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Welcome to Willingness

Let us face it; many of us grew up in a world that taught us our ability to choose is limited. We grew to believe that we did not have choices. When it comes to willingness, however, we do have a choice. We get to choose with each new experience that comes our way. Since we learned our choices in life are limited, the act of willingness does not come easy for most. Yet, choice often sits patiently in the corner of our mind or the deepest part of our core, waiting for us to call it forth. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), willingness plays a key role in helping one live the life they want to live. It works with acceptance to create space to experience all that life offers.

Too often, we limit our experiences and thus our life because we are unwilling to accept things that make us uncomfortable. We cannot accept that we are sad, we are unwilling to be angry, etc. We work to control the emotions we experience, thinking controlling them gives us the peace and happiness we want. This strategy often backfires; the thing we very much are unwilling to have is the very thing we find ourselves experiencing repeatedly. There is a better way; choose willingness! Choose to be present for every moment. Choose to show up for life without letting uncomfortable inner experiences (thoughts, emotions, body sensations, urges) keep you from acting consistently towards your life goals. When we are willing to have these uncomfortable experiences without trying to control or change them, we have more energy to put towards things that really matter. We stop exhausting ourselves.

If we want to live a life that we love more, we must be willing to do things we feel uncomfortable doing. We might have to be the parent, friend, spouse, employer, or employee that says no. We might have to let go of relationships. We might have to adjust our expectations of situations that no longer serve our highest good. We might have to change careers or sacrifice a comfort we have grown to expect. We must take chances and let go of things we cannot control. We must be willing to allow things to be just as they are.

Are you limiting your experiences? Is your life space getting bigger or smaller? Take time this month to reflect on something you have been unwilling to accept. Ask yourself what you are hoping to avoid by this unwillingness.

Ask yourself what you risk losing; what are you missing by this unwillingness? Can you lean a little towards willingness just for a moment? Allow yourself time each day to notice what experiences you are willing to have.

Start a list of the thoughts, emotions, and other inner experiences you have. Add to your list throughout the week and put checkmarks next to the things that show up repeatedly. Once you have your list, rate each item in terms of how willing you are to have it. As the last step, choose one of the easiest to have and be willing to have it the next time it shows up. Simply acknowledge it, label it (thought, emotion, body sensation, urge), and let it flow into the next thought, emotion, or body sensation. This might be difficult at first, but it becomes easier over time. Learning to let go of the need/desire to control your emotions opens the door for you to take committed action and live the life you want.

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