O Magazine: Oh, let's not make things worse—let's go back to radically accepting. Are there actual exercises you can do to learn how?
Marsha M. Linehan, PhD: Radical acceptance comes from the depths of your being, and it involves a number of skills you can practice. In fact, the most important thing is to say to yourself that it is practice—rather than telling yourself that you're flat-out going to accept. Once you put the demand on yourself to accept, every failure to accept makes things worse.
O Magazine: So it's a bit like physical therapy: You're not there quite yet, but you're working on it.
Marsha M. Linehan, PhD: Right. You can let yourself think about what's not in your life, what you don't have that you want, as you relax your body and your face. Then you can practice saying out loud that this is a fact and you can accept it. What I call half-smiling sounds weird, but it works: You relax your entire face and then let your lips come up just slightly on either side, and you think about what it is that you're trying to accept. There's a lot of interesting research indicating that you can change emotions simply by changing your face. You're sending a message to your brain through your face that things are not so bad.
O Magazine: Making it okay that you're not going to achieve what you'd hoped to achieve could be seen as rationalization.
Marsha M. Linehan, PhD: What's wrong with that? But the truth is, we're not trying to make it okay or not okay. We're trying to accept it as fact, because that's a way to get unstuck. If you wanted children and you don't have them and you radically accept that, you can go out and build nurturing relationships with young people. I was meant by God to have 12 children, but that isn't what I got. I don't have a biological child, but in my life there's a child who's like my own. The failure to accept is the failure to replace. Because you won't accept that there's a hole in your life, you do nothing to fill the hole. Maybe you can never fill it all the way, but believe me, a hole three-quarters filled beats an empty hole.
O Magazine: So do you give up on your original goal?
Marsha M. Linehan, PhD: Not necessarily. Radical acceptance doesn't mean you don't reach for achievement. You just can't catastrophize not being the one who makes it. Once you tie your identity and happiness to achieving some goal, you're in trouble. I will tell you my sperm theory of life: All sperm swim, but only one fertilizes the egg. In life it's unreasonable to expect to be that one. You can demand only that you swim to the best of your ability.
Jump Start Your Dream!
From the October 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!