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Sometimes I struggle with the tension between action and acceptance. On the one hand, I want to be disciplined and do the best I can in life. There are areas of my life I want to improve. If I want to reach my goals, it’s going to take purposeful, consistent effort.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems like I run into a brick wall. I try to go after a goal, but it doesn’t work out. Something happens that is outside of my control, and I struggle or fail. I can’t make everything I want to happen a reality.

How to Balance Action and Acceptance

What’s the balance here? Where in our life should we take disciplined action, and where should we work on acceptance? Action and acceptance seem like opposite directions. How do we know when to apply each strategy?

I used to do the p90x workout, and there’s a line from Tony Horton that I loved: “Do your best and forget the rest.” I think a slight tweak can help us with this dilemma of action vs. acceptance: Do your best and accept the rest.

Do Your Best

The first part (Do your best) is the action part. Most of the time in our lives, there are things we can do to improve our situation. If we want to be healthier, for example, we can start an exercise routine or improve our diet. If we want to make more money, we can go back to school or take on extra projects at work. If we want to improve our relationship with our wife and kids, we can spend more time with them or go to counseling. Action is important. If you’re sitting around watching television, frustrated about how your life is going, get active and do something! Things won’t change unless you apply energy in the direction you want to go.

Acknowledge Our Limitations

The phrase: “Do your best” also acknowledges that we each come to the table with certain limitations. Not all of us can win a gold medal in the Olympics. Not all of us can be Michael Jordan. You can do everything you can to work hard at your job, and you still might get laid off because of budget cuts. You can try everything you can to improve your relationships, and your spouse may still ask for a divorce. We can’t control the outcome of every situation, but we can always do our best.

Accept the Rest

When we run into one of our limitations, the second half of the phrase comes into play (Accept the rest). All we can control is our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. All we can do is our best. Things still may not go exactly as planned. When that happens, the key is acceptance. Are we willing to experience the thing we are struggling with, even if it is not pleasant? Acceptance is a more effective way forward than struggling with something that is impossible to change.

My Experience Recovering from an Injury

Here’s an example of this process working out in my own life. Last year, I struggled to recover from a broken tailbone. After the injury, I felt out of shape and unhappy with my body. I was frustrated that I wasn’t as good at my CrossFit workouts as I was before the injury.

Do your best and accept the rest. Was I doing my best? One of the things I realized is that I had probably been eating a bit too much food following my injury. When I was working out five days per week, eating a lot wasn’t a big deal. But when my workouts were limited, I needed to watch what I ate a bit more. I could apply some more energy in this area. Also, I needed to be more careful with my working out. Part of my injury problem had to do with not giving myself enough time to rest and recover. Moving forward, “doing my best” meant being smarter with listening to my body and giving it the time it needed to rest and recover.

Also, the reality for me was that I had some limitations. I couldn’t work out as much as I wanted to, because of the injury recovery. In fact, not acknowledging my limitations was part of the reason I got injured in the first place. There are some realities that go along with being injured (e.g., my body not being as strong or in shape) that I needed to accept. There wasn’t anything I could do to change these realities at that moment. I could struggle against them and be upset, but this wasn’t going to change anything. I needed to practice acceptance.

Discussion: Think about something you are struggling with in your life right now. Are you doing your best? Is there some way you could apply energy and action in this area of your life? Also, what are your limitations? Is there anything about this situation that you simply need to accept?