We need to accept change as key part of life

Pádraig O’Moráin distils ideas from his new book and shows how acceptance of change is something that evolves

What if you were told during your early life that you were worthless, and accepted this judgment as true? Then there’s a danger you will live your life as a person who feels worthless, no matter what you achieve.

What if you were told that you were better than everybody else, a golden boy or girl who can do no wrong? If you accept that as true, you may go through life blighted by the curse of perfectionism.

In either case, you need to accept something different – perhaps that in a world of almost eight billion people, you are average or a bit above. That’s attainable and life can become easier and more fulfilling.

The theme of my new book is that acceptance isn’t the end of the story. Acceptance is dynamic. As human beings, when we accept something we move on to the question of what comes next.


If you accept that you have an addiction to drink or drugs, then what comes next? Sooner or later you ask yourself a question: what can I do about it?

If you accept that you are in the wrong career then, again, the question is, what’s next? Is that how I want to spend a large portion of my life?

In our time, though, it is change, most of all, that we are having to learn to accept.

Fundamental change has always been part of the human story. But in our era, I think, we are becoming change ninjas. And with that we need to become acceptance ninjas.

When the world is upended – think parts of Africa or Ukraine – when people are driven out by climate change or war, the lives of others far away get shaken up.

Those ripples can come to feel like gigantic waves.

We can refuse to accept all of this – but then we become like a bird beating its wings against the bars of a cage it can’t get out of. This metaphor has often been used to describe the distress of people in chronic pain – and acceptance of the pain has been shown over decades to improve the quality of life of those who suffer in this way.

Accepting the big changes in the world also means accepting the importance of giving attention to the present moment.

In one of the old Buddhist metaphors a woman jumps over a cliff to escape a pursuing tiger. Clutching onto a vine, she looks down and sees a second tiger waiting below.

She reaches out and plucks a strawberry which she sees growing out of the face of the cliff. It’s the most delicious she has ever tasted. She makes the most of the present moment because it’s the only one she’s got.

Acceptance is easier when you spend less time running dramas in your mind. When we refuse to accept, say an old grievance, we make speeches in our head, we repeat condemnations of those who offended us and we rerun scenes in which we were done down or even in which we didn’t speak up for ourselves at the time. We’re like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, lamenting “I coulda been a contender.”

But if you get stuck in coulda, shoulda, woulda, your life can come to a standstill.

I mentioned a Buddhist metaphor about the woman and the tigers. Another concerns two arrows.

If you were struck by an arrow, the experience would be painful. That’s the first arrow and it represents unwanted events we haven’t been able to avoid. But if the wound heals and you continue to think of nothing but that pain, it’s like taking a second arrow and sticking it into yourself.

You can’t shield yourself from all of life’s first arrows. But you can choose to drop that second arrow by accepting that what happened happened, moving away from the thoughts about it (for instance by saying something like “Not happening now” whenever they start up) and redirecting your energy to what’s more useful in your life.

In long-term relationships, accepting that people get on each other’s nerves from time to time and letting the inevitable spats fade into the past is essential if the relationship is to flourish. Acceptance, in a way, is the WD 40 that oils relationships.

I’m not suggesting that you should put up with being abused emotionally or physically. You may need to accept, though, that this is what is going on and work out how to get away safely from it.

So acceptance is powerful in all areas of life. It can bring us peace of mind and can set us on new and better paths.

As I suggested at the start, weed out those acceptances from the past that are bad for you. But go on accepting when acceptance is good for you – and it almost always is.

Pádraig O’Moráin’s latest book Acceptance: Create Change and Move Forward has just been published by Yellow Kite. He is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)

Pádraig O'Moráin

Pádraig O'Moráin

Pádraig O'Moráin is an Irish Times contributor specialising in men's health