“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 Niebuhr
There are many things in life we cannot change or control, which can be seen as a problem or an opportunity. We’ve seen this recently with the coronavirus pandemic that showed how powerless we are. At the time of writing this, many countries throughout Europe and India are facing difficulties, with a growing number of cases and deaths. I don’t wish to emphasize the problems in the world but help you make sense of them. Change weaves itself throughout life, and sometimes it can improve our life or disrupt it. I’m certain you’ve experienced changes throughout your life to know how unsettling it can be.
But how do we deal with situations we cannot change? It lies in our ability to adapt to it rather than control conditions. For example, if you’ve been laid off from work because of the pandemic, you might be upset and angry. You have every right to feel this way, and you mustn’t deny your emotions. But if we think on a larger scale, losing one’s job is a minor trouble compared to someone losing a loved one due to COVID-19.
By reassessing our situation, we can zoom out of our life and understand that while our situation is difficult, it is not the end of the world. We may decide to upskill through further education and find work in other areas. But losing a loved one to an illness is tragic and there is nothing we can do. So, when we think we cannot change a situation, we ought to ask ourselves whether it is an inconvenience or a real problem. This helps us gain perspective, knowing there are others in the world experiencing more difficulties. With this in mind, here are three things we cannot change in life but deal with more effectively.
1. How Other People Treat You
We cannot control how other people treat us, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. If we judge life based on whether it is fair or unfair, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Life is doing its job of expanding, based on universal laws and principles. If others treat us unfairly, it is an opportunity to look within ourselves and change our response. In this context, response means whether we feel victimised or whether we use the experience to become more resilient.
It’s a given that people will mistreat us intentionally or sometimes unintentionally. It is my professional experience that how a person treats you is not indicative of you but of what is going on inside of them. You’ve probably heard the saying “hurt people, hurt people,” meaning those who are wounded or suffer trauma cast their wounds onto others because of the pain associated with dealing with it.
If a person treats you unfairly, they are likely suffering a deep pain themselves. So, how do you deal with people like this? It involves knowing your true worth and standing in your own power. It means recognizing the other person’s motives and, to the degree you are ready and willing, forgiving them for their wrongs. Similarly, it helps to set up boundaries and distance yourself from them, if you can. Is this something you’re willing to try? Yes, I agree it is difficult, but you’re not doing it for them but to ease your pain and suffering, which is more important.
2. Sometimes, Things Go Wrong
Sometimes, life takes an unexpected turn when we least expect it. People let us down. We lose possessions or people of importance to us. Our lives change suddenly, and we experience frustration, anger, and disappointment. It’s natural to feel this way, but when things go wrong, rather than follow your problems, try to look for a solution. If we focus on our problems, they become expanded in our consciousness and we cannot find a solution. This is what Albert Einstein meant when he said, “We cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it in the first instance.” Our problems cannot be solved with the same mind that created them.
So, when things go wrong, avoid dwelling on your problems, but change your perspective and look for the opportunity contained within it. For example, I’m rereading a wonderful book called The Art of Learning by the American chess champion Josh Waitzkin. In one chapter, he tells a story of when he was playing international chess against the Russians. They would repeatedly disrupt his concentration during matches, such as kicking him under the table, making noises or leaving the playing table unexpectedly. Eventually, he learned to harness the distractions and improve his resiliency and become an unstoppable champion. It’s about using your problems to your advantage instead of getting swept up by them.
3. Life Is Not Personal But Predictable
Life doesn’t have an agenda to hurt anyone because life is not separate from us. We are the embodiment of life, and when we understand this, we gain the power to improve our circumstances. Life is predictable to the degree that our experiences hold pivotal lessons for our growth. Things will happen that you did not expect or cannot control. Naturally, you will get upset, angry, and feel powerless. But this is when your unseen power emerges to respond to what is taking place. It is your response that determines whether you suffer or change your perspective.
No one wants to suffer because pain is difficult. Therefore, we have choices, and sometimes they aren’t necessarily obvious. Naturally, we want to remove the problem causing us pain, but it may not always be possible. The only thing we can control is our attitude and our response. So, when difficulties show up and you cannot control or change it, see if you can change your perspective. It won’t be easy and will require exploring deep within you to change your perspective. It will require stepping out of your comfort to change how you respond to what is taking place.