Stop Worrying About Stuff You Can’t Change

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Life | 13 comments

How to Stop Worrying about Things You Can't Change including politics

We’re in election season. We’re in the middle of COVID. It’s easy to feel depressed about the state of the world.

I’ve been trying to cocoon, not pay attention to the news, not think about much of anything at all.

I made the terrible mistake of putting up a political tweet last week before the debate (albeit one that didn’t take sides; more like a “pox on both your houses” thing), and the furor that erupted was immense.

I shall steer clear from now on.

But it reminded me of something I’ve written about before, and that I return to often myself when the news gets bleak and I become too preoccupied with it.

Sometimes we need to stop worrying about the things we can’t change and throw ourselves into the things we can.

I realized a long time ago that I am far more effective at changing the world when I stop obsessing over things I cannot change, and start paying attention to things within my sphere of influence.

I used to obsess over politics, and get so upset (and even feel so righteous, because I was obviously right!), but there was just one problem. I wasn’t actually changing anything. I could see what needed changing, but I was putting all sorts of emotional energy into worrying about something that I couldn’t actually do much about.

Sure, you have a vote. And it could be that you can even influence a few people around you to vote the way you want them to vote. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do that–by all means, talk to your friends or family (politely and reasonably) if you feel you should.

But I do believe that the amount of emotional energy and mental space that we devote to something should be in direct proportion to how much influence we can exert.

After spending way too much time worrying about politics (even the politics of a country not my own), I realized something. Often we are trying to find political solutions to things that don’t actually have political solutions.

Yes, the world is a mess. But the answer is often not a new policy (which doesn’t mean that some policies can’t be better than others). It’s just that to truly fix something, we need to heal people’s hurts and put families back together. We need to learn how to be a community again. We need people to be good to each other, good to their families, good to their communities.

Reading the news constantly reinforced my political views and made me sure I was right (which is a very heady and great feeling), but it didn’t do anything about the essential problem–that people weren’t acting well towards each other or their families. That’s really the heart of what is wrong with our society–it’s our own relationships.

And so after one election I quit cold turkey. I decided no more blogs, no more news, I would just write this blog. By writing this blog I might be able to actually help a family or two.

I decided to put my energy into the places where I might actually have influence.

My mother shared with me this concept about influence, and I thought it was brilliant. I’m going to adapt it slightly here, but essentially we live in a world that can be divided up into three circles: the things you can control; the things you can influence; and the things that you cannot influence or control.

Sphere of Influence Change - You Can't Change the World. You Can Change Your Family.

Things I Can Control

Basically, this circle is very small. It contains only one person: yourself. You can control what you do, how you react, how you spend your time, etc.

Things I Can Influence

You can influence those closest to you: your family, your friends, your coworkers. And you have more influence the closer someone is to you. You can influence the causes you believe in by volunteering and giving money. You can make a difference in your community. Basically, the more you can personally get involved in the change, the more influence you will have.

Things I Can’t Influence or Control

You can’t change the weather, the economy, what your boss decides to do with your company, what ISIS terrorists do–or even, really, who wins the election in November.

Most things are out of our control, and God does not ask us to spend time in areas that are out of our control. He asks us to do what we can–in the areas we can control.

But where do we spend most of our emotional energy? Worrying about things that we can’t control or influence.

Yet here’s something interesting: the more time we spend in the circles we can control and influence, the more influence we will have because our sphere of influence grows. We’re actually more effective. And there’s a side benefit: people who spend most of their emotional energy in these two circles tend to be more joyful and peaceful. They aren’t worrying about things they can do nothing about; they’re pouring their energy into things they can influence, and often they’re seeing real changes.

Let me give you three examples of how this plays out.

When something’s bothering you about someone else, change how you react

In marriage, we often spend most of the time wondering how we can get our husbands to change: how to make them more romantic; how to get them to spend more time with the family; how to get them to want to talk to us. But you can’t change him. If you spend more time in the circle you can control, though–yourself–you will likely see your marriage changing.  You can find ways to insert joy into your life. You can change how you react to the kids and change the tone of the house. And as you do that, you’ll find your marriage, and your attitude about marriage, improving.

For more help on this, see my Iron sharpens Iron series!

Learn to live in the present and enjoy those you love, rather than worry about the future

Here’s another one: when I was pregnant with my second child, we found out that he had a serious heart defect that would likely end his life early. I spent a lot of time in that outer circle, worrying about him and fretting and crying. But I couldn’t do anything about his heart defect. When I decided to spend time in the circle I could control–my own reactions–I started looking for little things to be grateful for everyday. I started learning to savour every moment I had with him. And when Christopher did pass away, I was much more peaceful about it because I had leaned on God rather than given over to worry.

Invest in those over whom you have the most influence

The first two points really talk about how not to live outside of your sphere of influence. But there’s another side to it: deliberately nurture your sphere of influence.

For me, that was a large part of the reason why I stayed home with my children. I realized that there were no two people on earth over whom I could have a greater influence, and I wanted to throw myself into them. And honestly? That’s still the thing I’m most proud of in my life. I just loved those years that I was home with them, and those years that we homeschooled.

I know not everyone is able to stay at home, and I know that some are called to something else. I also know that I was very blessed to have had that opportunity.

But we had such great conversations, and I taught them how to be the kinds of people who would change the world.

Sheila Influencing Daughters - You Can't Change the World. You Can Change Your Family.

When we spend time with our kids and their friends, we can change this little bit of our culture, and that can ultimately have an effect on the wider society. When we choose to act in our circle of influence, we can end up changing, albeit in a small way, the culture that so upsets us.

Think about it: If you foster a child, you will end up having more of an effect on that child than who wins this election. If you reach out and help a single mom escaping an abusive relationship, and help her get established in a new home, and help her write a resume, and use your contacts to help her get a job, and babysit for her sometimes so she has some time off, you will end up changing her life far more than whoever the next president is.

When you spend time in your sphere of influence, your sphere of influence tends to get bigger.

And that means that you can invest in yourself, too! When my kids were little, I started writing because I wanted something to do when they napped. That’s turned into this blog, books, and speaking tours (at least pre-COVID!). Many of the young women (and young men! Hi, Connor!) who work for me do so from home, and they’ve been taking courses and learning new skills and they’re having a ton of fun.

And that’s what’s so neat. You don’t have to stop learning and dreaming now, because the internet has opened up the world to us! I’m a HUGE proponent of online education (my girls took their first year of university online, from home), and I think that’s awesome for moms and dads, too.

Yes, the news is difficult and depressing these days. But I still feel like we live in amazing times.

We can learn from home, work from home, use the internet to have an influence. And no matter what we do, we can still choose to love those around us.

So if you want to have influence, don’t just worry and fret and complain. Actually do something in your circle of influence. Invest in yourself, and those around you. That’s the way we change our marriages, our communities, and the world–and that’s the way we find true joy, true purpose, and true effectiveness in this life.

And THAT’S how you can stay sane in this election, COVID cycle.

What do you think? How do you make yourself focus on your sphere of influence, and not fret about the rest? Let’s talk in the comments!

(and please–no politics. Let’s not talk Trump or Biden. Let’s just stick to the idea of growing our influence in the world for Jesus).

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Arwen

    I have a theory Sheila, let me know what you think (and others too who want to chime in).
    I believe people worry about the things they can’t change because so many things have been changed in America and the Western world as a whole. Where i grew up it’s easier to accept what can’t be changed because the culture has remained stagnant for centuries. When something remains the same day in and day out, you tend to give up and submit. But in the West how we live today is completely different than how we lived 100 years ago or even 60 years ago. I truly think it’s the main contributing factor as to why people have a difficult time accepting things because they have seen throughout the decades that change is possible.
    When Trump won in 2016 and i saw one half the population lose its mind i was shocked to say the least. I thought to myself, you’ll get a voice in 4 years. In my country back home we don’t even get a voice in any year let alone in mere 4 years! So we give up and find it easier to give up control and hand it over to God. But the dynamics are different in America (West), when you don’t like something you can change it. Which gives people the illusion that they are in power, after all history has shown that they are in fact in power with all of the changes they have implemented. Thoughts?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I think this is an EXCELLENT reminder of how life is different all around the globe, and a great look at how our “norms” can seriously influence us.
      Thanks for that, Arwen. I found that really insightful and quite interesting to think on.

      • Candace

        Such a good reminder for me today! I’ve been so discouraged by the lack of empathy in America. While I can’t change everyone, I can live my life in a way that radiates Jesus and let Him change hearts.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s really interesting, Arwen! I think you may be on to something. I also think there’s a thread in Western politics, and especially U.S. politics, where people want to be on the side that has power, because that has positive benefits for you (even if they’re just emotional, like being proud of being on the winning side). I think we do put too much trust in princes, so to speak, as the Psalmist says. Too much trust and faith in government. I do believe in engaging responsibly in democracy, because that’s both our right and our responsibility. But it shouldn’t be our identity. Our citizenship, as Paul wrote, is not here, but in heaven.

    • Jane Eyre

      I was thinking about this the other day. There are some things that are eternal and unchanging, and other things that are temporary. It seems like the modern idea that “things are different now” (with respect to everything, not just the temporary) is Satanic in origin.
      Bear with me.
      God tells us that some things never ever change, whether it’s “nothing new under the sun” or His very nature. When we are convinced that everything, truly everything, is “different now,” we deny eternity.

  2. Jane Eyre

    This is a great post.
    Some of the peace that comes from acting in your sphere of influence is that you are helping to create the outcome you want. It also helps you to understand that some problems stubbornly exist because they are actually hard to solve.
    I want my church to have in-person services. I cannot control our state’s requirements, the bishops, or even the decisions made at my own parish. However, when the call went out for young, healthy people to assist in the logistics of in-person services, I volunteered.
    If you’re frustrated by, for example, the lack of in-person polling locations this November, consider volunteering to be a poll worker instead of banging on your keyboard. The reason that locations are shuttering is because most poll workers are elderly. They are at such high risk from the pandemic that they aren’t volunteering. Without poll workers, polling places can’t operate. Take the day off from work or parenting, if you can, and be a poll worker. If you can’t, consider posting information about it on Facebook instead of banging on your keyboard.
    If you’re frustrated by federal politicians, help one of the people in a local race knock doors or make phone calls. Many of our Congressmen and Senators went from city council to mayor to state level to federal level. Help out the good people making a start at your city level: they may be on the ballot for Congress in a few years.

  3. Boone

    When I need to put things in perspective I head over to a spot in the park on Little River. My Dad taught me to fly fish there as his father taught him and his father taught him. I taught my three there as well. The place is timeless. It probably looks the same today as it did when the first ancestor of the Cherokee saw it thought he’d fish there however many thousand years ago that was. When I step off in that ice cold water with a three weight rod and a dry fly. My blood pressure drops back to normal and if I listen real close I can almost hear the voices of my father and grandfather shouting encouragement as I land a trout. For a short while I’m 16 again and stress doesn’t exist.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s what I’m like when I’m in the zone with knitting! Or when we go for a hike, too. So needed for perspective.

  4. Phil

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will not mine be done. Amen.

      • Phil

        Im here Sheila – avidly reading and listening – sometimes rather late to the party too… just been off the wall busy and spread out in all kinda directions. It is good….Thanks! Oh and I got my cheerleader back….so keep doin your thing and Ill cheer you on!


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