Everyday Inspirations: The Serenity Prayer

I had the pleasure of meeting psychologist Dr. Beverly Adler (aka Dr. Bev) at a diabetes educator conference this month. She gave a presentation on incorporating spirituality into counseling sessions with an example of the Serenity Prayer. Now if you’re starting to get nervous with the words ‘spirituality’ and ‘prayer’, hear me out for a few more paragraphs. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate this post.

You’re probably familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It was written in the early 1900s and has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs. The first three lines are:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

As I mentioned, you don’t have to be religious to apply these words to your life. You can call it a mantra instead of a prayer. It was originally written as an appeal to God but you can substitute any higher power in which you believe. And your higher power doesn’t need to be a deity. Maybe it is the healthiest and happiest version of you or a role model in your life. It’s someone you look to for strength when times are tough.

How does this apply to your health journey? Imagine this scenario: You had a long day of work and are on your way home when you hit a massive delay. Traffic is backed up for miles or the train was cancelled due to a mechanical issue. What a pain! By the time you get home, you are starving. You raid the cupboards or refrigerator and fill up on food that does not align with your health goals. Can you relate to this story? There are many variations. You had a rough day at work and took it out on your partner or children at home. The weather was crummy so you didn’t exercise. Someone brought treats to the break room and you overindulged. 

Let’s line it up with the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
(traffic, people’s behavior, weather, genetic predisposition to disease)

Courage to change the things I can
(emotional responses such as outbursts, eating, or avoiding healthy habits)

And wisdom to know the difference
(Instead of stressing about what you can’t change, focus your energy on modifying your response to align with your health goals)

In stressful situations, it’s easy to get swept up in emotions and to forget about the things you can change. Your emotional response becomes a habit. It might be such a strong habit that you don’t feel you have control, but you do! It takes patience and compassion to change an emotional response but with time, you’ll be able to respond to stressors in a way that will help you move towards your health goals. Sometimes you’ll need extra support from a healthcare provider or group. And you might need a lasting reminder that you can look to in tough moments.

I find these words so valuable that I choose to carry them with me everywhere I go; I keep a handwritten copy of the prayer in my wallet. Dr. Bev feels the same way. She wears a bracelet with the lyrics and has pillows and other inscribed objects in her office. Whether you carry it in your mind or as a physical memento, I hope you can use this concept to move towards a healthier and happier life.

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