The 4 A's: Awareness. Acceptance. Action. Adherence.

How often do you find yourself reacting to what someone else has said or done, experiencing anger or confusion before you even realize what’s happening?

I want to tell you about a coaching tool that will help you to be more aware of how you respond in the moment. When you use this tool, you will accept yourself more fully, learn gracefully, and overall, enjoy more confidence.

I learned about the Universal Growth Principle over a decade ago, from my first life coach, Kathy Wickstran-Gahn, who is a life coach and also trains Olympic swimmers. Then I heard about it again from Dr. David Daniels, a wonderful teacher and psychologist from Stanford Medical School, who passed away not too long ago. 

I love the Universal Growth Principle because it is simple to remember and it keeps me moving forward when I’m feeling confused or unsure.

People often refer to the Universal Growth Principle as "The 4 A's," which stands for Awareness, Acceptance, Action and Adherence. Dr. Daniels also adds in another A for Appreciation though I'll explore that one in a separate blog.

The first A of The 4 A's, stands for Awareness. If I can’t see my behavior then I can’t choose how to change it, expand it, explore it, or add to it. I remain blind and unaware. My behaviors run me instead of me running them.

For example, I used to get feedback that I was bossy. At first, I felt hurt by this feedback and defended against it. “I’m not being bossy! I just want to get this done!” I would say to my friends, my children, or my husband.

Finally, after receiving this same feedback in different ways, at different times, from different people, I started to see that perhaps in certain situations I was actually being bossy.

In order to let this feedback in and consider it, I first had to calm myself by journaling and become curious about my behavior. I learned to do a simple breathing practice to help me be more receptive. I sit quietly and take five breaths, making them as deep and long as I possibly can. Dr. Daniels defines awareness as “Having a practice to increase receptivity and grounded presence.”

I definitely had to learn to be more receptive. I had to consider my reactions in order to admit that I was, in fact, bossy. As I started listening to the feedback people were giving me, I slowly began to see how my current behavior didn’t really express who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be collaborative. I wanted to work with people instead of having them work for me.

The second A stands for Acceptance. For me, acceptance has always been somewhat mysterious. It was hard for me to be open to accepting those parts of myself I didn’t necessarily like: being bossy, being judgmental. Looking back, I had a pretty intense desire to want to control situations and, even people.

I didn’t want to admit that I was scared of not having things go my way. I had to learn to be curious about how to accept all parts of myself, even those parts I don’t really like. It was hard.

Dr. Daniels describes acceptance as “Opening the heart in kindness to self and others,
especially to one’s own reactivity and upset.” It’s important, he says, to realize that “This doesn’t mean capitulating, condoning, or agreeing with our own or others’ behavior.”

Acceptance is giving ourselves a positive way to work with our own reactivity. Working with my own reactivity has been very helpful, knowing that I can self-observe and start to see every situation as a learning opportunity. It’s all just information that can help me to be the kind of person I aspire to be.

Acceptance requires us to have some gratitude for where we are in terms of our own development. You get to motivate yourself to remain open, instead of shutting down or blaming yourself or others when difficult situations occur.

The third A stands for Action. This is where the rubber meets the road! Action requires that we not only look at what our patterns of thought, emotion and behavior are . . . Action requires that we actually do something about it. We get to behave in a different way than we have in the past in order to produce an outcome we want! We can choose.

Going back to my original example of bossiness, I wondered what actions I could take where I could still get stuff done but do it in a kinder, gentler way. Instead of telling other people what to do, I realized that I could get everyone on the same page first. I saw how important it was to get people’s buy in to whatever project we were doing. I also saw how important it was for me to listen and empathize with my co-workers before charging ahead, expecting others to follow me.
Lastly, I learned how to be gentler with myself and more forgiving as I learned about my own defenses.

Dr. Daniels summarizes action by saying it is about Noticing → pausing → and then collecting our energy—without containing or suppressing it—then taking the risk to act in a way that supports who we want to be.

An action I’ve taken recently is to join Toastmasters in order to learn more about engaging audiences when I speak instead of trying to convince people or prove something.

The last A of the Universal Growth Principle is one I am constantly working on within myself: Adherence. Adherence simply means practicing . . . practicing and having the commitment to keep practicing. Like practicing a musical instrument, we can have the same patience with ourselves that we would with anyone learning something new.

We honor ourselves for wanting to explore our behavior, for being aware, and we gently get back on the horse if we have fallen off, for whatever reason.

So the next time you find yourself unsure of what to do next, consider going back to the 4 As:

Awareness. Acceptance. Action. and Adherence. 

I work with people who want to improve their relationships and create balance and resilience in their lives. I particularly I work with partners and families of executive leaders because I understand the stresses and strains partners and families feel during startups or other intense projects.

If you are interested in exploring coaching with me, please visit my website at to sign up for a free 30-minute call. I'd love to meet you!

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