“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.”—Reinhold Neibuhr, American theologian.
Like it or not, many of life’s circumstances—even within the average corporate office—are beyond our control. The weather, for instance, remains outside humanity’s bailiwick; we can try to predict it two or three days out, but in Denver we still can’t halt the snowstorms that close the airport right before Christmas or the hailstorms that ruin our roofs. At work, unless you’re the CEO or on the board of directors, we have little control over the decisions of those higher in the organizational hierarchy. We have even less control over the actions of the world at large.
But being human, we worry about these things anyway, sometimes to the point of obsession. Rather than let uncontrollable situations paralyze you, accept them and work around them. (<— CLICK TO TWEET) If you’re spiritual, you may be able to accept them as divine will, per Niebur’s wise Serenity prayer; but even if you’re not, his words make a lot of sense anyway. We all know we shouldn’t stress over things outside of our control—yet we still do it.
Here are a few ways to find that serenity. I’m not saying you shouldn’t TRY to influence people or advocate a change. But once you’ve proved to your satisfaction you can’t change something:
1. Lessen its effects. Obviously you can’t change the weather, but you can mitigate its effects by bundling up, driving your four-wheel drive, carrying an umbrella, or deciding not to bike to work on a particular day. If your manager or VP won’t budge on a particular issue, change strategies and save your strength for battles you can win.
2. Review the situation again later. Just because you can’t institute a new process or idea now doesn’t mean you never can. You may rise to a position of leadership where you can implement your change; or your leadership may change and your idea may now be considered; or technology might progress to the point where your original plans become feasible.
3. Change your self-talk. You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, but that doesn’t make it any less reasonable: even if you can’t control a situation, you can control your response to it. Move your self-talk off a negative track to a positive one, and refuse to go down the rabbit hole of obsessing about potential negative consequences. Instead of thinking, “If it keeps raining like this, my sump pump is going to overflow. My basement will be flooded, and everything will be ruined by black mold. The city will demolish my house, and we’ll all end up living in a cardboard box under an overpass.” Really? I’m exaggerating, but I do know people who concoct the wildest stories that would never actually come true. Challenge yourself: is it really that bad, or are you just being a drama king/queen? Can you solve the problem? Put contingency plans in place and get that sump pump checked out now. Always think optimistically. Life usually isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.
4. Embrace your emotions. If you’re a natural worrier, you can accept your nature and allow yourself a brief “worry time,” where you worry about those things beyond your control. Tell your spouse/partner/friend that you just need to worry and vent for a few minutes. Just ask that person to listen, and then you’ll be fine. Let it go on for no longer than 30 minutes, then box up your worries, and move forward with a fresh, optimistic perspective on life. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but you can do it.
5. Adopt Coping Skills. Taking a few deep breaths, practicing ways to keep your negative emotions in check, increasing the meaningfulness of what you can change, practicing mindfulness, putting it all in the hands of a higher power, and setting new goals within your real-life constraints can help you through those times when your life seems completely out of your control.
Accept—Don’t Just Give Up
I’m not advising you to just give up and take whatever life hands you. That’s how dictators and totalitarian states grind down the spirits of their people. But some aspects of your personal and professional life will always lie beyond your control. Rather than let anger or worry eat at you, dismiss them with methods like these, so you can move forward with your life and remain productive. There may come a time when you can change the conditions at your workplace in your favor.
And remember: if it all gets unbearable, you always have the option of moving on, no matter how painful that may seem.
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.