S1E2 Acceptance

In this episode Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin discuss the practice of acceptance from both western and eastern perspectives. While this concept may seem easy to talk about on the surface, in reality it is one of the hardest behaviors to do. Learn about behavioral mechanisms at play during the practice of acceptance.




Nikki: Welcome back. Hi Pete.

Pete: Hey, this is awesome.

Nikki: I know we enjoy doing this so we get to have an excuse to have a time on the calendar to chat on video and talk.

Pete: Here we are. What are we talking about today?

Nikki: We're going to talk about acceptance. So the reason I really want to talk about acceptance is that it's a word I would say most people use quite a bit, I hear everyone talking about they accepted, they don't accept it. To me it doesn't seem to always be the most accurately understood concept.

Pete: It's so challenging, because like, I've had clients who have had been like abused or something, and they're like, how do I accept that's what it was. So I think there's varying levels versus like, I didn't win the lottery or I didn't win a gold medal. Like, there's varying levels of distress, for acceptance, maybe?

Nikki: Well, actually, I'm glad that you said examples. So you're like, Yeah, I don't accept that I didn't win the lottery. That's not fair.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: That's sort of an example of how out in the world colloquially, the word accepts is used as like, that's not okay with me.

Pete: Right.

Nikki: Okay. Fine. Like, it's not okay with you that you didn't win lottery fair. I understand it, I hear you. The definition that we use in behavioral science and in mindfulness is very specific.

Pete: Yeah. So give it to us.

Nikki: All right. So acceptance means, experiencing and observing reality as it is.

Pete: So you're on the West Coast?

Nikki: I sure am.

Pete: And I'm on the east coast.

Nikki: Those are facts.

Pete: So, at times they say the West Coast, there's lots of traffic.

Nikki: sure is.

Pete: Okay, and so, how do you apply acceptance to traffic on the West Coast?

Nikki: When I'm sitting in the 405 in like bumper to bumper traffic.

Pete: Does it matter the time that you're going?

Nikki: I mean, not really, honestly. If you're going at five o'clock on a Friday.

Pete: Forget it?

Nikki: Yeah, you’re definitely screwed.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Accepting being in traffic is saying this is what's happening.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: I don't like it, and allowing myself to feel the irritation. Most people in that situation are like, beating their fists against the steering wheel, you know, they’re like, why?

Pete: Yeah. So, one of my first dialectical behavioral therapy trainings in Connecticut. I'm leaving jersey, I'm driving to Connecticut and it's pouring rain, and I'm late. And I'm almost never late.

Nikki: That’s true.

Pete: Yeah, I'm almost like a five minute early kind of person, you might imagine as a perfectionist.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: And so all of a sudden, I'm late. And I'm thinking I wasn't sure, like the registration and all this stuff. It was like some of the top East Coast trainers and DBT. And I was really excited for it and all of a sudden, I look over whatever road I was on. But you know, going from Jersey to Connecticut is not easy, because you have to go through New York and it's tons of traffic. I look over and on the median; there is this like, vibrant pink flower. And I was like, holy shit, that flower is gorgeous. And I was like, oh, that's mindfulness. Because in that moment, like I just took myself into the flower versus the frustration of, you go back to the frustration.

Nikki: Well you make space for it. And I think where a lot of people get confused is, I'm going to get there people listening, saying oh, so what Pete's saying is, acceptance means look for the good things out there, look for the beautiful pink flower.

Pete: That’s right. Life is not a beautiful pink flower.

Nikki: There are beautiful pink flowers luckily on a Median, I don't know the LA or wherever.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: Is that how you get? I don't know. Something like that.

Pete: That's close enough.

Nikki: Okay. I was trying my hand at using, yeah.

Pete: You were in New York for 12 years.

Nikki: 8

Pete: Oh, whatever. Nikki’s better at anniversaries than I am. Okay.

Nikki: Yes. So to see that pink flower requires first making space for what is and that comes back to this idea of acceptance that most of us have trouble understanding accurately. Like you're saying even when you have patients that have a trauma history, accepting it isn't. Yeah, this happened, let's just like push it under the rug. It's actually really showing up and being present.

Pete: Bring it in. Yeah.

Nikki: But the pain that it elicits, no more, no less. And that's also where mindfulness comes in.

Pete: For my athletes. I always say like the heckling. You know, like, let the fans heckle you because I think sometimes emotions do that to us it hackles.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: Like, no, you're not supposed to feel this way, you're weak, you know, versus like, no, give yourself the space for this. And I remember losing one of my aunts after like, I really got into this whole mindfulness thing, and being at the funeral and crying and being sad. And judging that because I was like, wait, mindfulness is about, like non attachment and acceptance so how are you feeling sad at a funeral? And I think that it's like, what I'm showing there is like, it's helpful to realize that we go through these processes. And I'm sure you saw, you see that in yoga, you know, where you sort of think one way.

Nikki: Yeah, and through experience, you recognize it's really about contacting what it is. And that's where that again, my opinion is this beautiful partnership of behavioral science of mindfulness shows up that contacting the moment, contacting the grief that you're experiencing. Contacting the joy you're experiencing when you saw that pink flower, you know, guys that are being heckled, contacting the frustration or irritation that shows up. That's a behavior.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: That's what we call covert behavior. Covert meaning it's happening inside your skin I can't see you doing it. And I think a lot of people look at acceptance as something passive. Have you heard that, I hear it a lot? They're like, Oh, yeah, just accepted. It's going to happen to me. And I'm like, oh, no.

Pete: Well, I hear that a lot. Because they'll be like, but then I don't achieve, especially with high performers. If I accept mediocrity, then I'm not actually going to achieve to get something superior. And I'm like, well, it's actually quite the contrary, I think, once we can accept where we're at, we can commit to where we want to be.

Nikki: Correct. And an acceptance just means again, this contacting what is, making space for what is. it's in no way to the point that you're making here, Pete is that in no way is that antithetical to change? In fact, it's how change happens. You know, the famous GVT, the purple house metaphor, do you remember that one?

Pete: Give it to us.

Nikki: So the famous dialectical behavior therapy metaphor, where they talk about, you've like purchased your dream home, it's everything you've ever wanted, you know, I don't know it's got a pool or whatever. You show up, the whole house is purple. Like, the blinds are purple, the ceilings purple, the carpets purple, and you frickin hate purple.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: So what are the options? Like you could show up to the house, you could like stomp around and like, shake your fist the sky Like, what, how dare they do this to me? You could like sit in the corner and cry about the house being purple. You know, how's that going to go, what's going to happen?

Pete: Yeah, not great. It's going to be purple.

Nikki: It's still going to be purple. Right? So what's the other option? And you know, people were like, well, you could go get some paint. Yeah, you could. You can't get the paint unless you first acknowledge like, yeah, the house is purple.

Pete: That's right.

Nikki: All right. I don't like it. I'm distressed about that. Now what?

Pete: Yeah. And so when we talk about the acceptance is like building a strong foundation. And you could decorate your house after? You know, I think that's everything we use. We use a lot of metaphors in this world and I think our listeners are going to get really used to lots of them. Whether it's a house or decorating the buffet, the hackling.

Nikki: So there's going to be so many. Sorry, or you're welcome. Whatever your experience is.

Pete: Yeah, it’s you're welcome.

Nikki: It’s you're welcome. So, Pete, do you ever experience that people sometimes confuse acceptance with resignation?

Pete: Yes, I think because the idea is, like, I was just saying with these high performers is like, let's say I want to be like a CEO. And so if I accept that I am not fully happy in my job, we're accepting my like, my personal life is suffering, that maybe I'm resigning to where I am and not working towards becoming a CEO. And so it's a complete opposite of what we're trying to say and acceptance, right?

Nikki: So how do you help somebody to shift their understanding that acceptance isn't just kind of like dragging your feet and like, oh, well, how do you help them really understand, like, the fullness of it?

Pete: Well, I do it through commitment, so commitment to change and also values. Because that's the key, like, bottom line is, why do you want to be a CEO? You know, find meaning in that and then you can decide whether or not how to get there or find meaning of what you're working towards to accept. So what what's so bad about a purple house, you know, so like, find what the purple means to you and trying to like what colors you want to pick. By the way, my dad loves lavender and like the majority of his house is lavender.

Nikki: So that metaphor would not work with that.

Pete: No, it would be like, this is perfect.

Nikki: It’s like; say no more, that's my dream house. You know, yeah. It's more my dream house.

Pete: So what's your like? How do you work your resignation?

Nikki: I really help people to understand that acceptance is a behavior that requires them to step into what they don't want to step into. So oftentimes in third wave, cognitive behavioral therapies, acceptance and the word willingness are actually used interchangeably. So in mindfulness, you know, for listeners that have done a sitting practice before, a lot of times people will sit with their palms up in their lap, which is actually like a willing posture. Yeah, Pete and I are doing it right now on video.

Pete: Yeah, go to the website.

Nikki: Go to the website, you can see it. And if you actually even if you're listening and you put your palms up, you're going to notice it, it's kind of a vulnerable physical expression, right? There's openness there. That's what acceptance is. If you turn your palms over and squeeze your fists tight, that's not acceptance. That's like literally white knuckling it.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: But most people that I encounter tend to view acceptance is like, either they're resigning themselves to something or there, ‘I got to bulldoze through this.’ and I really want to help people understand, there is an opening up to discomfort, a willingness, right.

Pete: Yeah, the white knuckling is something I think we've all done.

Nikki: Yeah, of course.

Pete: Yeah, grad school. Hello. You know, and I think sometimes I struggle with that with, like, say, athletes of color, you know, of like white knuckling through kind of being told where to be or what to do. You know, because these are really challenging sort of conversations in that way. But I like to use brought up the especially because that's that blend also with like yoga. Yeah, and a lot of us do that in, you know, in our, in our clinical, right, like, my clinical rooms, if you come to them, depending on which office you're at. There's meditation mats, there's [inaudible], there's yoga mats, you know, there's blocks, because we're not just sitting in a chair kind of talking all the time. That's how I do it.

Nikki: I was like, that's awesome. I'm like; I'm sitting in the chair talking.

Pete: And that’s okay.

Nikki: Yeah, that's okay.

Pete: Yeah. Especially with athletes, because we want to be active.

Nikki: Of course, yeah.

Pete: It's one of the things I teaches, I teach with the palms up is about sort of accepting energy and the palms down and sort of grounding.

Nikki: Yes. I use that as well.

Pete: Yeah. And that's likely, as you were saying to the palms up with the vulnerability, I was thinking, like, where did I even learned that I think it's a yoga practice.

Nikki: I learned it from a yoga teacher.

Pete: I thought so too.

Nikki: Yeah, I learned it from a yoga teacher.

Pete: And I always feel it, and I think 100% of the time clients can feel that too, that I've worked with, where if we play around the difference. If you sit for like, five minutes together, six, seven minutes, whatever, whether it's up, you sort of feel like you're sharing something, versus like, when it's down, you're just kind of in yourself.

Nikki: Yeah, and this is, you know, example of, there's a different time and choice for everything based on the context. You know, I like to invite people to say, like, whatever you need in that moment. And also say if you always meditate with your palms down, try palms up. If you always meditate palms up, try it palms down.

Pete: If you have pancakes every Saturday morning, try to have eggs one Saturday morning.

Nikki: Yeah eggs, sometimes, you know, absolutely. Like mixed it up, you know.

Pete: Because that's flexibility. like, how do you see flexibility with acceptance? Yeah.

Nikki: I think you actually can't have flexibility without acceptance. Acceptance means, again, come back to this definition of contacting reality as it is. So, you know, we're in the midst of a global pandemic. And we are being asked right now to change our behavior in ways that we never thought we would. I mean, I'm just now offering up to patients to some people return live if they want. But I said, we're going to have to wear masks in session, you know, and I said, Look, so we can continue telehealth. And I'm joking, going, like, you know, I've never done therapy in a mask. I've no, I have no idea. None of us have. And yet, I'm radically accepting that this is the context, this is what's happening. And then I have choices of what to do. Right? Do people want to come back and mask, do they want to do telehealth? you know, that's great.

Pete: Yeah. There's always avenues right, you think about it, we'll go back to the west coast, in the 405. This isn't the best metaphor, okay, on the east coast I could get to one place five or six different roads.

Nikki: There is actually I’m going to do it in LA a repping I guess. I love LA, extremely, deeply.

Pete: Yes you do maybe more than I love jersey.

Nikki: Yeah maybe. LA was actually was built before the freeways. And so LA is known for these certain streets like Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard, go from the ocean all the way through downtown. So there's actually always a way you can get off the freeway and go. Those roads might also be filled with traffic, depending on the day that you're traveling. So yeah, there's options right? Option is how you interact with what's happening. Right?

Pete: That’s right. You could like, you know, again, like call your friends and like complain how pissed you are that you're stuck in traffic.

Pete: Or you could drive some more, whatever. Yeah.

Nikki: Yeah, hopefully not drinking while driving a car.

Pete: Oh, call your friends while you’re in the car.
Nikki: Okay, yeah.

Pete: Okay yes.

Nikki: I mean, that's not technically your option but.

Pete: Because people often will get after like sitting in traffic, they'll get to where they're going same for me a stiff one. Right. You know, and I think that that's something that what we've talked about in the coping episode is like, you know, there's adaptive and maladaptive coping. And so I think, since, what the one thing I say is, I find acceptance to be a word that's either, you know, easy to say or spell, but almost, it's really challenging to practice.

Nikki: So hard.

Pete: Almost impossible, but it's not impossible. But like, it's super challenging to actually practice.

Nikki: Yeah, I always say that point because I 100% agree with you. It's one of the hardest things to practice.

Pete: I think so.

Nikki: One of the hardest oh, yeah. You know, I think people have an expectation when they view it as something passive, that it's just going to happen to them, going to, like wash over them. And I would say, like, Look, if it was just kind of wash over you. If it wasn't active, it wasn't something that required intention and willingness and practice. None of us would have any trouble accepting things that are hard. But the good news is a muscle basically, that you can strengthen, you know, you can get more skilled at practicing acceptance. But that doesn't mean that accepting something makes it pleasant. I think that's the hard thing to, right? Do, you know, like, I accepted, and now it's going to be good. And I’m like, oh, no, it's actually just gotten hard.

Pete: No, I accepted. I learned how to feel like crap.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: Because I think no matter how hard we work, it's, you know, and I think that's our biggest challenge is that Nikki and I, we want to help people feel better.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: And so in the east, they see this as natural suffering. So the things that we’re working on accepting are just part of the culture as part of the Eastern spiritual practice. Right. In Zen, the first noble truth is that life is suffering. We all suffer.

Nikki: Yeah. And in the West, in particularly in United States. It's how can I feel good?

Pete: Yeah. Let me take a pill, let me pack expensive psychologists. You know, whatever it is, there are all these things and I get it. And I love an end in cognitive therapy. Our goal is for clients not to have to work with us, right. And that's key.

Nikki: Absolutely. Yeah, it's key. And so a lot of that work then focuses on helping people understand that having a life that you want to have requires willingly, openly making space for what you don't want and that that's going to crack open the space to what you do. And you know, I always say it's like, kind of like a quote unquote, secret of the universe, but not a secret. It's been around in eastern traditions for 1000s of years.

Pete: And why are they doing it more? But I love that, the secret of the universe.

Outro Music

Nikki: The secret of the universe. This has been awesome. Pete thank you for talking about acceptance today. I'm looking forward to sure talking about it many more times because this is not a one and done kind of conversation.

Pete: Never, so I'm going to go leave here and go practice on some acceptance.

Nikki: Sounds good. The secret of the universe. Tell me how it goes. This has been when east meets west. I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin.

Pete: And I'm Dr. Pete Economou. Be present. Be brave. This has been when East meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou and Nicky Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only