Knowing What You Can Change
The quote, “Accept what you cannot change, change what you cannot accept” is a variation of the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr. The Serenity Prayer is a three stanza poem although most people only know the first 25 words. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, the Serenity Prayer is packed full of guidance in figuring out what you can change. If the religious references don’t fit with your beliefs, I encourage you to forgo the “prayer” part and just look at the words.
Let’s break it down into smaller phrases. The first part goes, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”. Serenity means an inner calm or peacefulness, even in a time of turbulence or trouble. How do you achieve serenity? Mindfulness is one way (a discussion for another blog). So what are things you cannot change? Things you cannot change include the past, past actions like things we have said or our behavior, other people (you can influence people but you can’t make someone do what you want), what other people think, and your genetics among other things. Why would we need serenity to accept what can’t be changed? As humans we like to think we have a lot of control over our lives, and to some extent we do. We tend to think that we can go back and fix mistakes or “make it right” and everything will go back to normal. And that just generally doesn’t happen. So a lot of angst, anger, and frustration occur when we expend our energy trying to change something we can’t change. It’s hard to accept we aren’t perfect. Our lives are a lot more peaceful though when we do.
The next section goes, “the courage to change the things I can”. Courage is mustering our strength to do tasks (mental or physical) that we are afraid or don’t want to do or merely the will to keep moving ahead when it seems everything is falling behind. What are things we can change? A lot actually. We can change our beliefs, thoughts and behaviors. Our beliefs are ideas we have about what is true. Our beliefs tend to be firmly held and are often related to beliefs we grew up with. Our thoughts come from our belief system, although we are capable of choosing different thoughts if we want. Our behaviors flow from our beliefs and thoughts. For instance, if one believes that working hard will end in success, one tends to think about how to accomplish working hard and our behaviors generally demonstrate that. So one way to think about changing a behavior is to examine the beliefs and thoughts that lead to that behavior. Deciding to change beliefs and thoughts often lead to different behaviors.
The last section of the poem ends with “and the wisdom to know the difference”. Wisdom refers to an inner clarity that leads us into making good decisions. Why do we need wisdom to figure out what we can or cannot change? It’s not always straightforward. We may be able to change one part but not another. We may talk ourselves into believing we can change something we can’t because we so desperately want things to be different. Using a guide of “what is possible for me to change?” and “what do I have to accept so I can move on?” can help you get in touch with that inner wisdom and move you down the path of serenity. You are worth the investment.
©2020 Peggi White Behavioral Health
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Peggi White, MSN, FPA-APRN, CADC, MAC. Nurse Practitioner with 33 years mental health/addictions experience, helping people to be their best...