We spend too much time and waste too much energy in futile attempts to change
cannot change. It is a major cause of frustration and other forms of
anger. The rational evidence for determining what we can change and what
we cannot is overwhelming, but our behavior often tries to defy this reason and logic.
Behavior based on the lower two levels of the
architecture for interaction model is impossible to change. Those at the
upper levels can be changed. Perhaps this list can help you sort it out, reduce your frustrations,
and increase your peace-of-mind.
Things You Can Change
Why waste time in futile attempts to change what you cannot, when there are
so many things you can change? Here is a partial list of what you can change.
What you do:
- Your present behavior,
- Your future behavior,
- How you respond to the behavior of others,
- How you spend your time,
- Who you spend time with, the friends you keep, your participation and
- How you apply your talents and strengths.
- The strengths you choose to acquire, develop,
- Initiative, drive, commitment, tenacity, focus,
- Who waits for whom,
- The promises you keep, and the people you betray,
- Your level of nutrition and fitness,
- Habits, both good and bad
- The choices you make,
- Preparations and plans you make,
- Impulse control,
- Integrity, authenticity, congruence, reciprocity
- The path you take,
- Your behaviors that annoy others,
- Where you live, where you work, where you play, your career,
- The responsibility you take for yourself,
and who you choose to blame,
- When you appease, when you acquiesce, when obey, when you submit, when you rebel, when you protest, and when
you blow the whistle.
- Where you shop, how you spend, and how you save,
- When and how you use your power.
- Reappraise, apologize,
forgive, let go, and take responsibility
- Deciding to do your best, or less than your best.
What you communicate to others:
- What you say, how you say it, who you say it to, and when you say it,
- The authenticity of your expression,
- Who you greet, and how you greet them,
- Facial expressions, body language, gestures, posture,
- Grooming, dress, and personal hygiene,
- The attitude you project,
- What you write, say, and share,
- Who you include and who you exclude,
Your public image,
- The topics you avoid, and those you engage, when you are patient, when you
- Authentic information or deceptive, manipulative, incomplete, or
- The promises you make, when you say “Yes”, and when you say “No”.
- Who you like, who you trust, who you dislike, who you distrust,
- The symmetry of the power relationships, including: deference,
fawning, condescension, leadership, or disrespect.
- Who you show respect to and who you are disrespectful of,
- What you are willing to tolerate, and what you take a stand on,
- Who you interrupt and who you allow to interrupt you.
- The trust you extend and the trust you earn.
What you know:
- Facts you have gathered,
- The evidence you consider,
- The theory of knowledge you use to choose
- Expertise, skills, and how you apply your talents,
- Literacy, logic, quantitative skills, domain knowledge,
- What you study, read, listen to, and learn,
- What you question and what you accept,
- Your self-image, including your understanding of
your authentic self.
How you think:
Your values and goals.
What you believe,
- The assumptions you make, the questions you ask,
- Who you trust,
- The points of view you adopt,
- What you value, how you evaluate information, the priorities you set, what
- The focus of your attention, what you regard as important and what you
regard as unimportant, your priorities.
- Your mood, attitude, and point of view,
- Your explanatory style;
optimistic or pessimistic,
- The alternatives you generate and consider,
- How you balance inquiry and advocacy,
- Your level of innovation,
- Your compassion, empathy, and understanding of
- Your level of skepticism, and openness to new ideas
- Interest, investigation, imagination, and curiosity,
- How you choose friends and who you regard as friends,
- Who you choose as enemies, and who you fear,
- Your willingness or refusal to hate others,
- Who you love and who you decide to hate.
- How you learn,
- Your level of emotional
- The integrated and introjected
regulations you maintain and respond to.
What you hope, dream, and aspire to:
- Your goals,
- Your hopes and aspirations,
- Your role models.
Things You Cannot Change
You cannot change: the past, your history, the laws of physics, the weather,
(yours or others),
personality traits (yours or others), another person's
thoughts (unless they choose to change), someone who doesn't want to
you are related to, human needs, sexual preference, your
and things you do not
Don't waste time and energy trying to change these things. Recognize and
accept what you cannot change and move on with your life. Perhaps this
amusing story can help you decide when
it is in your best interest to change course and yield to an immovable object or
accept some permanent condition.
Things you may be able to change
You may be able to
change another person's behavior if they decide they would
like your help in making a change they have decided to work on. Perhaps you can
Habits and other behavior caused by classical conditioning
or operant conditioning can be
extinguished by systematic exposure
to carefully chosen stimulus and carefully controlling your response.
You can change what you want, but you cannot change what you
change another person, but you can change how you treat them, how
you react to them, your opinions and judgments of them, and your
relationship with them.
You cannot change the past, but you can reappraise,
apologize, forgive, let go, take
responsibility for yourself, learn, purge
introjected regulations, change the
present and the future, and move forward.
Locus of Control
If you do poorly on a college exam, how do you explain the bad outcome?
Perhaps you think: “I did not study long and hard enough. I did not ask
clarifying questions in class or seek out the teacher after class. I did not
review my notes in depth, this is my fault”. Or you might think: “The teacher is bad
and does not care, he does not explain the material or answer questions. The author of
the text book is worse; he couldn't write clearly to save his life. Also, why was
the test given at 8 am the Friday before the big weekend? Clearly the teacher is
to blame.” Finally you might attribute it all to fate and bad luck: “This was
just not meant to be. There is nothing I could have done to prevent this
outcome. I just seem to get all the bad luck. What can I do?”
This example illustrates the three possible modes or tendencies people have for
attributing locus of
control—where you tend to assign causes for events in your life. The first
example, “I am responsible” is typical of an internalizer. The second,
“It is the
teacher's fault”, is typical of an externalizer, and the final example,
all just luck” is typical of someone who attributes events to chance.
In fact, most outcomes actually result from a combination of internal and external causes, and
perhaps some chance. However, each of us will tend toward one of these three
styles: internalizer, externalizer, or chance, as we explain events. People who
are high in the personality trait of conscientiousness tend to be internalizers
and take personal responsibility for events, good or bad. People low in
conscientiousness tend to be externalizers or attribute it all to chance; it is
not their responsibility. Each of these viewpoints are examples of the
fallacy of single causes. Because many causes
typically contribute to any outcome, the
best determination comes from a careful analysis of the
A careful analysis of cause and effect can help determine what you can change
and what you cannot. Internalizers may be trying to change what they cannot.
They may be taking responsibility for events,
good or bad, that are out of their control. Externalizers may be frustrated by
feeling they cannot change anything and be quick to blame others. They may be
avoiding responsibility and overlooking opportunities they have to make useful
changes. People who attribute it all to chance are powerless, playing the
victim, acting helpless, and behaving like they don't have any choices. The
authentic response is based on an accurate
knowledge of who you are and what you are capable of
controlling. Strike a realistic balance between arrogance—it is all because of
me, and victim—there is nothing I can do.
Do you want to stop smoking or not? On the one hand you understand the health
risks, costs, filth, growing opposition, and inconvenience of smoking. On the
other hand however, you have smoked for years, enjoy the calm it creates,
immerse yourself in the rituals it provides, identify with it, and have been physically unable to
stop each time you have tried. You have denied the harm,
distorted the facts, indulged in
confabulation, and almost convinced
yourself that smoking is good for you. This is the essence of
ambivalence—literally “both feelings”—torn between wanting to change and not
wanting to change. Ambivalence is very common; losing weight, seeking medical
treatment, changing jobs, limiting drinking or gambling, dumping your boyfriend,
getting more exercise, changing jobs, and buying a new car all invite mixed emotions.
Resolving ambivalence is the first step toward change. People do not change
when they are stuck in ambivalence. Clarifying the discrepancy between
alternatives is essential for resolving ambivalence. When people
assess for themselves the benefits of
change over the status quo, they begin to resolve their ambivalence. When we can
clearly see for ourselves the benefits of the new path over the old we become
ready for change. The choice has to originate from within; attempts to
coerce change typically fail.
People change when they are ready, willing, and able to. People are willing to
change when they firmly decide to leave the past behind and make a new future. This
happens when they understand the discrepancy between their goals and their
present state and they autonomously choose to close that gap. They overcome
denial and resistance and
now are committed to the new outcome. People are able to change when they
believe they are competent to perform the work necessary for the change. People
are ready to change when the change becomes very important to them; when this is their highest priority.
A Buddhist Perspective on Inner Peace
Buddhists believe that inner peace is the only peace, there
is no other kind. What would external peace be? It is fruitless to pray for
peace because it is already within you, you already have it, it cannot be given
to you. Peace is only achieved by removing obstacles to it. Sanskrit prayers
usually end with the chant
shanti, shanti, shanti” Shanti is the Sanskrit word for
“quietly” or “peace”.
Peace comes from removing obstacles in three areas:
Disturbances from other people — you
cannot change other
Disturbances not from other people (e.g. natural
disasters, events in the past, today's weather)
Disturbances you cause yourself — these you can change.
Understanding what you can change and what you cannot change is the simple
but often difficult path to
The Serenity Prayer
The serenity prayer provides simple and profound
wisdom on dealing with
change. Here are some popular statements of that wisdom:
As the original prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I
cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the
As a request: May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the
difference. ~ Adaptation by
As an affirmation: I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the
- “I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in
the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major
component of mental wellness.” ~
- “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.” ~ Dr.
- “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” ~ Dr.
- “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm.” ~
- “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human
freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose
one’s own way.” ~ Victor Frankl
- “All you can do is all you can do.” ~
- “If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are
headed.” ~ Chinese proverb
- “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you,
then you win.” ~
- “We must become the change we seek.” ~
- “Autonomy is unalienable.” ~ Leland R.
What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement Learning to Accept Who You Are, by
Martin E. Seligman
Motivational Interviewing, Second Edition: Preparing People for Change,
by William R. Miller, Stephen Rollnick
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life,
by Spencer Johnson
by Phillip C. McGraw
Education and Training Institute Inc.
Morgan Spurlock, TV Series