First, a disclaimer: I did not come up with the three A’s. I wish I did! They are a wonderful lens through which to view challenging situations or challenging emotions. I first heard of them a number of years ago and in the past few years began to really feel and experience the significance of this practice. I found the three A’s brought about a new perspective in areas of my life I felt stuck in; they are awesome because who doesn’t like to feel some movement when you’re stuck?
The only rule of the three A’s is that they must be done in order. If they are not done in order, you lose the benefit of them. So without further ado, here they are:
The first A is Awareness. This is an integral part of beginning to change. How can you have any change without first being aware of what is going on? This first part can take years with some of those more stubborn behaviors such as addiction, habitual emotional responses, and chronic aches and pains. We distract ourselves from the reality of the situation, noticing only glimpses of what is really going on, and then covering up that awareness with all sorts of little distracting tricks we’ve developed over the years. Then we have a moment of clarity and the awareness of what we really do comes up and smacks us right between the eyes. That’s when we have some choices to make.
At this juncture of awareness, there may be a lot of feelings and anxiety arising; we want to do something, anything, to change the situation. We say something like “I need to do something to get rid of this, and fast!” This response is often a reaction that arises from a fear of feeling the underlying emotions and pain beneath the behavior. As the axiom goes, “stop doing the habitual behavior and you will get to see why you do the behavior in the first place.”
If we can have some courage and compassion at this place of awareness, we can move onto the second A: Acceptance. This is where the rubber meets the road literally. All lasting change of habitual patterns comes from a place of acceptance. Most people want to go from awareness to fixing the problem. They jump over the most important part, accepting what is actually happening with compassion or at the very least with some sort of curiosity. This place of acceptance is where the magic happens; rather than reacting to the pain of awareness with a forced solution, we rest in acceptance and allow the solution to arise naturally from a place of openness and acceptance.
Now the third A: Action. This is the part you’ve been waiting for! From the place of acceptance, a solution or action arises that is probably creative, or surprising. We sense there is some newness to this action; it’s not the same old habitual way we have tried to fix or shape ourselves up. It’s actually full of energy and we may feel some fear as we try something new.
I have found that when I practice the three A’s of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action, I have a sense of possibility and hope. I may feel uncomfortable when I am really feeling and accepting my behavior, but there is hope. Lasting change happens when the habituated cycle has been derailed, and I allow myself to really feel the underlying emotions. Then extra energy can be released and is available to be used to carry out an appropriate and creative solution.
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg