The Meaning of the Serenity Prayer

The Meaning of the Serenity Prayer

The book, Proactive 12 Steps, cites Reinhold Niebuhr’s version of the Serenity Prayer.

His version seems to be the most well known.


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I
surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life,

and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


There appear to be three important parts to understanding the meaning of the Serenity Prayer.  The first is the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed.  The definition of serenity is a state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.  If one will seek to honestly assess a situation, not be complacent, and learn to accept things it can lead to a sense of peace.  The second part asks for the courage to change the things that can be changed.  The definition of courage is strength in the face of difficulty, pain or grief.  If we seek to intelligently assess and change a situation we can avoid acting impulsively or foolishly.  The third part is to seek wisdom to know the difference – about what can and cannot be changed.

Wisdom is the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application or experience, knowledge, and good judgement.

The difficulty is knowing when to apply these important characteristics, when to be accepting or courageous.

The problem is that denial, rationalization, and self-deception make it challenging for us to tell when and how to apply these characteristics.

Ultimately, if we seek a Higher Power to guide us to assess situations we will make better decisions.

Limiting Child’s Screen Time

In the article, “Less Screen Time Means a Better Mind and Body for Kids,” Katherine Lee talks about the benefits of limiting your child’s screen time.  She reports that less screen time gives kids more time to do other activities like going outside, socializing, reading, or exercising.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicates that spending too much time on screens has been linked to the following: (1) not getting enough sleep, (2)  poor grades, (3) and obesity.      The AAP encourages parents to limit screen time to 1 hour a day for kids ages 2 to 5.  They recommend avoiding screen time for babies and children under 18 months.  Lee reports that the benefits to cutting back on screen time are more sleep, better grades, lower body fat index (measure of weight and height) and less aggression in children.

Lee suggests some strategies you can use to help your child cut back on screen time.

  1. Set Time Limits and Stick to Them – she says to establish clear rules and times for screen time.  For example, watch television for 1 hour after school and text with friends for 30 minutes.  When the time is up, then stop these activities.  Don’t bargain or give in to begging.  Set limits and then be as firm and consistent as possible.
  2. Do not allow children to have television or other tech devices such as iPads or smartphones in their room.  Having devices in bedrooms is linked to lower test scores, sleeping problems, and obesity in children.
  3. Know what your child is watching and then actively discuss what they are viewing.  Be selective and help your children pick age appropriate material to view.  Lee also suggests limiting the amount of violent content your child is exposed to.  Teach your child to think critically about what they are seeing.
  4. You may end up having arguments with your children about screen time and what they are watching.  They will probably not like having limits when it comes to screen time.  Just remember that there are many benefits to limiting and monitoring your child’s screen time.

In addition, you can consider getting professional help from a trained therapist.

Applying this information can help improve your parenting skills!



Addiction Pothole Story

Addiction Pothole Story


The addiction pothole story is often used in groups to help people understand how difficult it is to change behavior.

People have told this story for a long time and in various ways, but the basic story is recited below:

A man walks down the road.  All of the sudden, he finds himself at the bottom of a big pothole.

Katie Malinski, LCSW calls, “the pothole story a metaphor for change.”  She says that, “potholes are really bad habits that we find ourselves sucked into without meaning to go there.”

He is unable to get out of the pothole himself, it takes a lot of work and help from others, but he finally is able to get out of the hole.

The man continues to walk down the road and falls into the pothole again.

It is difficult, but he eventually is able to get out of the pothole.

He continues this pattern for awhile until he starts to recognize that there is a pothole in the road.  Unfortunately, he continues to walk down the road,

see the pothole, and still falls in.  He does this for many days.  Eventually, he starts to anticipate that the pothole is coming.

He walks down the road and tries to avoid the pothole, but somehow continues to fall into it.

Eventually, the man walks down the road and then walks around the pothole.   Finally the man learns to take another road.

The story helps us identify the steps for change.  The first step is to develop an awareness of what is happening.  Next, we work to make new decisions and choices.

Then we develop new behaviors that lead to successful change.  Finally, the new way of doing things becomes a habit that we don’t even have to think about.

These new behaviors and coping skills make the road before us seem smoother.

The original author of this story appears to be anonymous.



Five Secrets of Effective Communication


Five Secrets of Effective Communication

In his book, “Therapist’s Toolkit”, David D. Burns, MD., talks about five secrets of effective communication.  He believes that if you use these tools you will have better interactions with those around you.  Here are the five tips that Dr. Burns suggests.


Listening Skills

1.  The Disarming Technique:  Find some element of truth in what another person is saying, even if it seems totally unfair, unreasonable, or unrealistic to you.

2.  Empathy:  Try to put yourself in the other person’s position and “see the world through their eyes”.

Dr. Burns indicates that there are two types of empathy:

a.  Feeling empathy:  Acknowledge how the other person might be feeling.  For example, (partner is speaking), “So then the clerk told me to go to the end of the line and that was about all I could take.”  (other partner) “It sounds like that must have made you really angry.”

b.  Thought empathy:  Paraphrase or summarize the other person’s words so that they feel heard.  For example, (partner is speaking), “I have ten things that need to be done by noon today, so I would love to have some help!”  (other partner) “You have a lot of things to do today, and you could use my help.  Is that right?”

3.  Inquiry:  Ask inquisitive questions in a gentle way to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.


Self-Expression Skills

4.  “I Feel” Statements:  Use statements such as “I feel upset,” rather than “you” statements.  “I feel” statements simply describe your experience.  Statements like “you are wrong” or “you’re making me furious!” add a connotation of blame.

5.  Stroking:  Find something genuinely positive to say to the other person, even in the heat of battle.  Doing this transmits an attitude of respect.  You can disagree, but still appreciate and value the other person.

If used in a thoughtful way, Dr. Burns five secrets of effective communication could definitely enhance people’s ability to interact  more positively with each other.

Thinking Errors

Thinking Errors

In the book by David Burns, M.D., Feeling Good:  The New Mood Therapyhe talks about cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions are defined as inaccurate or distorted thinking errors.  Most individuals struggle with thinking errors.  It is difficult to always perceive the world in a clear and accurate way.  When we identify and recognize this problem, we are able to challenge our inaccurate thoughts in a constructive way and make observations that are more accurate.

The following is a list of 10 thinking errors identified by Dr. Burns:

All or nothing thinking:  You look at things in absolute, back and white categories.

Over generalization:  You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Mental filter:  You dwell on the negatives.

Discounting the positives:  You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.

Jumping to conclusions:

A.  Mind-reading:  you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no definite evidence;

B.  Fortune-telling:  you arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.

Magnification or minimization:  You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.

Emotional reasoning:  You reason from how you feel:  “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.”

“Should statements”:  You criticize yourself ( or other people) with “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts” and “have tos.”

Labeling:  Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk,” or “a fool,” or “a loser.”

Personalization and blame:  You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and deny your role in the problem.

Dr. Burns identifies 10 of the most common cognitive distortions or thinking errors; however, there are many other distortions that people struggle with.  Please look through the website to identify other thinking errors.

Hope you find this information useful and informative.


Dr. Steven Chen

Basic Alcohol Screening

As a psychologist working in the field of addiction, I am often asked about basic alcohol assessment tools.  People want a simple way to identify possible alcohol and substance abuse problems.  There are many screening tools available.  The CAGE is one of these tools. says it is a questionnaire that professionals use to check for possible signs of alcohol dependency.  The questionnaire has four unobtrusive questions asking someone about their alcohol use.



CAGE is an acronym that make the four questions easy to remember.

Cut:               Have your ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

Annoyed:     Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

Guilty:          Have  you ever felt guilty about your drinking?

Eye-opener:  Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (eye-opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

The person gives a yes or no answer to each question.  Each yes answer increases the possibility that the person may have alcohol dependency.  As a rule, 2 or 3 “yes” answers indicate possible alcohol problems.  Physicians sometimes attach more significance to question four, because it is a sign that someone might have withdrawal symptoms.

There is a variation of the CAGE questionnaire called the CAGE-AID.  This questionnaire adds AID for – adapted to include drugs.  It uses the same questions as the CAGE.  However, it adds drug use along with drinking.

The CAGE asks direct questions.  It helps the person consider their alcohol use without judgement.  It is not a foolproof test.  It is a simple screening tool that can be used quickly to identify potential problems.  It was designed to be used by physicians as a way get helpful alcohol consumption information.  The questions are worth considering for anyone who thinks they might be developing or have a drinking problem.   I hope you find this information helpful when considering alcohol consumption for yourself or people you care about.


Steven J. Chen, Ph.D.



Helpful Marital Tips

Helpful Marital Tips













Every marriage has ups and downs.  In the Focus on the Family article, 10 Secrets to a Successful Marriage, Mitch Temple gives helpful marital tips.  Couples who consider these tips can learn to navigate challenges in a successful manner.  Here is a summary of the 10 principles or tips.

  1.  Focus on bringing happiness into the marriage.  People want to be happy, but happiness isn’t the most important thing.  Successful couples learn to intentionally do things to bring happiness into the marriage when life has challenges.
  2. There is value in simply showing up for each other.  When things are tough and people don’t know what to do, they need to simply be there for each other.  Over time, people will have the opportunity to work together, reduce stress, and work things out.
  3. If you do things the same way, you will get the same result.  Wise people learn that you have to do things differently to get a different outcome.  Small changes in attitude, actions, or approach can make big differences.
  4. Your attitude matters.  Changing behavior is important, but so is changing your attitude.  A negative attitude often creates bad feelings and actions.
  5. Change your mind, change your marriage.  What people believe about their spouse affects how they treat each other.
  6. Successful couples don’t believe the myth that grass is greener somewhere else.  They have learned to put energy into making themselves and their relationship better.  They have learned to “water their own grass.”
  7. You can change your marriage by changing yourself.  Experienced couples have learned that it is very difficult to change your partner.  The only person we can really change is ourselves.
  8. Love is a verb, not just a feeling.  Feelings go up and down, but real love is based on commitment.
  9. Marriage is often about fighting the battle in your own mind.  Successful couples have learned to resist holding grudges and bringing up the past.  They remember that they married an imperfect person and that they are imperfect as well.
  10. A crisis does not mean the marriage is over.  Crises can be very stressful and upsetting.  However, couples can make it through and be stronger in the long run.

Choosing Goals

Choosing Goals

At the beginning of the year, many people set new goals to enhance their lives.  However, choosing goals can be a frustrating process.

Taking time to focus on what is important and brainstorming many ideas can be helpful.  In the article, 102: Choosing Goals (How to Figure Out What You Want), Chris Sparks tells us that it is better to pursue intrinsically challenging and worthwhile goals rather than things that we believe will make us or others happy.  He indicates that happiness is fleeting and that pursuing things that have intrinsic meaning is more powerful.

Another helpful idea is to consider various areas in your life that you may want to work on.  The website, Mindtools gives a broad list of life categories to consider when making goals.  The following is a summary of the areas they include.

Goal Categories –

  • Career– What position do you want to obtain?  What do you want to accomplish in your career?
  • Financial– What are your financial goals?  How much do you need to earn or save to achieve them?
  • Education– Is there any degree or knowledge you want to acquire?  What type of sacrifice will this require?
  • Family– What type of family life or interaction do you want? Do you want to have a partner or be a parent?  How do you want to be perceived by immediate or extended family members?
  • Artistic– Do you have any artistic goals?  What would it require to pursue them?
  • Attitude– Could you improve your attitude or behavior?  Set a goal to improve your mindset or approach to problems.
  • Physical– What steps are you taking for current and long-term physical health?  Set up daily goals to achieve physical health.
  • Pleasure– Are you making positive plans, scheduling pleasant activities and events into your life?
  • Public Service– Are you interested in public service?  How will you incorporate interests into your daily routine?

After brainstorming about these different categories, select the goals that seem most important to you. When choosing goals, you will have more success when focusing on a few specific and purposeful goals.

Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress

Stress is a very common problem during the holidays.  Unfortunately, alleviating stress is not easy to do.  During this time of year, there are many demands on our time such as shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, work, and entertaining.  The Covid-19 pandemic may also be adding stress due to worry about you and your families’ health.  Your holiday plans may also be different due to the pandemic.

Health Line provides a list of tips that can decrease stress over the holidays.  Here is a summary of their recommendations.

  1. Plan Ahead

Finding time for all the holiday activities can be difficult.  Creating a plan of action can help.  Writing down the things you need to accomplish and then prioritizing them can be helpful.  Also, you are less likely to forget things if you have a list.

  1. Put Yourself First

During the holidays, people focus on giving.  It is easy to forget to look out for yourself.  Taking care of yourself will improve your mood and help you take care of others.

  1. Keep Your Finances in Check

Be realistic about what you can afford to spend over the holidays.  Create a budget and stick to it.  If you are not in the position to spend money, then bake a treat, share talents, or spend time with family and friends.  The sentiment behind the gift is more important than the monetary value.

  1. Honor Love Ones

The holidays can be difficult if you have lost someone or cannot be with friends and family.  If you have lost someone, spending time reflecting on happy memories can brighten your mood.  You are unable to be near loved ones, you might give them a call, plan a zoom party, or send them a note.

  1. Indulge in Moderation

It is fun to have treats or try new foods over the holidays, but don’t forget to eat healthy and take care of yourself.  Remember to pace yourself, overeating can leave you feeling sick and lethargic.

  1. Do Not Be Afraid to Say No

It is okay to say “no”.

Only say “yes” to events and plans that will bring you happiness and joy.


Hopefully, this list should help you reduce your stress and worry over the holidays!

Keeping A Gratitude Journal


Why Keep A Gratitude Journal?

Why keep a gratitude journal?  In 2020, many people have suffered emotional, physical, and financial hardships.  When experiencing challenges, it is easy to focus on the negative and lose sight of positive things.   Keeping a gratitude journal is a good way to train our minds to focus on the positive.  In 2003 a study conducted by Emmons and McCullough, found that keeping a daily gratitude journal lead to better sleep, reduction of pain, a greater sense of well-being and more resilience dealing with change.  When we focus on good things, we are healthier and happier.

Experts recommend different ways to keep a gratitude journal.  One approach is to take 5 minutes each day and write down a few things you are thankful for.  A second option is to set aside 15 minutes once a week for two weeks to establish a pattern.  A third approach is to write journal entries 3 times per week to make a positive change.  Whatever approach you take, the key seems to be consistency.  Training your mind to consistently focus on the positive.

The article by, Greater Good in Action, provides people with ideas on how to keep a gratitude journal.  I have summarized their suggestions in the following list.

  1. Write down 3-5 things for which you feel grateful.
  2. Be as specific as possible.
  3. If you describe people in specific detail it has more impact than making a superficial list.
  4. Focus on people rather than things. We are more impacted by relationships.
  5. Be aware of subtraction, not just addition. Don’t just make a list of good things.  Consider what life would be like without specific people or be grateful for negative outcomes you avoided.
  6. Enjoy surprises. Record events that are unexpected.
  7. Do not just write about the same things, consider different aspects of a person or situation.
  8. Honor your commitment to write regularly.

Most importantly, you don’t have to keep a perfect gratitude journal.  Just get started!