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. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer.
Modern life is emotionally demanding. We are under pressure to perform at work, at home, in our relationships, in our studies. We are expected to look good, feel good and do good all the time. There are a manner of things in our inner world that lead to or exacerbate anxiety.
And then there is the outer world which adds another, bigger and scarier, layer to our feelings of insecurity. - fear of change, political instability, crime and violence, exposure to the horrors that are gripping the world.
One of our biggest struggles is accepting that there are some things – some people, some events, some disappointments – that we cannot influence or change. As hard as we try, and as much as we worry, there is nothing we can do about it.
In his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Steven Covey speaks about each of us having a Circle of Influence and a Circle of Concern. The Circle of Concern is huge and, within it, there is a much smaller Circle of Influence.
All of the things that we are concerned about but have little/no control or influence over fit into the Circle of Concern, for example, whether or not it will rain on your wedding day, who will be the next president, global warming and climate change, other people’s choices, beliefs and behaviour; the economy, etc. The things that we are concerned about and can do something about would fit into the smaller Circle of Influence. These would include things like having the wedding out of the rainy season, who you decide to vote for, your own choices and actions, the way you manage your own finances, and so on.
When we try to change what is not ours to change, that is when we exhaust ourselves, both physically and emotionally. We get more disappointed and more disillusioned. More frustrated and more frayed. It increases our stress and anxiety, which contributes to burnout. We need to channel our emotional and physical energy away from the things that we cannot influence so that we have the resources to take appropriate action on what we can influence. Like yourself: the choices you make, the paths you take, the goals you reach. You can make choices to support yourself and help you clear the way for more good things in your life.
Here’s how you can start, today:
1. Identify the stressesWrite down all the things that are making you feel stressed, anxious, strung out, exhausted and overwhelmed – people, places, thoughts, ideas, work, relationships, friends, family, money, politics, weather, religion, your weight … let it all out.
Now take two different coloured pens. Circle all the things that you can actually do something about (Circle of Influence) in one colour and all the things you have no influence over (Circle of Concern) in the other colour.
2. Do what you canChoose three of the Circle of Influence things and identify three or four tiny steps that you can take right now to start making the changes you need to make to help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
3. Accept what you can’t changeHave a look at your list of things that fall into your Circle of Concern
Take a few minutes to identify up to 10 things that you choose to accept that you cannot change. You don’t have to like them, but I do suggest you let go of your need to change them.
Here are some examples:“I choose to accept that I can’t change or control the choices made by my grown-up child/parent/sibling/spouse.”
“I choose to accept that I can’t change or control my body’s allergy to wheat.”
“I chose to accept that I can’t change or control the weather.”
Make peace with the fact that there are – and always will be - things in your life that you wish were different. And stop putting energy into worrying about them or wishing them away. They’re here to stay and you need to learn to live with them as peacefully as possible.
Changing what you can and accepting what you can't will help to make your life more meaningful and relaxed and will help to reduce your stress and anxiety; now and for the future.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.