How to cope with situations you can’t change and change those you can
“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.”
This simple prayer is known throughout the world and resonates with people of different religions as well as those with no religion. It is believed to have been written by Reinhold Niebuhr, a famous Protestant theologian, and was adopted by the Alcoholics Anonymous organisation in the 1940’s.
It’s a great reminder that we always have choices in any situation, including the choice to accept things as they are.
You might argue that you didn’t choose to be in the situation you’re in now and that there is nothing you can do or say to change it, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. Most of us have felt that way at some stage. Feeling stuck for a long time can start to erode our self-esteem and push us into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety. The longer we feel that way, the harder it is to believe that anything we do will make a difference. Or, it could ignite a pit of anger deep within us, making it difficult for us to think rationally.
Sometimes we just don’t like the options available. In many cases, we do have a choice to do something different, but we are paralysed by fear. This could be fear of change, fear of losing the respect of others, fear of failure, fear of success or any number of other things. In these situations, we often blame other people and things for our situation as this is easier than acknowledging that we have power we are too scared to use.
There are times, of course, when things happen to us without warning and that were not triggered by anything we did or didn’t do, such as redundancy, car accidents, chronic illness, or losing all your belongings in a fire or flood. Then, there’s the death of someone close to you, which is often the hardest of all to deal with.
How can we possibly accept or change situations like these?
The power of acceptance
Acceptance isn’t merely ‘giving in’ or ‘giving up’. It’s just neutrally acknowledging that things are the way they are. Acceptance is the opposite of denial. Denial takes energy and prevents us from moving forward or coping. Yet, persevering against reality is exhausting and can stop us learning from the real situation.
Acceptance can mean remaining in your situation but learning to view it differently. For example, many people who have a long-term illness or injury find that they develop a deep sense of gratitude for the people and the little things around them. They might be restricted from doing some activities but find new ones to pursue with a strong sense of purpose.
Sam Cawthorn’s life changed forever when he was involved in a major car accident. He was pronounced dead at the scene before being resuscitated but left with an amputated right arm and a permanent disability in his right leg. After his rehabilitation, Sam could have chosen to see himself as a victim and to allow his disabilities to define him as a person. Instead, he chose to use the lessons he’d learned to teach others about resilience through becoming a professional speaker. Sam later became a best-selling author, professional speaking coach, philanthropist and was awarded Young Australian of the year.
Acceptance is not something that we can learn overnight. Instead, it’s a process that we need to work through. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler list acceptance as one of (at least) 5 stages of grief that we work through when dealing with any form of loss.
The 5 main stages are:
This framework was initially developed to help people cope with the loss of a loved one, but it has since been used to help with other forms of loss. It’s important to note that the process is non-linear. People can move back and forward between the stages or experience them in a different order. There are no set pathways but understanding these stages can help us learn to recognise them and to cope better overall.
The power of courage
Having the courage to change the things you can is very empowering. Maybe this is changing how you allow people to treat you. It could be changing how you behave in different situations or breaking bad habits. It could be committing to daily exercise to build or rebuild the strength in your body.
Courage can also mean speaking up against things you believe are morally or ethically wrong, such as discrimination or sweat shops in third world countries. Or, fighting for what you believe in. Think of people like Nelson Mandela or Malala Youstafzi - the girl who fought for access to education for all and was shot by the Taliban at just 16. You don’t have to fight on a global scale. Look around your community for things that need changing for the better and see if you can make a difference there.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Nadine Champion was a world kick-boxing champion before being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma shortly after her brother died from lung cancer. Nadine drew on all the mental resources she had developed studying martial arts to face this new challenge head on. Of course, Nadine was scared when she first discovered her lump, but she used the ’10 seconds of courage’ concept to help her take the first step and call her doctor straight away.
The concept is simply that ‘10 seconds of courage is what it takes to get started on the toughest battle’. Once you have summoned up the courage to take that first step, you draw confidence from it and each subsequent step becomes a little easier.
The power of wisdom
Once you recognise that you have a choice, you need wisdom to help you make the right one. All sorts of questions arise in your head. Should you choose to accept or not to accept? Which outcome are you least likely to regret? Should you summon the courage to act or not? What are the likely consequences of either approach?
Nobody has a crystal ball with all the answers, but there are tools you can use to help you make tough decisions. These include:
- Listing the pros and cons of each possible action realistically.
- Studying similar situations and outcomes in depth.
- Understanding your own mind and the factors that govern your decisions. For example, your culture, values, gut feelings, self-esteem, behaviour patterns, and the people around you. Focus on what’s really important to you.
Above all, take full responsibility for your actions and get rid of self-doubt. Learn to visualise your success before you begin. As Nadine Champion says:
“It’s not about what you can physically do, it’s about what you can make yourself do in your mind.”
Call to action…
Since overcoming cancer 4 years ago, Nadine Champion has become a truly inspiring keynote speaker, author and martial arts Sensei (teacher). She is a thought leader on courage, inner strength and resilience, having engagingly presented for a wealth of notable companies such as Facebook and Telstra. Nadine's mission is to help others access a high-performance mindset in order to deliver at their best under pressure.
Her closing speech for TEDx Sydney 2015 is regarded as "one of the most memorable of all time", after receiving a standing ovation and leaving barely a dry eye in the house. Nadine’s authenticity shines through with her life changing 10 Seconds of Courage message - a powerful call to action challenging her audience to “change their thinking” in order to succeed.
To learn more about Nadine’s story and how to develop your own courage and resilience, listen to Nadine’s inspiring podcast interview on The Mentor List. What will you do in your first ’10 seconds of courage’?
Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au
Click here now to listen or subscribe for automatic updates.
When you like what you hear,
If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and model them - Find a Mentor today at www.mentorlist.com