"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."
I'm sure you have heard and possibly recited the Serenity Prayer before. It is often used in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has been widely used in religious and non-religious settings alike. It is a simple sentence with a very difficult message to adhere to. I have found both in my life and in the lives of those I coach that accepting things we cannot control, and thus cannot change, is one of the most difficult challenges we face on a regular basis.
Addicted to Control
Many people are addicted to control. We like to think that we have a greater control over situations and people than we really do. One of the greatest illustrations of this I see is parents' belief that they control their children. Sure, we can teach, set limits, establish and follow through with consequences, and give or take away items, but at the end of the day, children are still free thinking and acting humans. We can do everything in our power to keep our children from making mistakes or poor decisions and they still do. When parents don't accept that they can't ultimately control their children, they might react with anger, yelling, and possibly hurting their children in an attempt to control them.
This addiction to control can be seen in other situations. Some think that everyone should like them, but no matter how hard they try there will still be those who choose to have negative opinions and possibly treat them poorly. We also like to think we can control a loved one into being different or treating us different. We can't make someone treat us in a certain way, but we can control how we react to them, what limits we set, and who we choose to keep as a part of our lives.
The Anxiety of Over-Control
Believing we have more control over people and situations than we actually do can cause a great deal of anxiety. There becomes a tension between the way things are and the way we want them to be. Rather than accepting what is outside of our control and focusing on what we can control (i.e. ourselves), we spend all of our energy and focus on trying to change others. This can be like trying to push an immovable object, the only thing it does is wear us out and lead us to feel defeated.
The Weight Lifted From Our Shoulders
When we start to accept things that are outside of our control it can feel like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders. It gives us energy that we had been using elsewhere to actually focus on ourselves. An example of this is a parent who always yells and screams at his/her children for doing something wrong, but by the time punishment is dolled out they are too mentally and emotionally exhausted to enforce it. Rather than trying to change the child, they could focus on what is within their control, like boundaries and natural consequences, and really enforce those.
We can also see this in relationships. Rather than trying to change the other person in a relationship, look at what boundaries you can set in your life and look at ways in which you react to others. We have enough on our plate to deal with the things we can actually control, taking on people and things outside of our control is just too much. By accepting things outside of your control you will find more energy to focus on what you can.