How to be more accepting without becoming a pushover

I hear it all the time.

“If being mindful means practicing acceptance, won’t that just let people walk all over me? I’m afraid that if I’m too accepting, then I’ll get taken advantage of.”

Sound familiar? Maybe it’s something you’ve thought about before too. I’ll admit, I had this fear myself when I picked up my first mindfulness book. After all, the books kept saying things like “Just notice whatever arises without judgement.”

The truth is, this is a fear that stops many people from practicing mindfulness. Maybe you’re not getting the respect you deserve, and you don’t want to make it even worse. Maybe your coworkers don’t listen to you. Maybe you care deeply about social justice and feel that you can’t accept the things going on in the world right now.

Maybe you’re thinking that being more “accepting” is the last thing you need.

So here’s what I want to talk about. Do we have to worry about mindfulness turning us into doormats? Not in the slightest! In fact, mindfulness helps us be LESS of a pushover. Let me tell you why.

Contrary to popular belief, mindful acceptance DOES NOT mean we stand idly by while the kids in our 1st grade classroom run around destroying things and making a mess. Or while our coworker eats our cookies (which are clearly marked with your name on them). That type of behavior is called acquiescence, and is not what gets cultivated in mindfulness practice.

Acceptance means to stop being in denial. It means clearly seeing what is going on in our lives, right here and now.

True acceptance means we are honest about what’s going on. It means not pushing away painful truths. That’s it. Tthe blinders are off.

When we cultivate acceptance, it is actually the very thing that allows us to respond appropriately to what’s happening (rather than responding to the wrong thing, or not responding at all).

For example, let’s say you are struggling with addiction. Most of us have something that we cling to in an unhealthy way. Addiction can be a very powerful force in the mind. It can make us feel like slaves to desires and cravings. Completely powerless to do anything.

I’ve personally dealt with many forms of addiction throughout my life. Drugs, sex, alcohol, academic “success”, Facebook, Gmail. You name it.

In practicing acceptance, it doesn’t mean that I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve accepted it, no use trying to change it.”

Acceptance means I acknowledged my addiction, with both courage and self-compassion for the pain it had caused me, and began to take the next steps to change my behavior.

I didn’t succumb to it. Instead I noticed it, and saw how it affected my mind and my life.

Being able to respond appropriately and wisely got easier the more I practiced mindful acceptance, because I started to gain some skill in remaining calm in difficult situations. Rather than wasting my energy fighting my experience, or freaking out, I see if I can accept it, and then calmly ask myself, “Ok, this is how it is. How do I want to respond?”

Rather than falling into a whirlwind of indignation, what-ifs, or fear, I became like the steady captain of a ship in stormy waters.

Rain, thunder, and lightning might have been all around, but I kept my eyes open and my hands firmly on the helm, ready for every challenge ahead.

So, no, mindfulness won’t turn us into doormats or let people take advantage of us. On the contrary, mindful acceptance helps us see our world clearly, so that we know exactly what needs to be done.

Now I want you to imagine what your life would be like if you had that skill, that open-eyed clarity. Imagine getting disrespected at work or at home, and instead of letting anger or aggression build up in your mind and cloud your judgement, you simply see what needs to be done, and you go do it.

If you want to learn how to cultivate acceptance in the present moment, try practicing mindful breathing. Click here for a FREE step-by-step guide.