Radical Acceptance: Sh*t Happens.


*Warning a bit of profanity was used in the making of this blog. Rest assured it was done in good spirits and no offense was intended. Now lets carry on…

Shit happens in life.

Shit happens in work.

Shit happens in sport.

Shit happens in training.

Shit happens in racing.

Shit. Just. Happens.

Even the wise sage Forest Gump agrees…

By “shit” I mean the unexpected-sometimes painful unprepared-for out of left field kind of life stuff that we experience. This is where the mental skill of Radical Acceptance comes in. Radical acceptance is one thing that I practiced most of my life without even realizing it was called “Radical Acceptance.” Radical acceptance in my experience was going into a situation with “eyes wide open” and “keeping it real” for what it was. I faced each situation head on, even though it was sometimes (many times) painful and many times uncomfortable. I firmly believed that I did not want to fool or lie to myself about the reality of the situations in my life. This has been a very powerful tool for me. It has allowed me to own my shit and take personal responsibility for the outcomes in my life. No excuses.

So what is Radical Acceptance and how could it be helpful in sport and life? Well, Radical Acceptance is acknowledgement and acceptance of “what is.” Radical acceptance requires us to consciously acknowledge that we have done all we could to change, control, or manage the situation and at this moment there is nothing more that could be done BUT accept that moment (situation, personal, place, emotion, or thing) as it is, i.e. shit just happened, shit is happening, shit happens. This allows us to accept the reality of what is, not what could be, should be, out to be. What IS.


“Accepting reality is difficult when life is painful. No one wants to experience pain, disappointment, sadness or loss. But those experiences are a part of life. When you attempt to avoid or resist those emotions, you add suffering to your pain. You may build the emotion bigger with your thoughts or create more misery by attempting to avoid the painful emotions. You can stop suffering by practicing acceptance. “(http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201207/radical-acceptance)

Therein lies the wisdom, “YOU can stop suffering!” Validating/acknowledging your pain allows you to move on from it and keep going. “There are many life situations that are painful and that are not in our control. We can’t avoid that pain, but we can control how much we suffer over the pain that we experience. Suffering is the part we can control.” So by practicing and implementing radical acceptance we are empowering ourselves to relieve our suffering. Powerful…don’t you think?! But don’t get it twisted, radical acceptance does not mean you agree, like, or want shit to happen. It just means you are no longer choosing to suffer with it. Also, radical acceptance is NOT avoidance or denial. Avoidance means you know “it” (situation, person, place, emotion, thing) is present in your life and are using other defenses to keep yourself from facing it, and denial means that you want to keep it out of conscious awareness all together. Radical acceptance is deeply empowering and allows you to control an aspect of your experience that you feel out of control about.


So to illustrate an example, last night I knew I had a pretty tough bike-run brick session on tap for this morning. Last night I remember myself looking forward to it. I also know that every time I do a hard morning session I feel so accomplished after. However, I woke up feeling out of sorts and not how I thought I would feel this morning. My body felt heavy (even though I did all my good recovery stuff the night and days before) and my mind was like “more sleep please”. I did my usual routine, but recognized I still felt a little off. While starting my intervals I told myself “You know, you choose to get up and do this. You are in it now and doing it. You did your normal routine, nothing major changed in your routine, and you feel not as sharp and energetic as you thought you would. That’s what’s up. But you also are choosing to finish this session out and you will the best you can. So stay in the moment and accept.” This self-talk and application of radical acceptance helped me to:

1)     Acknowledge the reality of what is and the unexpected change in how I physically and mentally felt.

2)     Acknowledged my choice in the situation.

3)     Allowed me to not get stuck on “what I did wrong” “what went wrong” or “what should be different” “what should have I done different” and therefore relieved my suffering.

4)     Allowed me to stay present and realize that my emotional and physical sensations change and are temporary. Life goes on and all things are temporary, “like chasing the wind”

Here are a few other situations that radical acceptance could come in handy:

  • In a triathlon race, you exit the water with a swim time that you are displeased about and find yourself thinking/stressing about it on the bike.
  • You show up at the start line of a race and see someone racing whom has beat you in a prior race.
  • In a triathlon race you get a flat. You get back on the bike, but lose significant time.
  • You show up to a race and the weather is not what you expected.
  • You under performed at your “A” race.
  • You get sick or ill.
  • You lose your job.
  • You lose a significant relationship or a relationship changes.
  • You got something you wanted and did not feel how you expected when you got it.

Radical acceptance is a skill that takes practice and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the concept and how to apply it in life. However, if you would like to get unstuck, relieve your suffering, and be able to move on from the shit that happens in life you might want to develop some radical acceptance by practicing a few of the statements below.


Well peeps we are exactly 1 month from Ironman Texas and I am excited for the big show! Every step of the way I choose to trust my training and my process. It feels really good and exciting. I am a firm believer that all hard work pays off and outcomes are manifestations of what has been done prior to those moments in life. I am ready to manifest my greatness.

I hope that you are owning your greatness and accepting the reality that you are AMAZING, POWERFUL, WONDERFUL, AND BEAUTIFUL so don’t forget to SHINE ON!

-Dr. G

Additional readings and resources on radical acceptance:


Radical Acceptance: An Interview with Tara Brach



Published by

Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.