This week I’ve been practicing accepting the things I cannot change. It’s made a difference to my stress levels.
This practice sounds simple enough. Most of us know the serenity prayer, right?
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 decided it would serve me to do a personal experiment to see if accepting, rather than resisting, things I can’t change helped adapt my experience in the moment. Here’s what I found: you can’t accept the things you cannot change, unless you are aware of what they are. Despite wanting to stay mindfully present, I often find myself bumbling along through life without being fully conscious of what is going on for me – my mind on the tasks in front of me. I think that’s fairly normal. Most of the time it works okay. I decided to focus on practicing acceptance at the times I felt stressed to see if acceptance impacted how stressed I felt.
Here was my simple practice: experience some degree of stress – pause – notice what’s going on – figure out which parts I had control over and which I didn’t – accept what I could not change.
I found there were quite a lot of times I felt a bit stressed. Here are three examples of times it helped to accept what I could not change, stop fighting it, and get on with what I could change instead of getting hung up on something I had no control over.
We had a family dinner. I love spending time with the family. It took a little while for me to realize I was exhausted and felt like I was getting a cold. In that moment, feeling physically depleted was something I couldn’t change. At first (before I stopped to think about it) I was frustrated, not quite aware of what was wrong and trying to push through. Accepting the way I felt physically, helped decrease the emotional distress and helped me make a different choice. What I could change was whether I kept pushing myself to host a family dinner or went to lie down and nap. At the encouragement of my lovely daughter in law, I chose to nap.
Twenty minutes before I had to do a video coaching session our power went out. No power. No internet. (I know for you South Africans out there this is NO big deal and you’ve learned to adapt, but trust me when I say, this doesn’t happen very often where I live, and it threw me for a bit). I felt somewhat stressed. I spent about 5 of those 20 minutes rushing around trying to figure out if it was just our house. Then I realized this was a good opportunity to practice acceptance. I sat in my office chair, took a deep breath, reflected on what I was thinking, feeling and doing, and asked myself what parts of the situation I had control over and what parts I didn’t. My experience of that moment changed fairly significantly when I let go of trying to control something I had no control over (the power outage). I felt calmer and clearer. I made alternate plans.
I had an experience this week where I felt a wave of grief overtake me. At first it took me by surprise, an unwelcome intrusion in my planned day, but quickly I accepted it and rode the wave until it dissipated (instead of trying to distract myself and get on with what I was doing).
Accepting what I cannot change has been a very helpful practice. It has helped me feel calmer in stressful situations and more present in my life. I encourage you to try it. Pick something that helps alert you to slow down and notice. I picked feeling stressed. You might pick overthinking, feeling down or anxious or any other area.
Notice your flag (whatever you picked). Pause. Ask yourself what your experience is in that moment. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling? What’s going on? What parts of this are beyond your control. Try accepting the parts you can’t control.
Let me know how it goes!
I believe personal change is possible. It’s never too late to begin. My clients say they feel more confident and capable after coaching. They have more clarity about their goals and values and have an easier time balancing their commitments and their own needs. As a coach, my clients say I’m kind, insightful and direct. I ask thought provoking questions and I listen well.
Developing self awareness is foundational to change (and in coaching we’ll work on this together). What’s important? What’s getting in the way? What does success look like? Once there’s clarity, we focus on making changes – one small step at a time. Some of those changes could be internal – like changing thought patterns. Some are external and could include setting boundaries, prioritizing or having courageous conversations to name a few. Coaching will deepen self awareness and build courage, self compassion and confidence.