Amor Fati - Acceptance

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

Amor Fati is a Latin phrase that the Stoics used in their daily lives and kept it close to hand especially during difficult and trying times. The translation of Amor Fati is:


A love of one’s fate

On the face of it, it’s a simple idea, however when correctly understood it is an incredible source of gratitude, peace of mind, stability, resilience, and well-being. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or at the very least necessary. This is an excellent framework for modern life and a tool to help cope better with all the difficulties and obstacles we may encounter along the way.


Amor Fati is the practice of accepting and embracing everything that has happened, is happening, and is yet to happen. It is understanding that the nature of the universe is change, and that without change we would not exist, our relationships would not exist, we wouldn’t laugh, cry, love, create, or grow. We would not experience any of this.


The Stoic philosopher Epictetus goes on to eloquently describe this concept as:


“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will - then your life will flow well”

Whether change is good, bad, enjoyment, suffering, or loss, it is necessary. Billions of years of constant change, variation, mutation, and development has brought us to where we are right now. You wouldn’t be reading this right now if it wasn’t for every event that has come before you. In that way, we can learn to love fate.


Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychotherapist who lived during World War II. During the war he was sent to various concentration camps, including Auschwitz.


Frankl survived the horrors of that war and wrote a book called Man’s Search For Meaning (which I recommend you read). He had a very simple philosophy that he credited for helping him survive the hardship and adversity of the Nazi concentration camps:


“You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

We should try and use concepts of philosophy in our thinking and our lives. Not to exert more control over the world, but to take responsibility for how we view it and respond to it. Making a conscious decision to change our perceptions for the better.


With Amor Fati, this means changing how we perceive what has happened to us, or is currently happening to us.


Have we struggled? Good. What opportunity did that provide us to grow?


Have we experienced loss? How did that teach us to appreciate what we have and not take things for granted?


Did we lose our job? What doors did that open that may have remained closed?


This may seem overly optimistic, but when these events have already happened, we get no benefit from walking around with the negative baggage they bring. Negativity won’t change the past, however optimism can improve how we live right now. And with a reframing, and an optimistic viewpoint, we can go some way in improving what the future may hold.


Acceptance


All too often we can bemoan our situation placing blame on our circumstances, shrug our shoulders, and say this always happens to me, it's such bad luck, I can't deal with this. But a better attitude to have and cultivate is one of acceptance.


Something has happened that we wish had not. Now which of these options is easiest to change: our opinion? Or the event that is past? The answer is obvious. Accept what happened and change your wish that it had not happened. Stoicism calls this the ‘art of acquiescence’, to accept rather than fight every little thing.


Acceptance is NOT a weakness. Acceptance is NOT inaction. Acceptance is NOT passive. It is quite the opposite. Acceptance is action! Acceptance is a strength! And a strength that should be cultivated with the right frame of mind when looking at life and all it brings. When talking about reframing a negative situation, I have yet to come across a more powerful and profound way to see this as Victor Frankl saw it whilst in Auschwitz. He says:


“Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”

Take a moment to reflect on that quote and how he had the foresight and the strength to see this whilst all the horrors of death and torture were going on around him constantly. This is ultimate acceptance in action! He is a personal hero of mine and I try and remind myself of the way he saw his world when I feel I am being cheated or hard done by. Or when something bad or unfair or difficult appears in front of me. I also try and recall the wise words of William Shakespeare:


“Nothing is either good or bad. But thinking makes it so”

Thoughts and emotions


We cannot stop thoughts and emotions arising within us in an instant, and we should not try and block them out or ignore them either. But what we can do is sit with them for a short time, accept they are there, and then, as Frankl says, “choose our response”. This is where the real power and magic lies with Amor Fati. We can take any situation that feels bad and unfair and wrong, accept it, and then see it as our ultimate test and challenge. We know that we can get through it (as you have come through tough situations before), and when we do get through it, we are now stronger and more prepared for future situations that we cannot predict. You have upgraded yourself. You have stronger armour plating. The Stoics not only accepted their fate, but leant into it, knowing that this was making them better and stronger. They did not shy away from it but ran towards it! Can you begin to do the same?


Wrestling


The Stoics were very big on and practiced wrestling for their growth and development. They also used wrestling often as an analogy for the mind and of life in general. Marcus Aurelius once wrote,


“The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancers in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen.”

These wrestlers knew that the voluntary training they were doing was preparing them for future hardships. The training was difficult and fraught with all sorts of challenges. They embraced being tested by an opponent. They saw a difficult and challenging opponent as a collaborator rather than an enemy. They were physically training, and like these wrestlers we need to train our mind in this way. We need to see it the same way as these ancient wrestlers saw it. Only then can we learn to love and lean into our fate. To wish for what happened to happen is a clever way to avoid disappointment because nothing is contrary to your desires. But actually, feel gratitude for what happens, even some of the most difficult and trying things.


Cultivating a mindset for difficulties and failures


Don’t worry about whether things will be hard. Because they always will be. Instead, focus on the fact that these things will help you. Therefore, you needn’t fear them. Our bruises and scars become armour. Our struggles become experience. They make us better. They prepare us for this moment, just as this moment will prepare us for ones that lie ahead. They are the flavouring that makes victory taste so sweet. Be like the athlete, knowing what a hard workout gives you stronger muscles. Malcolm X once said,


“Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lessons on how to improve your performance the next time.”

Of course, we do not like, welcome in, or want failure in our lives. But we need to understand and accept that for any real growth and improvement, failure will be a key ingredient of the overall recipe for success down the line. If we think that we can go through life trying to put ourselves in cotton wool and block out or ignore any hardships and failure, we are setting ourselves up ultimately to fail!


“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley

Amor Fati for squash


So now that you have a deeper and greater understanding of this powerful state of mind, how does it translate to your performance on the squash court? Before going further, I am a big believer in what I call “The Spill Over” effect. There is a lesson on this in the SquashMind app, but in simple terms I like to think of The Spill Over as that we cannot separate our off-court life from our on-court life, or at the very least they do influence each other. If you are stressed, anxious, complaining, argumentative, feeling burdened and see everything as negative in your off-court life, how can you expect to be calm, balanced, rational, grateful, and motivated when the pressure is intensified on the squash court during a difficult match? This seems very unlikely to achieve. The very rare few can separate and compartmentalise this (and in a way this can be a good skill to learn and develop over time when it’s necessary), but why not look to cultivate similar feelings, emotions, and responses in all that we do? So then when our environment changes, as it always does, we seamlessly can transition and flow with it. Rather than fighting impossibly against it.


“Be like water” – Bruce Lee

I hope it would be obvious the benefit of cultivating this mindset on the squash court. We are entering a ‘conflict zone’ as such, whereby you have an opponent and you are in a wrestling match with only one of you able to be the victor. We already have an opponent; someone trying to disturb us and take from us something that we want. We need to ensure now that if our mental state is wrong, we are now also playing against NOT JUST our opponent, but now ourselves also. You are now playing a game of 2v1 on the court. Or even worse, it’s closer to 2v0 as your mental state is not assisting you in the slightest but only hindering you and taking you backwards. Why would you allow this to happen? It is difficult enough as it is. But by reminding yourself of Amor Fati you can begin to help yourself compete at your best.


Uncontrollable factors


One other note of how the Amor Fati mindset can help on the court. There will be a lot of things outside of your control such as the referee you get, the decisions the referee makes, the way your opponent is playing and thinking, possibly an opponent who cheats, the conditions of the court or the ball, the noisy crowd, equipment failure, the list can be quite long. You need to put these uncontrollable factors in what I like to call the Amor Fati bucket. There is no point stressing about all these factors and trying your hardest to control them. Yes, you may have a very small influence over some of them but, you have no real control over them. Your energies should be spent on figuring out how to overcome these challenges and see them as your test. As the Stoics would do, lean into them! Know that they are your test and challenge in this moment. Know that your mind should accept them as part of what competitive squash is about. Know that with the right viewpoint they are making you stronger. Know that you are ready and willing to learn in these moments. Having this attitude close to hand increases the surface area for successful squash. You could even go as far as to thank a difficult opponent, a bad referee, or awful conditions, as now you know the power these give you when you embrace them. See this as Stoic training. This moment is a test, they don’t call it trying times for nothing.