God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
People seem to have a hard time figuring out when they can change things, what is within their control, what is outside of their control, and how to let go. Many of us seem to struggle with the concept of acceptance also. Acceptance isn’t condoning or giving up, it is truly being with whatever IS, and letting it be as it IS in the moment. Often, once we accept things as they are, they will shift and change.
I don’t pretend to be any better at figuring this all out myself, but I do find the sentiment behind the Serenity Prayer to be a helpful guide. It isn’t just for those struggling with addiction, or only for people who believe in God. It is truly useful for everyone to keep in mind and follow as often as possible.
It is important for us to learn to accept things that are outside of our control. If we can’t change it anyway, why worry about it? It’s important to change things when we are able to change them. If we have the ability to make a change for the better, simply start making the change (baby step by baby step). Or, I also believe that you can ask others to understand what they are doing/saying is hurtful and give them the opportunity to change. The courageous part of this step is that once you informed them, you have to be able to let go. You can’t make them do anything beyond giving them this information. You cannot change others. Making changes often takes courage because change is difficult and most people really don’t like change at all. So, if you’re changing something, remember that it can be challenging and bring in some self-compassion and kind thoughts for yourself. If you’re hoping someone else will change once you’ve informed them of something, remember that change is challenging for others too and try to have some compassion toward them. It may take them time or they may not be able to change things on their own. There is certainly a wisdom in knowing the difference. I believe that the last line is most important – where the wisdom lives. We often struggle to know if we have the ability to accept or make changes and knowing the difference is key.
So, ask yourself these questions when you’re feeling frustrated, stressed, unhappy, stuck (and a myriad of other negative emotions):
Can I change anything in this situation?
- Yes, then make the change or at least start.This takes courage, as well as the ability to just try starting without judging yourself or beating yourself up. This is self-compassion at work. Try to be kind to yourself as you take these first steps toward change.
- No, accept that you can’t change anything, so there is nothing you can do.
Am I fully accepting things as they are in this moment, or am I believing that they should be different?
- Yes, I am accepting…then keep on keeping on.
- No, I believe it should be better. Note that it isn’t as it seems it should be, so find a way to accept things as they are. This doesn’t mean that you’re giving up or condoning, just knowing that they are as they are right now.
The more we are conscious of asking these questions and are aware of the options before us, the more we practice and build the wisdom to know the difference.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy, relationship issue, and anxiety. For more information, please check out her website at kimatwood.com