No, the Serenity Prayer is not exclusive to A.A. or alcoholics!
Learn how to make the most of the 12 step Serenity Prayer here, with suggested tips on changing habits. Then, we invite your questions or comments about making positive change in your life at the end.
How to change a habit: Starting simple
Habits are hard to form, it takes a long time to get used to doing something a particular way, and when you consider that changing a habit really means you have to develop two new habits (one stopping the old behavior and two starting the new one) it is a doubly hard task.
At the start of the year we make big sweeping statements about what we want to do differently. But we don’t necessarily build a careful plan about how we are going to do that, or spend much time thinking about how to stay positive when things don’t go well from the beginning.
Change isn’t something that happens because we say it will happen, it occurs because we are thoughtful about a process, we pay attention to what we are doing, and we commit to continued effort even when things don’t go well: we work a program around what we want to change, and we accept that it is a slow process.
Bring more opportunity to change to your life
This year I am encouraging everyone to start with something simple: bringing more opportunity for successful change into your life, and I am encouraging you to start now – a few weeks in when it starts to feel like defeat is inevitable.
There is never one right time to start something new, and learning how to start again after something has not gone well is the first huge step in building a habit for change rather than settling for status quo. Ultimately that is what creates room for positive change and growth, whether you are dealing with alcoholism in the family or just wanting to try something new.
What is the Serenity Prayer used for?
The foundation of most twelve-step programs is The Serenity Prayer. A simple prayer adopted by the programs but written without thought to A.A., and applicable to everyone whatever you are seeking to change:
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.
What does the Serenity Prayer represent? Three simple requests: serenity to accept, courage to change, and wisdom to know. Moving through these three elements is the foundation for building any lasting habit, and the key is to keep things simple.
PART 1: What do you control?
The first part of the prayer invites us to consider what we affirmatively have control over: is it our own behavior, someone else’s actions or attitudes, the outcome of activities, etc?
Ask yourself: Can I make this or that happen, and if it involves getting the cooperation of someone else that means you do not have control and do not have the ability to change that situation all on your own.
So if your New Year’s resolution was to make someone else stop drinking you may want to reconsider. Coping with a family addiction problem needs to be centered on what YOU can do. A better resolution might be one that you do have some power over: stop bailing someone out of jail, stop cleaning-up their mess, stop buying alcohol. This might not lead to an immediate positive environment for you, but it is the first step in building a habit of self-care, autonomy, and independence.
PART 2: Asking for help
The second part of the prayer is about asking for the strength to change. It isn’t easy to change habits, having the courage to do something differently is not guaranteed so asking for help is a good idea.
If this is the year that you are absolutely not going to tolerate your teenager coming in drunk anymore then having the courage to do something different is important because you have built the habit of caring for this person from the day they were born, and now your care has to look very different. Taking away the car may lead to huge fights, taking away the key and locking the door at curfew may be terrifying: you have to have courage to affect the change you want in your life, and sometimes the bravest step toward serenity is also the most frightening.
STEP 3: Differentiation through wisdom
Finally we ask for the ‘wisdom to know the difference.’ It can be confusing about who is in charge of certain situations, knowing the difference relies on slowing down enough to look at a something before you act.
Developing wisdom is about developing patience, it is a pause, a thought, a consideration, perhaps a prayer. Just enough time to ask what part we have in something and when the answer is that we don’t starting over by asking for the ability to accept what we can not change, even when that is uncomfortable.
Change doesn’t happen overnight
This year, this day, this minute take an action to accept that change doesn’t happen overnight and that there may be a lot of pain on the way. Emotions in the addiction recovery journey tend to unearth past hurt. The person who never exercises and resolves to start running five miles a day usually starts the year with an injury after the first few runs, then has to stop and by the time they feel better has given up on themselves and their goal.
Don’t start running five miles a day. Start walking one, have a goal you want to reach by the end of the year, give yourself room to grow so that you actually can.
Everyday ask yourself: What do I have control over in this situation?
Then, take a deep breath and be willing to try something new, and finally pause. Reflect on where you have been, consider where you are going and start again when you need to because habits take time!