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Keep Calm – you are not in control and it is stressing you out

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over, instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli

Whilst Control may mean different things to different people, the Cambridge English dictionary describes Control as, to order, limit, or rule something, or someone’s actions or behaviour.

Why we want control

As much of what happens in our lives is beyond our control, what makes us want to control and how does it serve us?

The origins of control are based in survival, with fear as its driving force. It provides us with the reassuring belief that we understand what is going on and allows us to feel that we can predict and guide what will happen next. In an uncertain world control gives us a comforting sense of certainty.

In life we strive not only for ‘control’ but also for the ‘sense of control’. Without a sense of control we feel threatened and insecure. A sense of control allows us to believe that once we have set a goal and are in the driving seat, everything will go according to plan. This feeds our desire for independence and adds to our resolve. The positive emotions released by believing that we are in control influences how we perceive what is going on around us and this impacts how we will respond.

Degrees of control

There are varying degrees of control, and it is questionable how much we can truly control other people or the things around us. Too much control can affect our ability to achieve, sometimes leading to little or ineffective action, while driving others to disengage through lack of inclusion. In many ways, over-controlling, is similar to that of not being in control; it drains, exhausts, and contributes to general negativity; overburdening both ourselves and others, leading to feelings of anxiety and weakness.

The spheres of control have been categorised into three distinct domains; no control – what is outside both our control and influence, indirect control – what we can influence, and direct control – what we can control.

Outside our control and influence, this is where you can have no impact. Identify which elements you can neither control nor influence; accept and adapt accordingly. Don’t get consumed and side lined by events or people where you can have no possible relevance. The weather is a good example, you cannot control or influence it. Rather focus where you can have an impact, which is how you can respond; put on the sun hat or raincoat.

Influence, this is where you have some form of indirect control. Identify elements that you can influence. Recognise where you can make the most difference. Research has shown that diet and exercise can influence the expression of genes. You can therefore influence your health with lifestyle choices.

Control, identify the issues or elements of a situation that you can directly control, chances are they will be your reactions, attitude and the decisions made in response to the issue. You can’t control which family you are born into or your genetic makeup but you can control what you eat what time you go to bed.

Finding Balance

With only a finite amount of energy, it is important for us to be able to identify which domain our issues and control falls within. Focusing on what we cannot influence or control or confusing influence and control can lead to all sorts of grief.

A self-observation practice

When we become aware of a control issue, the first step would be to pause, and breathe. Then turn the focus onto the current concern, identifying which domain it falls into. The basic idea is to understand potential responses, and put them into perspective so as to have an idea of what can and cannot be accomplished.

Using reflection as a tool we can begin to cultivate an awareness of your need for control along with your responses, patterns and trends.

At the end of the day spend 5 to 10 minutes reflecting on your day. You may want to write notes or journal, so you can begin to recognise patterns.

  • How did you attempt to control conversations, or outcomes today?
  • What fear, triggered your need to take control?
  • How did your actions empower you?

Later as your awareness develops, hit the pause button and in the moment assess what triggers your need for control. Subject it to rigorous evaluation and identify what new action you will take from you’re learning.

In closing

In a whole universe of concerns, our best bet is to quickly get a handle on ourselves, let go of the things we are not meant to control. Embrace the freedom that comes with letting go, and embrace the power of choice and experience the fulfilment of empowering both ourselves and others.

“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.” Reinhold Niebuhr

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