As the famous 20th Century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr very succinctly puts it, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
So what are some examples of things you can’t control?
(or at least that you have less direct influence over)
- the weather,
- the traffic,
- what others say,
- other people’s moods and the reasons for them,
- certain deadlines,
- the global economic situation
Instead, you can control…
- your attitude: how you view the challenges in front of you (i.e. all the above!),
- your emotional responses: eg get angry or let it go,
- the action you take in any situation,
- the lessons you take from success and failure,
- how you spend your time,
So next time you’re in a situation that feels out of your control, don’t waste energy getting frustrated over what you can’t do. Consider what you can do instead.
Let’s imagine you feel a colleague is being hostile towards you. You could invest a lot of time and emotional energy in being frustrated, in ranting, in wishing they were different or perhaps in arguing with them. Or you might choose to interact with them in a different way, from a place of curiosity, recognising that they are for some reason having a difficult time. This may help them to be more open and receptive. Alternatively, you could make a conscious decision not to interact, to let it go and put your attention elsewhere. In this way, you are no longer taking things personally. You may decide to ask a trusted colleague for their advice on the best course of action. Whichever route you take, you’re now putting your energy into things you can control, rather than wasting energy on things you can’t and you are supporting your own equanimity and well-being.
Focusing on the things under your control is both energising and liberating. It sets you free from a lot of wasteful negativity, helps you prioritise the most important things and makes you more resourceful, effective and empowered.
To leave you with the words of Epictetus, Greek Stoic Philosopher,
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle – some things are within your control and some things are not.”