What Is, Is – The Power of Positive Acceptance

Chris takes a look at this practical and highly effective self-help book by psychologist Graham W Price

Bad things happen to all of us, from the trivial, such as missing our train or, as happened to me recently, to the serious diagnosis of a life threatening illness.

In simple words, without any pretensions, in ‘What Is, Is!’, psychologist Graham W Price tells us how to deal with such setbacks. Rather than become immobilised by regret, disappointment, stress or worry, Graham explains how to become more resilient and focus on action rather than dwelling on past or present losses.

Some coaches and development trainers argue there’s no such thing as failure, only learning opportunities, but Price believes it’s usually unrealistic to expect us to review setbacks in a positive way, and the problem with trying to ‘reframe’ setbacks into something positive is that it just reinforces the idea that situations can only be accepted if they’re positive.

Price advocates acceptance rather than ‘reframing’, viewing the latter as a bonus if we can do it. The key to resilience is to be able to accept negative situations and events, at the same time as focusing on action to change them or to improve the future.

Almost all negative thoughts, such as regret, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, disappointment, upset, stress or irritation involve wishing something were ‘already’ different. In other words we’re wishing something that’s happened hadn’t happened or we’re wishing that a situation that exists right now didn’t exist right now. Both are wishing for the impossible. And yet that’s precisely what people want whenever they’re dissatisfied about anything.

As Price explains, ‘Being able to ‘accept what is’ is the basis of resilience, it puts us in control of our emotions and enables us to focus only on action to improve the future.

Price developed a technique to train himself to ‘accept what is’ all the time. It’s called Positive Acceptance and is now widely accepted with thousands of people trained to practise it. Positive Acceptance is a simple four-step process:

  1. Create a habit of noticing whenever you are wanting something to be ‘already’ different (easy enough as this is almost always what we’re doing whenever we’re dissatisfied about anything)
  2. Recognise this is irrational as we’re wishing for the impossible
  3. Drop the thought (surprisingly easy once you’ve carried out the first two steps)
  4. Re-focus on the action you can take to improve the future.

Price suggests we initially practise on small things (burnt toast, red traffic lights, missed trains) and then build up to bigger things. It’s a principle that I have adopted since reading the book and I think it really works. With practice it becomes more automatic and eventually I have since been able to apply it to a very big issue in my life.

For the first day after I received my diagnosis of breast cancer, I could only think about I how I wished it hadn’t happened and I wanted to go back in time. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen and I was wasting my energy on wishing things were already different. When I realised this, I could follow the advice in ‘What Is, Is!’ and focus my energies on how I could make the situation better in future. From there I took control and started to develop a strategy for my recovery.

Feelings or emotions can get in the way of ‘accepting what is’. It’s hard to think rationally when we’re upset, angry or anxious. Price suggests we wait for feelings to subside before engaging in Positive Acceptance.

A variation of the Positive Acceptance technique can be also used to deal with worry. Whenever we’re worrying, we’re wanting something to be different in the future from the way we think it might be and we believe we can’t control it. This is just as irrational as wishing things were already different. So his variation of Positive Acceptance is to again recognise we’re having an irrational thought, drop the thought and refocus only on how we can gain greater control over whatever we were worrying about.

’What Is, Is!’ is one of the most effective self-help books I have read in a long time. Its words of wisdom are obvious enough but, however sensible the advice of accepting what is, probably few of us actually do it. I have found the principles in ‘ the book immensely helpful in dealing with all manner of life’s irritations – and I seem to be saying ‘What Is, Is!’ as a matter of course these days.

Dissatisfaction is so debilitating and de-motivating and it can be replaced by much more effective motivators, such as what we really want the future to be. Once we’ve developed this level of resilience, setbacks can be taken in our stride while we focus on any lessons learned and taking action to rebuild the future.

‘What Is, Is!’ is an easy read and guides you through the process of Positive Acceptance in building block exercises. Don’t be put off by its simplicity, this is powerful stuff.

Click this link to buy the book