We have all heard the serenity prayer, right? It is simple yet powerful, used in religion, Alcoholics Anonymous, and anywhere in between.
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.
When we fight to attempt to control the things that we cannot change, we are placed into an automatic state of stress. Where that stress goes varies from person to person, but overall it always comes back to the same message: we need to let go of the things we cannot control.
Let me give you an example of something that happened to me recently. I was traveling back to New York from Europe when not one, but two of my flights were canceled. Stress was automatic. These thoughts of "what is going to happen?" "what am I going to do?" and a general sense of panic seemed to come without invitation.
This is where the serenity prayer comes in. I took a deep breath and regrouped. Reminding myself that all of these things were mostly out of my control could have been nerve wracking, but instead it was freeing. Asking for peace, for serenity, in a time of chaos is giving up control.
Giving up control can be terrifying. When I suggest clients use the serenity prayer to help them with stress and anxiety, the first comment I get is usually about not being able to let go. I ask them to think rationally, rather than emotionally. To reframe it, think about the alternative: what is anxiety and panic doing to help the situation? Is it making the situation better? Is it solving the problem? Chances are these emotional reactions are causing more stress.
When we let go of the things we cannot control, it does not mean we let go of care for the outcome. It simply means that we are choosing calmness over stress, faith over control.
Try it out next time you are in a seemingly impossible situation. Whether it is with another person (we cannot change other people) or waiting in traffic (we cannot control all the cars on the road). Remember to choose serenity over stress when you cannot change something.