We suffer more in imagination than in reality.


Life is hard – no two ways about it. In these tough times, our mind can be our greatest asset or our worse enemy.

Take for example, two people suffering from chronic low back pain. The first person feels incredibly angry and resentful – “why did this have to happen to me?”, “this pain is unbearable”. The second person thinks to themselves: “it sucks this happened, but there’s no point focusing on what could have been”, “I am committed to living my life regardless of the pain”.

Whereas the first person resists their reality, the second person accepts what is. Both people experience the same pain, but the first person’s distress is magnified because of their intense focus on the affliction.

Acceptance and commitment therapy

The acceptance and commitment model was developed by Dr. Steven Hayes, an American clinical psychologist.

The idea is that what we resist, persists; on the other hand, with acceptance comes the ability to truly face our problems head on and move towards our goals.

The person who resists their pain can’t help but focus on their pain and what it means in terms of limiting their life and increasing their suffering. Resisting is like trying hard not to think of a white elephant – you can’t help but think of it even more.

On the other hand, the person who accepts their pain can now move forward to finding ways to improve their condition.

In this way, acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It means that we come to terms with our reality and make a conscious committed decision to live out our best life anyways (our best life being those consistent with our values).

How to practice acceptance and commitment strategies

Below are some steps to applying acceptance and commitment to your own problems:

1. Accept what we cannot change and focus on what we can change

I may never be six feet tall or fully recover from my own back pain. However, I choose to play with the cards I am dealt because there’s no point spending extra brain power on things that will never change.

What I can do is focus on things I can change. For example, staying active and giving time for mobility work to reduce my back pain. Or to work on improving indicators of physical attractiveness by staying relatively fit.

2. Determine your values

Nietzsche once said: “he, who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how”.

Making a change in spite of the problems you are experiencing can be extremely challenging. Many fall to despair and give up because they do not have a why.

Therefore, it’s important to consider what reasons you have to accept your reality and commit to living a worthwhile life. These are where values come into play.

Consider values such as:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Health
  • Love
  • Work
  • Fulfilment
  • Activity
  • Other important concepts in your life

For example, a person might decide to work on their back pain to be able to fully engage with their children in their playtime and adventures (family). Others want to continue being able to traverse in different places in the world (activity).  

When the going gets hard, focus on the reasons you are committed to making a change.

3. Make a pros and cons list

There are going to be reasons to change as much as they are reasons to stay exactly the same. Technically, avoiding pain or fear of failure are perfectly good reasons to not change.

Therefore, a pros and cons list can often be helpful to determine whether you should change. Make a list of reasons to change and stay the same while considering different values and how important they are to you. Afterwards, you can then make an informed decision based on this list.

4. Commit!

Now that you have had an honest reflection about your values and have made a decision, you now commit to the course – no matter how hard.

We don’t do it because it’s easy; we do it because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the person you want to be.

Further ways to support acceptance and commitment

Beyond the steps outlined above, having a regular practice of mindfulness meditation can be a great way to detach ourselves from negative thoughts and feelings to our situation.

Mindfulness helps by allowing us to take space to act responsively, rather than reactively, to these experiences and become better able to refocus on our values and stay committed.

Mindfulness practice does not have take a significant amount of time; even a few minutes a day or engaging in certain activities (e.g., eating, listening to music) in a mindful manner can be very beneficial.

Best wishes,