One Wednesday morning it occured to me that my life would not get any better with complaints. Neither people nor the situations were changing to suit me. It was then that I remembered the words of the Serenity Prayer:
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.
I started what I like to call, The Serenity Prayer Experiment. The experiment starts with the end of the prayer and works up. The first step is to determine what you can and cannot change. You could do this on a large scale by looking at the frustrating aspects of your life or the world, or you can do it on a moment by moment basis.
On a small scale, take any reaction that you may be experiencing in a situation and evaluate at that moment what you can and cannot change. It’s like pitching in baseball. You can change your form and force, but once the ball is released there is nothing you can do about it. The point is not to obsess about getting your form and force right, but to realize that that is the only thing that you can change.
On a larger scale, you can do an inventory. Perhaps you are frustrated with your work. Take out a sheet of paper and create 2 columns: on one side write down the things that you can change, and on the other the things you can’t. On the side with the list of things that you can change you might right things like your attitude, the time you come in, whether or not you can take lunch so that you can get out earlier, making friends instead of gossiping, and standing up for yourself. On the side with things that you cannot change, you might write items like your co-workers, or the tasks that are assigned to you.
The second step is to start working on the things that you can change. Some things like the attitude shift will be internal, while others like making your lunch will require action. As you begin to focus more on the things that you can change, you instinctively let go of some of the things that you can’t. A coworker may still do silly things, but as you are working to change your attitude you may find them humorous rather than irritating. Another side effect is that you begin to feel empowered. You may choose to take bolder and bolder steps.
The third step is accepting the things you cannot change. A funny thing happens by this point. Since you worked on changing the things you can first, the list of things you can’t may have disappeared. Perhaps one of the things that you realized you could change was the job itself. You worked on freeing up some time by taking your lunch in or going in early and you had the time to look for other employment and go on interviews. In no time, new opportunities began to present themselves. Or since you changed your attitude, your employer noticed your new demeanor and began to communicate with you about what responsibilities you would like to have.
Alternately, if there are still things on your list of things you cannot change, you can use a different mode of awareness to come to a place of peace. Perhaps you realize that your once irritable co-worker is reflecting to you one of your character traits that you find undesirable. You begin to accept the truth about yourself and in so doing, develop compassion for your co-worker. You find a place of peace.
The Serenity Prayer Experiment can work for any area of your life. I am actively using it in the area of my health. I realized and accepted that I am overweight. Then I started to think of the things that I can change. Turns out the list is long and varied. I decided to only eat when I was hungry, and stop eating when I was full. I also decided that there was nothing stopping me from taking the Bikram Yoga class that I wanted to take for over 2 years, so I started it. There, I am learning to be even more aware of my body and push the boundaries on what I think it can and cannot do. I am also learning to be more compassionate and accepting with myself, realizing that it will take some time to restore myself to an optimal level of health.