (the hard, hard way) that being hard on myself actually makes me more apt to do the negative behavior again. I was raised to believe admonishment was a requirement when we fail, so learning forgiveness and self-acceptance has been such a hard lesson to learn. I’m so glad I learned it now, while my kids are young, so I can parent them with this in mind.

      I love the idea of learning from my mistakes in a very conscious and deliberate way. Instead of whining to myself, WHY CAN’T I GET THE HOUSE CLEAN, I need to sit back and think, with acceptance, okay, I can’t seem to get the house clean, what has been standing in my way? Is there anything I can change about my situation to give myself what I need to get this done? I suppose that is walking the line between acceptance and action, that and creating goals based on this information so that I have some kind of expectation guiding my every day decisions.

      Thank you, as always, for your guidance on this.

    1. Ohhhh, thanks for the post. I am so curious to know if I wrote one myself, but seeing your url triggers memories. I think I did… I’m intrigued to revisit what I said before!

      I appreciate knowing that traveling the cycle of improve/accept teaches us. I think I have learned in my short 34 years on earth and I imagine I learn more moving forward, especially as I flex my self-acceptance muscle, which has been woefully under exercised in these first 34 years. I will have to remind myself that it will get easier to walk this line moving forward, or at least that I will gain skills in walking it, even if the line becomes harder to navigate… 😉

  4. ‘I sometimes fail because I am human’ is NOT the same as ‘it is ok to fail because I am human’. And focusing on the difference is helpful. The root is different and the fall of thoughts after each is different.
    Sometimes when I read your words I read that you are judging yourself more harshly than I think you would judge another person ~ that is when I think/write back to be kind to you. As American women we have been raised to do this but it isn’t always correct or helpful. We need to acknowledge the stresses and demands our way of life presents. To admit their presence and reality.
    Temptation. It is always with us. As the Habits book: says old habits do not evaporate they remain with us. We only alter how they are expressed and develop new habits to help us control automatic habitual patterns. This takes thought. Example: having a list before entering a Target or Amazon site of why we are going there and what we will buy. THEN, a way to acknowledge all the things that call our attention and seduce us away from our pre-set list. I carry a pen and paper and write down all the new spur of the moment temptations ~ but I cannot buy them since they were not already on the first list. They become items I may decide to buy later. Later, if I find that outside their presence I still need them, cannot find a substitute for them, and have discussed that expenditure versus an alternate use of the same dollars that would have a greater longer better return for my dollar. A full week later at least. Because if the item were really an imperative it would have been on my list.
    Does that help?
    Being tired. Given what is on your schedule you probably are physically very tired. You do a lot. IF you can take a short nap it probably makes sense to strengthen your resolve and rebuild your willpower muscle which gets exhausted dealing with your students, children and the other adults you deal with most days. Track your use of time 24/7 for one week on paper. Then ask your doctor, showing him the schedule, if something else might be causing your to be tired. Doctors like to see you are not making up your activity or food habits, lists do this.
    Also post a list of things to do (pickup/clean/sort/tidy sorts of things) that can be done in 5 mins or less by the timer! YES, USE the Timer. Examples: all shoes in entry way put away. Make a bed. All dishes out of living room. All jackets put away. Wipe out bathroom sink. All legos into a box. You post the list so you don’t need to think to know what can be done in 5 mins or less.
    And now I have overdone my response. Sorry.

    1. I definitely judge myself more harshly than I judge others. I watched my mother judge herself VERY harshly and I learned to follow suit. I am trying to change the routine between those triggers and rewards, but as you know, it’s hard.

      Ah yes, willpower. I really appreciate the part in the Power of Habit about willpower. I think I developed my exceptional willpower from 11 years of piano and seven of year round competitive swimming. I know how to do something when I don’t want to and how to delay gratification, at least in some specific things. I suppose I have high expectations for myself when it comes to getting done what I think is important.

      But I’m not so great at taking care of myself and objectively looking at my situation and realistically allowing myself what I need. So far I’ve been able to push through, but the older I get, the harder it is on my body. I need to start learning to be gentle with myself physically, or it’s going to catch up to me in hard and painful ways. I worry I may need to learn this–really learn it–the hard way.

      I love the ideas of writing down what I want when I see it in the store and deciding later if I need it and getting it much later. What a great idea. I’m going to start doing that IMMEDIATELY. I also love posting a list of what needs to get done and giving myself a fixed amount of time to do it. Thanks for those ideas, they are super helpful, as are all of the comments you post!

  5. I accept first, act to change once I have made a plan and established some measurable goals on the way to achieving whatever change I want to see. Example: I applied for residencies. I had a set of deadlines, then a set of deadlines for each of the steps (by this date, I will have researched a certain number of programs, by another date I will have asked people to write my recommendation letters, by another I will have written a draft cover letter, revised my CV with at least a certain number of people reading it first, etc). In our Keep the House Tidy plan, we have lots of baby steps built in so we know if we are moving in the right direction. Accomplishing a step goal helps keep me motivated toward the end goal and it gives me something to celebrate. It also means that if something happens and whatever I accomplished gets undone, I know I did achieve something by getting to the end of the small goal. It also means I need that mini-goal to be a recurring one rather than a one-time deal. An example would be picking up all the toys from the dining room. It doesn’t need to happen every day but it does need to happen 3 times a week, but at first it was only weekly so it felt like a source of failure when it was a mess more often than once a week. It helped to refine the mini-goal to fit the way we live. Maybe some day we can change it back to the ideal but for now it needs to happen more often. I also have a 24 hour waiting list for almost everything I buy that wasn’t on the shopping list prior to entering the store. Any book I want goes onto a wish list and if I still really want it a day later, then I can consider it. Some things get parked for a lot longer than that day, others go right back off my wish list and never do get purchased.

  6. Lori’s post was interesting. For me, acceptance is accepting my flaws. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to improve, it just means I don’t beat myself up when I slip. (Well, not as much as I used to.) As you said, if I’m tough on myself, then I’m more likely to throw in the towel and not try. Though I will try for the things I think I can change, and try to accept the ones I can’t. (For example, weight I can change, infertility I can’t.)

    1. PS. I don’t know how you get by on five hours sleep. I’m pretty sure no sleep expert anywhere would recommend you try to live life normally, let alone make huge changes, on five hours sleep. (And this is from someone who is struggling to go to bed before 1 am these days.)

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