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January 2019
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Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
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Flexibility, Acceptance, and Commitment: Three behaviors for the new year

Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss

Welcome to the new year – 2019!

Welcome to the new year – 2019! Given all the national political unrest, stress, lies, and deceit, we need to aim to be more accepting. Given that it is difficult at this time to accept all the national issues, we need to focus in on our own life satisfaction and happiness. In order to do that we need to be even more accepting of our thoughts and feelings and committed to facing our own problems head-on. Instead of avoiding our problems, we need to commit to actions that will help ourselves stop struggling against the inevitable and facilitate thriving instead. Such action demands flexibility. What if we could accept ourselves to feel what we feel, even if it’s negative? What would happen if we let ourselves experience it all, be flexible instead of focusing all our effort on evading any potentially difficult problems?

In psychology, acceptance occurs when a situation is acknowledged and accepted by an individual. It is typically used in reference to the acknowledgement of a negative situation. Instead of avoiding our problems, we need to commit to actions that will help us stop struggling against the inevitable and facilitate thriving instead. What if we could accept ourselves to feel what we feel, even if it’s negative? In addition, what would happen if we let ourselves just experience thoughts, feelings, and experiences, instead of focusing all our efforts on evading any potential problems? Acceptance is an alternative to the instinct to avoid negative, or potentially negative, experiences. It is the active choice to be aware of and allow these types of experiences without trying to avoid or change them. Clearly, the emphasis is on acceptance and allowing instead of avoiding.

Have you ever regretted not doing something because you psyched yourself out? Whether it be asking someone out on a date, confronting a family member, or asking someone to do something for you? Many times we tend to overestimate how bad the consequences really are. In other words, we “think too much” about what could happen and convince ourselves that these actions are not worth the trouble.

However, we are much more mentally resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Self-affirmations are statements that we tell ourselves in order to spark self-change (Steele, 1988). They are designed to alter our beliefs about ourselves such that they are more positive. Generally speaking, self-affirmations serve as part of the psychological immune system. For example, when your wife or significant other harshly critiques you, we need to give ourselves positive reminders like “it’s going to be okay” to help cope with the situation. Although we use self-affirmations as a coping mechanism, they can also motivate us. Quite simply, when we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to take action. So when we tell ourselves that “I love to go for a walk”, we feel good about going for a walk. If we smile while we are walking, our bodies feel better. A simple mechanism of flexibility and acceptance of the action facilitates commitment. In contrast, researchers have shown that when we feel bad about ourselves we become complacent, depressed, and are at a greater risk for health problems.

Affirmations are more than just self-help statements to make ourselves feel better. They can have a significant impact on our overall quality of life. Regular affirmations allow us to become more in tune with our thoughts and the way we think about our self in general. When we are conscious and more accepting of our attitudes towards ourselves, we can make an effort and commitment to eliminate negative thoughts. When we become more aware and accepting of ourselves, we are able to become more flexible and mindful of surrounding ourselves with positive things. Therefore the more we practice and make a commitment to accepting ourselves the more we notice what aspects of our lives are most important to us, as well as those things that may be impeding on our happiness.

Additionally, daily affirmations help keep us in a consistently positive mood. Optimistic people tend to be healthier, more productive, and generally happier than those who view themselves less positively. One study shows that after 4weeks of repeated self-affirmation activity, participants experienced an increase in their mental wellbeing (Nelson, Fuller, Choi, & Lyubomirsky, 2014). Daily affirmations allow us to have a clearer perspective on the obstacles in our life. In other words, people who practice daily affirmations don’t sweat the small stuff because they have a better grasp on what is important in their life. They are able to think about the big picture and not get overwhelmed with minor stuff.


a positive life

Positivity is contagious. By practicing positive affirmations, we are indirectly benefiting others as well. Our positive attitude will carry on to other people and in turn make them feel better. Daily affirmations can be a difficult thing to do. Especially if you are someone who has struggled with self-compassion before, saying something nice about yourself is not always the easiest. To begin, we need to identify some of the properties of good affirmations. Most importantly, an affirmation needs to be stated in the present and be positive. For example, “I expect to be successful”, would be one such affirmation. Notice that it is written in the present, it does not say “I will be successful.” An affirmation should be immediately gratifying for it to be effective. Also, it needs to be positive as well as unconditional. Affirmations are more beneficial when they are repeated. The more you repeat the same affirmation, the more your unconscious begins to believe it. Over time we are training our brains to think more positively through self-affirmations. Lastly, we need to write our affirmations down. Saying good things about yourself aloud is one thing, but writing them down increases their potency. Writing an affirmation down allows your mind one more way to absorb the positive message and self-acceptance.

There are many experiences and activities in our lives which aren’t innately negative, and which could easily be neutralized or even made pleasant by the power of acceptance. This has never been put better than in the Serenity Prayer, created by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and later adopted by Alcoholics’ Anonymous: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” What better way to “add life to years” than by practicing acceptance, flexibility, and commitment to produce positivity in our lives.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at larry@addinglifetoyears.com or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.