Why Moving on Doesn’t Mean Giving Up: The Power of Acceptance in Making a Change

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a situation in which you were unhappy, like maybe a job or a relationship, but couldn’t see a path forward? Or maybe even though you were unhappy, the idea of making a change was too overwhelming and those old adages “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” and “what if the grass isn’t actually greener on the other side” kept playing in your mind? 

If so, you aren’t alone. So many people stay stuck in situations in which they feel unfulfilled, unhappy, or even worse – unsafe, and they do so for a number of reasons. 

Sometimes, it’s not realistic to make a change at that time. For instance, many of us have fantasized about quitting a toxic job, only to look at our bills and begrudgingly gone back to work the next day. 

Other times, it is fear of the unknown. This anxiety avoidance response keeps many people frozen in place. “What if I end this relationship and then am single for the rest of my life???” “What if I move to that new city and it turns out to be terrible???” 

Then sometimes, the things that keep people trapped in unhappy situations are shame or embarrassment. As human beings, we naturally hate admitting that we are wrong, and so rather than admitting something is no longer working for us, we stay. 

I’ve worked with professionals who are miserable in their careers but continue because they “put all that time and money” into getting their relevant degree. I’ve also worked with people who stay in unhappy relationships for 5, 10, 20, sometimes even 40 years because they’ve been with the person for so long and it’s “too late” to start a new relationship. 

In the world of business and economics, they call this the “sunk-cost fallacy.” This is when someone is reluctant to make a change because they've already invested so much in their initial decision, even if making a change would actually benefit them. 

It can feel like making a change means admitting we’ve messed up. To leave feels like we’ve lost. Lost money, lost years. I’m here to tell you that this simply isn’t true. Making a change is not an admission that we’ve lost something. It’s an acknowledgment that we’ve gained insights and learned lessons. 

In the world of therapy, we talk about the power of acceptance and psychological flexibility 

As with most things, the first step is acceptance. Now acceptance ⁻≠ liking. We don’t have to like a situation to accept it. We can be disappointed that something hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would AND accept that we need to make a change. Here’s where psychological flexibility comes in. Being flexible means updating our decisions as we get more information and being okay with making changes. 

Put together, these concepts are basically saying that it isn’t about us making the “right choice.” Instead, it’s about accepting that we made the best possible choice we could in the moment with the knowledge we had. It’s about accepting that that choice is no longer a fit for us and that that’s okay. 

Just because you changed your mind, doesn’t mean that the original decision you made was wrong or that you wasted your time. It also doesn’t mean that you are simply “giving up” or throwing in the proverbial towel. It takes a lot of strength, courage, and vulnerability to admit when something isn’t serving you anymore and to try something else. 

All this to say, it is never too late to make a change and it is never too late to be happy. It just takes a little acceptance, a little flexibility, and a little support.