Accept the Limits of Your Influence

Practice of the Week
Accept the Limits of Your Influence

Category: SLOGANS THAT HELP: Advertisers know that slogans work! So let's put them to a positive use. Adopting these slogans as your personal guides and reminders will help bring more peace and more joy into your life. Journaling about how you're trying to implement a given slogan will help integrate it.
“You've got to know when to hold,
Know when to fold 'em."
--Kenny Rogers

An earlier "Practice of the Week" was "Do What You Can (Unlearn Helplessness)." This week's practice is the flip side of that: Don't do (and stop trying to do and worrying about) what you can't.

Each one of us is very limited in what we can do or change. You can't change the past, or even this present moment. We can only affect the future -- and our influence there is very limited. You have little influence over other people, including their thoughts, actions, or suffering. And even less influence over the economy, government policies, or international affairs. Things happen due to causes — and of the ten thousand causes upstream of this moment, most of them are out of your control.

You don't have the power to make something happen if the prerequisites aren't present. For example, you can't grow roses without good soil and water.

If you've been pounding your head against a wall for a while, it's time to stop, accept the way it is, and move on. As I sometimes tell myself: Don't try to grow roses in a parking lot.


In general, when faced with some fact you can't change — like you're stuck in traffic, or you feel sad, or your young daughter has just poured milk on the floor (speaking of some of my own experiences) — ask yourself, Can I accept that this is the way it is, whether I like it or not?

Understand that acceptance does not mean approval, acquiescence, overlooking, or forgiveness. You are simply facing the facts, including the fact of your limited influence.

Notice the good feelings that come with acceptance, even if there are also painful feelings about various facts. Notice that acceptance usually brings you more resources for dealing with life's difficulties.

If you cannot accept a fact — that it exists, that it has happened, whatever your preferences may be — then see if you can accept the fact that you cannot accept the fact!

More specifically, consider these reflections:
  • Review a life event that has troubled you. See if you can accept it as something that happened, like it or not — and as truly just a part of a much larger and probably mainly positive whole.
  • Consider an aspect of your body or personality that you don't like. Tell the truth to yourself about the extent to which you can change it and make a clear choice as to what you will actually do. Then see if you can accept whatever remains as just the way it is — and as only a small part of the much larger and generally positive whole that is you.
  • Bring to mind a key person in your life. Have there been any ways that you've been trying to affect or change this person that are just not working? What limits to your influence here do you need to accept?
  • Consider something you've wanted to happen but been frustrated, about — perhaps a career shift, or a certain school working out for your child, or a sale to a new customer. Are the necessary supporting conditions truly present? If they are, then maybe stick with it and be patient. But if they are not present — if you're trying to grow roses in a parking lot — consider shifting your hopes and efforts in another direction.
For Journaling

Consider and journal your thoughts about one or more of the four bullet points above.

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