“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”
The Serenity Prayer commonly quoted as above was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and was adapted by and popularised by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s.
The message is powerful and with no religious affiliations worth repeating at times when it feels like you are spiralling into the depths of despair in times of crisis.
In moments of fear and anxiety I have noticed that most often the things that we dread are out of our control.
Last night I was feeling extremely stressed and I created a quick exercise to help myself cope. It calmed me so I wanted to share it with you today.
Focus your energy less on the things that you cannot change with my simple 5-Step exercise:
- Make a list today with two columns.
- In one column write the heading “Things I can control (Change)” and in the other “Things I cannot control (Accept)”.
- List your fears, concerns, problems and place them in the appropriate column.
- Take 5 mins to note down some reasonable actions you can take to make progress in the areas you can control.
- Now take a deep breathe and read out aloud the items that you have no control over and cannot change. Acknowledge, accept and surrender to them. Your energy is needed elsewhere. Let them be.
You will find yourself returning to stressing about what you cannot control. That is human nature. In those cases revisit your lists as a reminder.
Remember that how you respond to them emotionally IS in your power.
Wise men through the ages have advised us with a similar message. I will leave you with some examples for your interest.
Epictetus a Greek Stoic philosopher wrote:
“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions—in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.”
The 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva of the ancient Nalanda University suggested:
“If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?”
The 11th-century Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote:
“And they said: At the head of all understanding – is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change.”
The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:
“For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.”