“God, 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
Firstly, I liked to apologise for the profanity. It is not my usual mode of writing, but this is a principle I have invested a lot of time in and it has helped me get passed some of the toughest road blocks in my life. It is a simplified version of what many know as the Serenty Prayer and is now a best selling book by John C. Parkin (I should have patented the idea! Ed)
About 20 years ago I almost died in a car accident. The accident gave me the opportunity of looking back at my life and realising it needed a complete overhaul. Not everyone has a second chance to learn how to live. Suddenly I could chose the man I wanted to be, but how do you redefine who you are in any meaningful way? Well, I was in hospital with a broken neck and collar bone for 6 months, so I had a lot of time with nowhere to go and plenty of space to think. After that time I came to realise I just wanted to be a better person. A better son, a better brother, a better uncle and I wanted to enjoy what I did for living. I wanted to really help people and I wanted to find something to become pasionate about.
One of my earliest problems was resolving tension. When I began to think about who this new person would be I became very conflicted. Why change? Was my life really that bad? It would mean dumping a lot of the relationships and habits I’d picked up and I honestly had no clue how to be this other person. Yet, I did know I didn’t want my life to be full of stress anymore. I didn’t want to be weighed down with anxiety over the trivial trappings of life. So I developed the Fuck It Principle and I’ve used it consistently in my life since. It’s a good way to stop, slow down and focus your mind on the present and not the undefinable future.
Imagine a savanna 100,000 years ago. A man is out walking and spots a sabre tooth tiger. His conscious mind freezes while his subconscious mind fires into action. What’s the best move here, flight, fight or freeze? Within nanoseconds a course of action has been chosen. The man makes it home. He chose flight and escaped.
Weighing outcomes is a survival mechanism and is still very necessary for staying alive. When we feel anxious or stressed, our brain falls back to this ancient software, which is why your feelings are so intense. This software is designed with the sole purpose of keeping you alive, so whatever triggers it, no matter how small, will engage the same intense emotional response. But it was designed to last for that split second when your life hung in the balance. In our modern world we sometimes leave the programme running almost constantly.
So how do we upgrade our software? We need to do a lot of beta testing and reprogramming. FIP essentially helps with debugging. It is a simple process and when you begin to debug your mental toolkit you find that you don’t allow yourself room to feel heightened levels of stress or anxiety. You just ask yourself a very simple question, “Can I control what is happening?” Most of the time you can, but you can’t see how you can. If you do find a way to take control of the situation you are in a better position to change it. You become all the possibilities and you need only guide the problem to the outcome you most desire.
However, if there is absolutely no way you can control what is happening and have no control of the outcome, then fuck it. Allow yourself a mental pause and wait. Deal with whatever the outcome is once it has happened instead of trying to fight against what you’ve classified as unstoppable. Overloading your brain trying to figure out every possible eventuality will only turn on your anxiety software and trap it in a loop. In other words, don’t dwell on what might happen. Focus on accepting what will happen. And because you haven’t been stressing about the outcome you’ll have more strength to handle it. If all you are doing is stressing you turn off your ability to be objective about the problem and therefore inhibits any real potential to solve it.
This is not the same as ignoring you problems. Where the outcome is outside of your control, always ask, “Have I done everything I could have possibly done to solve the problem?” If you’ve given it your best shot, done all that you could possibly have done, then you can say “fuck it” and be happy that you tried. Where you’ve been slack and haven’t treated the problem as seriously as you could have, then take responsibility for that. Reflect on what you could do better next time and put the whole thing to bed.
A friend of mine was worried about an essay she’d written. It was a cruicial piece of coursework that was a large percentage of her grade. She was still panicking after she had handed the essay in, so we did a mindfulness exercise to help calm her down. Then I explained FIP to her and asked her if stressing would in any way change the outcome. Of course she said no. Then I asked if she had done everything she could possibly have done to get a good grade. Invariably she said yes. If stressing had no affect on the outcome and she had done all she possibly could, then she had to let go and leave it to her tutor to give her the grade she deserves, whatever that may be. All she needed to do is be patient and deal with whatever the next step was.
And sometimes that’s all we can do; wait for the next step. Whatever it is you will have the strength to meet it head on. Humans are amazingly resilient and highly adaptable. We bounce back and we can change to any new situation. Don’t let change or fear of the unknown weigh on your mind.
There is a great deal to appreciate about preparedness, but sometimes you just need to allow your mind to find that moment of clarity and that can’t be done if you are panicking. Don’t ignore your problems, but also don’t let the things you can’t change rule you. Accept them and have the courage to meet the next obstacle head on.
“Your greatest fears are created by your imagination. Don’t give in to them.” – Winston Churchill