God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
I like these words of wisdom as they existed on a plaque just inside the front door of my parents house for many years. I also appreciate the Desiderata, the 8 fold path and the 7 Hermetic principles as presented by the Kybalion, but the words above are more popular and widespread in the western world. As I've discovered more about neuroscience and psychology, the more this particular verse has made sense; so I thought i'd unpack it a little, a few words at a time, to see if I could share some of the thoughts that whizz through my grey matter when considering this passage today
God - So here is the first point of interest. Regardless of your position on 1. creationism vs. 2. evolution (An all powerful designer we cannot conceive vs. a creative explosion of universal proportions out of a vacuum of nothingness) or even if 3. you've come to the conclusion no-one can possibly know the origins of life, the planet or the universe and every account we have is just speculation ... your position is a 'belief' that you have formed through various experiences of life imprinting your brain. It is also the case that your 'belief' for or against 'God' (or against man's speculative capabilities in the absence of 1st hand experience and thus epidemiological knowledge) will be used to help confirm your own position, motivations and self-concept. Most people find it very easy to associate their over-arching position in respect to their beliefs about this word [God] and either give it immense credence or write it off as inconsequential in respect to the remainder of the paragraph.
The interesting thing for me is that a subject of such epic proportions can just be pigeon-holed by the brain to ensure the 'I' in us remains congruent with our past experience of life and self to reduce the level of glucose energy we would otherwise consume in thinking the enormity and complexity of it all through every time. This fascinates me, because we're designed to stick to previous conceptions to ensure we remain relatively energy efficient. And then we expend huge amounts of energy arguing our point to make ourselves 'Right', for psychological comfort (i.e. To avoid any form of dissonance).
Grant me - to 'grant' someone something is 'to allow', 'to permit' .. this suggests without omnipotent approval, there is an automatic restriction on our capacity to access serenity? This suggests an 'External locus of control'. If we are to take full responsibility for our position in life, [to develop an internal locus of control] it is our choice to be serene or in any other emotional state, our emotional state at any one time is not a condition 'granted' to us by any external force, but one we create for ourselves.
Serenity - the state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled. A state, suggests a state of being. How were being is almost wholly related to the chemical signalling in our brains at any one time in relation to our prevailing conditions. Being Calm, peaceful etc. would suggest we have few stress hormones in our system, i.e. low levels of cortisol and epinephrine and higher levels of Serotonin and Dopamine. 'Being' 'untroubled' (Serene) is a chemical neural state and the chemicals we release are in response to our perceptions of the world and our position in it - i.e. whether we're being treated justly (relative to our definition of 'Justice' based on our prior experience and other external influences like parental guidance, or treatment by the boss, or the missus). Therefore, being serene is something we can achieve if we choose our state of mind and beliefs rather than accepting a world-view created by our surroundings and those who influence our thought patterns to be negative (or positive). It is something we can choose, rather than something 'gifted' by anyone else or anything else.
Accept the things I cannot change - 'Come to recognise something as valid or correct'. We come to understand (accept) when we're educated about the thing we're concerned with. In relation to accepting (coming to understand) what we can and cannot 'Change', we need to understand the mechanics of the change process. In one way, it is possible to say, nothing changes until a thought changes, for every process is first a conception of an idea in someones mind. Therefore, in respect to our brains (the root of ALL change), it must be recognised that they [brains] are plastic and designed to adapt through a process called neurogenesis ... if we don't understand this, there is a very real danger we may accept 'opinion and speculation' about what cannot be changed, (considering process and people change) rather than understanding what can, in fact, be changed if only we understand how such change is facilitated at a neural level.
The courage to change the things I can - once we understand what can be changed based on good science and not what cannot be changed based on hearsay and inherited wisdom from days past which didn't have the same technical capability to identify the biological components of change we have today, then we we can understand what it takes (dedication, persistence, knowledge, focus, method etc.) to change them. The danger here is that leaders often consider 'Change' to be something required of others. The problem is we cannot change anyone else. We can influence them, with love, kindness, reward or fear and threat, but we cannot change anyone other than ourselves if we consider it a neurological process. We can however directly influence our own thoughts, challenge our own beliefs and change ourselves .. but to look at the man in the mirror does take an immense amount of courage! This is because our defence mechanisms and our confirmation bias are designed to make us think we're right- being 'wrong' (And especially being comfortable with being wrong) is a huge psychological and neurological challenge ... but an amazing destination if you can find your way there.
'A La' notice the splinter in your neighbours eye, but fail to see the plank in your own!
And the wisdom to know the difference - Once you know a bit about psychology and neuroscience, it's easy to see that the creation of conditions in which people can perform at their best (emotionally / psychologically prior to physically) is the key to achieving the best from any team in any environment, be it elite sports, manufacturing, public sector or in service industries like banking and finance ... 'Wisdom' is found where leaders spend more time challenging and checking their beliefs in respect to 'What works' where 'maximised people performance' is required and putting the effort into their own advancement in knowledge and understanding around the subject; such that their behaviours change as a by-product of the beliefs they choose to challenge and change in their own minds.
The alternative is to see change as something required in others while remaining fixed in approach and attitude yourself - if you're the leader with that approach, all you manage to 'lead' [by example] is stubbornness and inflexibility, which you then berate others for... enter stage right, the irony of it all, exit stage left, any form of 'Wisdom', and thus the passage above remains a wish and a prayer rather than a defined and specified development plan.
For leadership development which educates your team in the key points of Neuroscience, Psychology and the Psychology of control systems, distilled from over 10-12 years of concurrent study during the second half of >20 years leading change around Europe, call us today on +44 (0) 20 3713 3420