Many people are familiar with the serenity prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference". This is often recited in recovery rooms, but the message is one from which everyone can benefit. Acceptance can lead to feeling more in control of our environment and our emotions.
It all goes back to control. We often feel the need to control everything and we want things to be predictable and make sense. But let's face it......life does not make sense and we cannot control everything. In our attempts to create that sense of mastery over our world, we create more struggles and tensions. If we instead put our focus onto things that we can truly influence, we find that life is less complicated. If we stop trying to control everything and figure out what we truly can control, life becomes simpler.
So how does one do that? That is obviously the challenge here. Mindfulness can be an incredible tool to help you focus on you and sift through what you truly can and cannot change. Without judgement or labeling, consider the things in your life that "just are". A simple example would be traffic. No one likes traffic. In fact, for many it triggers anger or anxiety. You cannot change the traffic because it just is. It was caused by factors that you have no control over. Go ahead and slam your horn or scream. You can let yourself freak out that you may be late for your big meeting. Does that change anything? Did the traffic suddenly clear and part like the Red Sea allowing you to drive again? Or are you still sitting in the traffic and just feeling worse? This is when you should stop, be mindful and let yourself accept that you cannot change the traffic through your actions. Have the wisdom to recognize that traffic is not in your control.
Ok....so you accept there is traffic and it is not in your control, but now what? Here is the most important piece....."the courage to change the things that I can". You can change your reaction. You cannot influence the traffic with your actions but you can control how you handle the situation. Imagine if instead of getting angry, you accept that you may be spending an extra half hour in the car and you go into your playlist and listen to music you haven't listened to in a while. What if instead of getting anxious that you will be late, you choose to do mindful breathing? You can choose to not let this ruin your mood or day. I always say, if getting angry or freaking out or panicking is going to change the traffic, then go ahead and do it. But if it won't, why not allow yourself to find a way to enjoy and accept the moment. By changing what you do have control over (yourself and your reactions), you make the situation more tolerable.
I recognize that the example I chose is a simple one but it is one to which most of us can relate. The concept can be applied to any situation: family drama, health, employment concerns, parenting. You can always change how you choose to react. This can be challenging if we feel out of control or we are hurting......that is why is takes courage to change the things that you can. It is not easy to shift our reactions from what feels familiar and comfortable. It takes courage to try something new, but the serenity we can achieve is worth it.