What I am going to share with you has been a beautiful design for living for me. It has afforded me a level of peace, serenity, and contentment that is difficult to put into words. It has helped me deal with the speed bumps and roadblocks in my life with a measure of grace and humility. It has helped me deal with life-on-life's terms and has helped me to find joy in even the most difficult of circumstances in my life. It has helped me deal with the loss of relationships, family crisis, job changes, economic insecurity, the death of family and friends, illnesses, and countless less calamitous situations like daily interactions with other human beings.
THE SERENITY PRAYER – A PARADIGM SHIFT
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.
The message this prayer is trying to communicate, and the paradigm shift it elicits, are simple. Understanding this message is a huge step toward your personal freedom. With this understanding we can free ourselves from worry, pain, fear, and stress. We can take all the energy caught up in these emotions and focus it on positive endeavors.
Three key points to this prayer are:
There are things in life I have no control over.
There are things in life I have control over.
There is most definitely a difference.
By accepting and applying these truths, we can find peace in our lives and stop wasting precious time and energy on things outside of our control. We can then focus all our power on things we can control. Let’s consider each one separately to gain a better understanding of what is within our control and what is not.
Acceptance is a skill we can develop. By accepting things we have no control over, we limit the power the external world and external circumstances have over us. We have no direct control over anything in life that is not us. If things are exterior to us, if they are outside of us, and/or if they have already happened, then we have no power to directly control them. Attempting to do so will only cause emotions of fear, stress, anxiety, worry, angst, resentment, regret, and shame, just to name a few. When we make our success, contentment, happiness, self-esteem, and self-worth contingent upon things outside of our control, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment.
There are three basic categories of things we cannot control. We will take a deeper look into each one and gain a better understanding of what we can and cannot control.
External Things and Circumstances
Let’s take a quick look at some examples of what we can and cannot control when dealing with other people:
I cannot control other people’s driving, but I can control how I react to their driving.
I cannot control people’s opinion of me, but I can choose to not let that affect my self-confidence or self-worth.
I cannot control how people act toward me and treat me, but I can control how I respond to their actions, what it means to me, and decide whether I should allow it to go any further or set new boundaries.
I cannot control that people’s beliefs about the issues of the world may contradict my own beliefs, but I can respect their position as being their position and not need them to agree with me to feel secure with my own beliefs.
I cannot control how other people live their lives, but I can have compassion for them and be a good role model by becoming the best version of myself I can possibly be.
I cannot control how people act toward each other, and I cannot control their violence.
I cannot control their hatred, but I can control my decision to love everyone that I see and everyone that I think about.
No matter what people are doing, I always have it within my power to accept them. To realize that if I had lived all the moments of their life, I might think or behave in a similar fashion. I do not have to like it. I do not have to condone it. I need only accept that they are who they are and accept that I have no power to change them.
No matter what other people are doing, I always have it in my power to love them. To realize that they may be in pain or suffering, that they do not need judgment, but what they need is compassion and forgiveness and love. The nice thing about forgiving others and feeling compassion and love toward them is that I get to feel the feelings of forgiveness, compassion, and love. I benefit from these feelings, even if they do not.
We create problems and turmoil in our lives when we refuse to accept that we cannot change or control others. We develop resentments. We become a victim and allow them to treat us poorly. We believe their opinions of us. We get angry and afraid and spend countless hours of our precious lives caught up in what other people are thinking and doing. We second-guess ourselves and compromise our integrity. When we do, we are giving them power over the quality of our lives. They cannot take this power from us. We must give it to them.
By accepting others, we allow ourselves to focus all our energy and power on improving ourselves and our lives. This may sound selfish to some, to focus all our energy and power on ourselves. Charity and service are some of the best things we can do to evolve and grow, to bring joy and prosperity into our lives. We cannot give away something we do not have though. By focusing our power on improving ourselves and our lives, we are increasing what we can give to others. We are increasing our ability to help others.
EXTERNAL THINGS AND CIRCUMSTANCES
This basically covers everything external to us that is not another human being. I will give a few examples below. Please remember that I am not advocating that you do not care about these things or that you do not help with these things in any way. This is not about burying our heads in the sand. I want you to become acutely aware of the difference between focusing on the problem and focusing on the solution. The problem is what has been and cannot be changed. The solution is what can be and can definitely be influenced. When we accept that things are what they are, that they have happened or are happening, it allows us to focus our power on the solution and how we can be a part of that solution.
When we complain about something being how it is or negatively wish something never would have happened, we root ourselves in the problem and give away our power to respond. When we fear all the potential negative implications the situation may hold and the different ways it might affect our lives in a negative way, we are not focusing on what we would like our lives to be like relative to this uncontrollable life situation. Whatever we focus our power on, we strengthen. So, we can focus on the problem and strengthen the problem, or we can focus on the solution and strengthen the solution. Accepting the problem as being what it is allows us to shift our power from problem to solution.
Examples of external circumstances we cannot control are losing a home to a fire, your car breaking down, pandemics, economic downturns, natural disasters, not getting the promotion you worked hard for, getting in a car accident, traffic being horrible, the weather, a missing food item from your take-out order... the list could go on and on. Some of these things can be devastating, and by no means should we not allow ourselves to experience them. We should not keep ourselves from feeling the feelings we need to feel. This would be unhealthy. We need to allow what needs to happen, to happen. Allowance and acceptance are very similar.
We can focus our power on worrying about these things, getting angry about these things, feeling like a victim because of these things, and wishing these things never would have happened, or we can accept that they have happened, allow ourselves to feel what needs to be felt, and focus our power on how we want to and need to respond to these situations.
We can stay caught up in the problem if we would like to. We can brood over it for a day, or a week, or a month. We can resist the idea that it happened for the rest of our lives, but it will not change that it happened. The sooner we accept things we do not want to accept, the sooner we can focus on things we do want.
The past does not exist. Let me say that again. The past does not exist. The only place it exists is in our minds. There is nothing we can do to change what has happened, to make something unhappen. We cannot change what we have believed, thought, felt, or how we have acted. We cannot change what other people have done. We can change nothing that has happened in this universe up to this moment.
You can add your current situation to this as well. Where you are at in this moment results directly from your past beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions, reactions, and intentions. We see things as they were in the past. When we see the light from the sun, we are seeing the sun as it was eight minutes ago because it takes eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach our eyes. The same is true for every physical object we see. We see these objects as they were, not as they are.
I want you to let this distinction settle in:
We cannot change anything that already is. We can only work to influence that which will be. It was difficult for me to accept some of these truths. I think I felt that if I accepted that something happened, that somehow I was saying it was ok. What I learned is that if I stop putting my energy into fighting what has been and what needs to change, that I could focus all my energy on being the change that is needed.
THINGS WE HAVE CONTROL OVER
Who we are in this moment and the life we are living is the direct result of all the beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions, reactions, and intentions we have had up to this point in our lives. If we want a higher quality of life, then we must develop a higher quality of beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions, responses, and intentions for our life. Lucky for us, this is completely within our power to control.
Let’s take a brief look at each one of these factors and how we can directly control them.
What you intend your life to look like is completely up to you. We have the power to choose how we will live our lives. Unfortunately, so many of us never claim this power. So many of us are just okay taking what life gives us, living life in “Default Mode” if you will. There is something to be said for “living life on life’s terms,” as we cannot always control the exact form our intentions will manifest in our lives or know the exact method by which they will be manifested. We must be willing to continue to grow and evolve, and as we continue to grow and evolve, our intentions will grow and evolve. You can take what life gives you by default, or you can design the life you want to live and become the person you need to become in order to live that life. This is completely within your control.
Our beliefs control how we subjectively experience our objective reality, resulting in our thoughts, emotions, actions, and reactions in relation to this subjective reality. We respond to our beliefs about reality and not to reality itself. Here is an example of how beliefs can change our subjective experience of reality:
The president of the company has called a meeting to go over the quarterly numbers. The company did not meet projections in many key departments, including your own. The president goes over the numbers and also shares key insights and suggestions and speaks to the current state of the industry. She asks everyone to redouble their efforts and raises the projections for next quarter.
Now depending on what I believe to be true, I can experience this in several ways. For example, if I believe I am good at my job and always provide quality work, and believe in my ability to continue to grow, I might believe the following to be true about the meeting:
“We didn’t end up where we wanted to as a team. I see some key areas that I can work on as well as some areas I can improve on that will help quite a few different departments. This could be the opportunity to shine that I have been looking for. We have a great president who knows her stuff and she wouldn’t set a projection that she didn’t believe we could hit. Sounds like it’s going to be a good quarter. Maybe I’ll hit that bonus I’ve been trying so hard for.”
Now if I believed the opposite, then I might believe something different.
“She looks frustrated. I think I may be in trouble here, but it also looks like there are quite a few department heads in trouble. That’s good. She can’t fire all of us. They better not throw me under the bus. She wants us to try all these different things. When was the last time she did my job? She wouldn’t last a second in my department. We are doing the best we can. And the projections for next quarter are too high. We didn’t hit last quarter’s numbers, and she is going to increase them?! That’s crazy. She is totally setting us up for failure. I wonder if she’s doing that on purpose so she can find a reason to fire me.”
Now, this is an extremely basic example, but hopefully, it helps you understand beliefs a little better. You can take the exact same objective input, and depending on what you believe, your perception of what is “true” about this situation will be different. There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs. It’s just a matter of if they are serving us the way we would like them to.
So, our beliefs influence our thoughts about any situation. Our thoughts influence our emotions, which influence our actions, which bring about our circumstances. Our beliefs, no matter how close to the truth they are, are like self-fulfilling prophecies. In later chapters, you will learn to identify your beliefs and make sure that what you believe aligns with who you want to become and the life you want to live.
Our thoughts are formed based upon the information that made it through the filters of our beliefs. As illustrated in the previous section, our thoughts will vary depending on the belief. Our thoughts will show us what we believe to be true, even if we have no conscious awareness of that belief. By increasing the awareness of your thoughts you will grow by leaps and bounds. You will develop the ability to put a between stimulus and response. This will allow you time to decide whether this thought is true for you or not, to measure this thought against your current values and future ideals. If they do not measure up, you will develop the ability to stop the thought right there and not act upon it. You will also learn to trace that thought back to the belief that caused it. Chances are, if the thought does not match up to your values and ideals, then the belief that created it does not match up either. You have the ability to control and change your thoughts.
Our emotions are a reaction or response to a thought or sensory stimulus, either conscious or subconscious. Some emotional responses can be lightning-fast and happen before we have a chance to consider them. This is called a reaction. We react to a situation rather than examining it and then intentionally responding to it. Reactions can be a good thing. Especially if they are keeping you alive and safe from real danger. They are not a good thing when creating unneeded negative consequences in your life.
To emotionally respond to a situation or execute a designed reaction is a different thing altogether. The best way to control your emotions is to control your thoughts. To insert a PAUSE between thought and emotion. Once an emotion gets going, wanted or unwanted, it gets harder to change. You will learn how to intentionally and deliberately design how you would like to react and respond to any life situation. You need not be a slave to past programmed emotional responses. You can control and change how you feel about any situation.
By this point, the cause of any action you make has gone through quite a few stages. You had a belief about a situation, which created some thoughts about the situation; you then had an emotional response to these thoughts, which moved you to the point where you took action, or in some cases, chose not to act.
There is no reason we cannot take full responsibility for our actions. It is when we take action that we create the circumstances of our lives. We can believe in something, think about it, and get all worked up and emotionally charged about it, but nothing will happen, good or bad, until we act.
When we think about actions, we usually think about going out and making things happen. And this is indeed an example of taking action. One equally important, if not more important, kind of action is the action of communicating with others. The saying “nothing pays off like restraint in tongue and pen” is so true and so important to understand. Once we hit SEND on that email, text, or social media reply, or open our mouths and share with the world exactly how we feel, there is no going back. It’s out there. We cannot unring that bell.
We may believe how we see the world is the right way to see it, gather up all our thoughts that support that we are right, and get all fired up and motivated to do something about it, yet we can always stop it right there and decide to not act. Whether or not this action will have positive or negative consequences, we can always choose not to take any action. We can pause and reflect and postpone our actions. We can write down all our options on a piece of paper and we can sleep on it. We can ask the opinion of a close friend or advisor. We have so many choices we can make, which do not include taking action. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. All actions you take are completely within your ability to control.
In this article I have presented you with a lot of things to consider. I have challenged you to see life a little differently. Remember, if you do not change, your life will not change. What I would like you to take away from this is an understanding that the answers and the power to change you have been seeking do not exist “out there” somewhere. All the power you will ever need to become the person you want to become and live the life you want to live can be found in only one place, and that is within you.
May you find acceptance, peace and joy,