As the famous 20th Century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wisely 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.”
I believe that living according to this principle is one of the best things you can do for inner peace.
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 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 any situation
- how you spend your time
- where you place your energy and attention
So next time you’re in a situation that feels out of your control, don’t waste energy by getting stuck in frustration 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 angry, 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, perhaps considering that they may be having a hard time. This may help them to be more open and receptive. Alternatively, you could make a conscious decision to let it go and put your attention elsewhere. It’s really helpful to not take things personally, as they are most likely not personal. 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, thus, you are supporting your own equanimity and well-being.
Focusing on the things under your control is both energising and empowering. It sets you free from misplaced energy, helps you prioritise the most important things and makes you more resourceful and effective.
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.”