Let’s talk about a strange paradox in our world.

    • Poverty is going down in America and most of the world.
    • We can connect with anyone at almost any time.
    • We have more resources to make us more efficient, connected, and happier than ever.
    • Our expected life span has increased by nearly 20 years.
    • Actuaries are debating changing the algorithm used to determine life insurance policies.

And yet!

  • Suicides now exceed homicides (Study done by University of Washington).
  • 68% of people on anti-depressants report being on anti-depressants long term and that they have to switch because “they stopped working.”
  • Depression is at the highest rate in history. Obesity and addictions are up.
  • Video game and scrolling escapism are as high as it gets.
  • While divorce rates are somewhat static, divorces are catching up with marriages in more states each year.
  • Our anxiety epidemic is growing and affecting our children and seniors.

And we seem to be growing more divided each day over things like politics and how the world should run.

Which brings me to a question from this strange paradox. Why is this the case? Why do we have these resources and opportunities and still have objectively worse existential outcomes?

Perhaps, as a Society, we are Losing hope.

Maybe we’re losing hope as a society because we’ve moved into this strange place where we have embraced victimology. Typically defined as “I’m a victim. Therefore, I am.” I regularly see this when working with high school and middle school students. When I talk to the brave souls known as school counselors and guidance counselors in those same schools, and we are someplace where they feel safe to express what they’re thinking without fear of facing reprisal for going against the company line, they say the same thing. They say that their students find identity in having trauma, sometimes even if they have to make the trauma up. We’ve come to this strange place where if you don’t have trauma, your identity can’t entirely be formed correctly.

Good Vibes Aren’t Helping That Much

This may be because good vibes aren’t helping all that much. We’re coming out of about two decades of just trying to pretend that everything is okay by just saying things are Okay. We tried to pretend that we could speak things into existence without real effort. Participation trophies for everyone. Couple this with an odd denial of trauma, and we have a recipe for less-than-ideal outcomes.

To become healthier and happier as a society, we need to live out three concepts.

  1. Brutal Acceptance

The first concept that we must live out of is brutal acceptance. You’ve probably heard something about acceptance in the past, but I have come to a place where that is not enough. Most people I walk with find that idea too soft. They stop because accepting is too hard, so I like adding the word brutal in front of it. Brutal acceptance starts with the truth that whatever we are accepting will be hard, brutally hard.

We must brutally accept what is…for now.

To start, we must brutally accept where we are at this moment. We must accept whatever is true about our current situation. Too often, we lie to ourselves about where we are or what is happening in our situation. When we evaluate our lives, we are often tempted to lie to ourselves because we feel that facing our reality will be or could be too hard to face and change. But acceptance of whatever is currently true is the first step in changing.

If and when we refuse to admit and accept what is, we remove the possibility of changing. Of course, this course of action will bring change to our lives. The problem is that that type of change lacks intentionality. This is what a former mentor of mine called living passive-aggressively.

We must brutally accept what we cannot change. 

Once we accept where we are and what is happening in our lives, we must also accept what we cannot change. This doesn’t mean that we cannot attempt to change it in the future, or if it’s a person, it doesn’t mean that we can’t invite them to change in the future. Those attempts must come after accepting that we cannot change them.

So much manipulation happens because someone refuses to accept those things they cannot change. You cannot change someone else or make them change. Attempting to do so is almost always the genesis of manipulation.

 Your ex is a jerk? You’ll need to accept that and plan your behaviors accordingly. Your aged parent is toxic? Is your sibling untrustworthy? You’ll need to accept that you can’t make him trustworthy. There is so much of life that we can’t change. Why waste time, effort, and energy on it only to end up disappointed and disillusioned? There is a difference between accepting that we can’t change something and inviting the change, especially with others.

Maybe your ex is someone you still love and want to be healthy, but they’re not. Your own emotional health will be commensurate with your ability to accept how healthy (or unhealthy) they are and how much you’re able to accept that you have zero control over that reality.

 That’s the key to this concept: we have to accept the things we have zero control over, even those that impact our lives. Maybe you have a friend who betrayed you and refuses to admit the pain and destruction they’ve brought into your life. You’ll have to accept that pain and can’t change it.

Once you do that, you can decide if you want to continue to invite them to change. But it’s only an invitation. If we try to force them to change, we will diminish our own mental and emotional health while simultaneously risking manipulating them. This is counterproductive to living lives that we are healthy and vibrant. 

We must brutally accept the role we have played in our own discomfort.

One of the most challenging aspects of this skill is brutally accepting our role in creating our own discomfort. One of the arduous aspects of brutal acceptance is the truth that we are rarely without responsibility for the distress and discomfort in our lives. This can be due to thinking about blame or only right and wrong. 

For instance, once, I took a job that was a disaster, and if I’m being honest with you, that’s putting it mildly. The organization lied to me for me to take the job (they were that desperate; I wasn’t exactly a great catch), yet when I looked at the situation brutally, I was complicit in the situation. They were not the only ones who were desperate.  I was unemployed, with two kids and one on the way.  I knew something was off. I just chose to ignore that rather than dig into it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to move out of my situation if I found something. I felt stuck. 

At first, this truth can be discouraging. But in reality, it is incredibly empowering. When we can own our role into discomfort, we can see our path out of it. 

As long as the only people responsible for our pain or discomfort are other people, we will be tempted to stay stuck. 

 We can respond to almost anything when we recognize our responsibility because that recognition means we are willing to admit we have power. 

The power to create change lies in our ability to recognize and own our role in creating the situation we want to change. 

Of course, other people’s actions can create consequences that we live under. Other people hurt us and bring pain to us. Other people can produce situations that we must change to be the healthiest version of ourselves. The temptation can be to focus on the other person rather than our responsibilities. Doing that will give up our power and keep us stuck. 

Brutal acceptance is looking at any situation and determining what we can and cannot control.

Acknowledging what has happened to us and determining how we respond to it is akin to a superpower. So much time can be spent lamenting things done to us that we fail to realize there is almost always something we control in every situation. At the very least, we control our response to every situation. Brutal acceptance is looking at situations and distinguishing between what we control and don’t. How many people stay stuck in a job with a boss they hate because they fixate on their boss and not what they control in the job? 

I have lost track of the number of stories I have heard about people who had bad medical situations that they actually caught early but refused to do anything about or address in any way. When they finally engaged the problem, it was almost always way worse because they delayed. 

Be Wildly Optimistic

When we come to a place with brutal acceptance, we can be wildly optimistic about what changes could happen. Sequence is key here. If you’re stuck in denial, optimism is a wonderful tool to hide in, but optimism after acceptance is a ninja tool. 

When we pair acceptance with optimism, we create a realistic environment leading to massive change. It accepts that change is often done in small incremental steps. It assumes that work will be required. 

 Optimism is not blind hope. It should be rooted in visceral things that allow it to grow roots. It has to be cultivated. I’ve thought about buying a small greenhouse to put on our property so we could grow some vegetables and other plants. 

Optimism grows in the greenhouse of our minds. Acceptance is part of the structure. Gratitude and the ability to regulate our emotions are also vital components. An optimistic person rarely has more good things happen to them than a pessimistic person. Adam Grant has spent considerable time in research to prove this point. The difference is what each person expects to find on any given day. 

 An obvious risk of our societal obsession with being a victim is that there is little room for optimism. There is a minimal cultural payoff to being optimistic. If our identity is rooted in our victimhood, in the traumas that have befallen us, changing the outcomes of those traumas would be counterintuitive. Optimism- the act of hoping and believing those outcomes could change would not only be counterintuitive but would actually prove to be a threat to collective societal conscience. 

 The roadblocks in any change process are one of the critical reasons that this must come after acceptance. There is a danger that we will get stuck in optimism, as if optimism itself will facilitate change. When the euphoria of that hope wears off, despair often follows. Despair is fertile ground for depression to grow. This may be part of the reason our world is falling deeper into despair. 

We hoped (optimism in some form) that we could change problems without working on them while blaming everyone else for the issues we wanted to pretend didn’t exist. If generations before us failed to regulate logic with emotion, we have tipped too far the other way where we fail to control emotions with logic, bringing us to the last stop in this process. 

Relentlessly pursue healthy.

When we have acceptance and optimism in the proper order, we must engage in the relentless pursuit of health. This is not passive. It is active and determined. It chases after healthy with passion. The pursuit of healthiness begins with spending time on things we can change and leaving things we cannot change. 

Relentless pursuit of health expects to fail in our attempts and refuses to stop. It adopts a mindset willing to fail as often as required to succeed.  

When we have accepted these realities, we can move forward with boldness and hope because we understand that there is a process and that it may be as valuable as it is not more valuable than the destination. 

Acceptance and optimism without action are of little value. Action without persistence may have even less value. So many people stop when they encounter resistance. Still, if we want to see change happen, we must relentlessly pursue it. You may find the following steps helpful. 

  1. Make a list of everything going on in the situation you are trying to change.  Be as detailed as possible, looking to distinguish between facts and feelings. Just write it all down. Don’t edit anything. Please keep it simple, but don’t hide anything because you might be afraid to face it. 
  2. Write down everything you control in the situation and mark everything you don’t control. Go through the list you made in step one and mark everything you control. If you’re trying to lose weight, you control food portions, the snacks you keep in your home, etc. You do not control genetics. Some people have found it helpful to use two different colors. 
  3. Create a change plan, focusing on only the things you control. Make a change plan with action steps on only things you control. You might write a plan that involves working out three times a week. You might write a plan to cook homemade snacks. Your plan must have action steps that are easy for you to see and follow.  

We can lose hope when we feel stuck. 

We often lose hope when we feel stuck, and we almost always feel stuck when we focus on other people or things we don’t control. Making lists like those mentioned above can help us shift our focus to ourselves and things that we can control.   What is something that you want to change in your life? What are you doing to create that change? 




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