One of my favorite quotes of all time is the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Identifying the difference is often the biggest part of the battle for me.
At the start of each new year, I think a lot about the year that has just gone by. I count my blessings as they come to mind, and I ask myself some hard questions like, “How could I have handled things better this year?” “How could I have made a bigger positive difference in my circle of influence?” “What memories from this year bring anxiety?” and “What needs to change going into the new year?”
This contemplation always brings me to the same conclusion: There is very little in this life over which I have any control, and most of life’s events fall into the “things I cannot change” category. Instead of incessantly and futilely agonizing over the things I can’t change, I turn my thoughts to the things I can. Then I pray for the necessary courage to make it happen.
We live in unsettling times, and walking forward into 2022 can be viewed through a lens of fear and anxiety, or we can approach it with a determination to “change the things we can.” Here are some things all of us can control and choose to make better for ourselves in the year ahead.
Be Your Own Positive Influence
When I was a little girl, a traveling minister named Ostis Wilson used to come to our church. I will never forget one of the things he most often said. “If you want to see an example, be an example.” In my words, “Be the example you wish to see.” In a world that’s turned upside down and charged with negativity, fear, and uncertainty, it can be hard to find someone who is rising above the fray and maintaining a sense of faith and hope. If you find yourself in such an environment, be the positive change you are searching for in others. You never know who around you may be in desperate need of their own positive role model.
Be a Selective Watcher and Listener
I have found that I’m much happier and better equipped to stay positive if I’m intentional about what I listen to and watch. Spoken words and images wield an extraordinary measure of power, and once we see or hear something, we automatically begin to process it. It’s hard to “unhear” or “unsee” things once they’ve traveled from our ears and eyes to our brains. So be intentional about who and what you hear and see. It isn’t necessary to know every single thing that’s happening in the world, nor is it healthy to feed on a steady diet of 24/7 news cycles. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into fear mongering and gloom. I’m not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand and pretend we live in a utopia. I’m saying we have control over whom we choose to allow in our inner circle; what we listen to, watch, and read; where we go; and how we spend our time.
Just as it’s important to filter what enters our eyes and ears, it’s equally crucial to speak life-giving words—not only for the sake of those around us, but for our own sake as well. We are first-hand listeners to the words we speak, and they have a dramatic impact on our thoughts. Voicing inner fear feeds and magnifies it. Giving voice to anxious thoughts makes them seem more real. Writing for Psychology Today, psychiatrist Neel Burton advises, “Our language reflects and at the same time shapes our thoughts.”
Have you ever noticed how your response to being asked, “How are you?” affects your mood? I have known those whose response to this question is “blessed.” Regardless of what they were going through or how they were feeling physically, they chose to focus on the blessings they were experiencing instead of the trials. I took note that those same people seemed genuinely happy most of the time. Speaking genuine words of affirmation, encouragement, and peace is life-giving to all who hear them. If you find yourself engaged in a life-draining conversation and see that your attempts to change the tenor are in vain, politely walk away before it takes a toll on you. Then shake off the dust and move on. Strangely enough, not everyone wants to be cheered up, and some thrive on negativity. Don’t waste your time or energy on fruitless endeavors.
Take Control of Your Thoughts
When disquieting thoughts begin to pervade your mind, take those thoughts captive, and immediately replace them with thoughts of their polar opposite. When fear over what might be infiltrates your thinking, resist the fear and envision the best possible outcome you can imagine. When regret over the past pulls a gloomy shroud over today, resist dwelling on what cannot be changed and rejoice that you’ve been given a new day to make better choices. Do your best to screen what externally influences your thoughts by removing outside influences that inject anything injurious and take control over internal thoughts by using the “resist and replace” method.
I have found that if I plan out my replacement thoughts ahead of time and have them always at the ready, it’s very easy to make the transfer. For example, there is a particular song I find to be especially soothing for anxious thoughts that seem to always come at night when I’m trying to sleep. When they begin to flood my mind, I transition from these nagging, fearful thoughts by mentally “singing” the lyrics of that beautiful song. It isn’t long before fear subsides and sleep takes over.
Changing the things we can is empowering. It sets into motion the betterment of the few things we are able to control in this life. And there is no time like now to begin.