Today I am writing about one of the subjects that I spend a great deal of time talking to my students and clients about – how to stop trying to control everything, and in particular, stopping trying to control the uncontrollable.
“Only one thing has to change for us to know happiness in our lives: where we focus our attention.” – Greg Anderson
There are plenty of distractions and concerns outside of our own control, but to win in everyday life we tend to be better off staying focused on what’s inside of our control. However true and obvious this may seem, many find it hard to remember and apply in real life.
The problem is that when we focus our mental energy and intellectual capacities on the things we can’t control, we automatically waste our mental energy, we put ourselves in a victim mode and view ourselves as passive entities that are subject to the whims of forces outside of us. As a consequence, we stop taking responsibility for our destiny and we throw up our hands in the air and wait for Lady Fortune to strike us with good or bad events.
Stephen Covey has presented such an idea with three circles mentioned in his work: the circle of control, the circle of influence and the circle of concern. As the names imply, the circle of control includes everything that’s under your full control and where you need no agreement, alignment or permission with or from anyone else. The circle of influence is where decisions are taken by others but where you have the ability to influence the outcome. The circle of concern includes issues that you care about but that are completely outside your influence or control.
Most issues that arise in our personal lives are concerned with mixing up the proper allocation of issues to circles. Trying to control something that actually is outside your circle of control is very frustrating as your actions often go unrewarded. Trying to influence something that’s in your circle of concern leads to you feeling powerless and useless.
We also easily fall into the trap of believing that the things that matter are completely outside our control. Even if it’s true to some extent, the correct response is to take charge and seek to control and influence as much of the context in which you operate. Of course, we all understand that there are many situations and outcomes where we have little or no control but rather than focusing our energy on those things, focus your energy on what you can control and influence. Wasting your precious mental resources on worrying and complaining about things without taking charge is a monumental waste of you and your potential.
What You Can Control
Your Thoughts: It stands for what you choose to think, consciously or unconsciously. There is a difference between thoughts you have and let go of and those you choose to sustain and cultivate. Thoughts that arise and dissipate are simply the mind’s natural creativity. If you don’t invest in the reality or truth of those thoughts, they do not impact your state or behaviour and your desired outcomes. If you entertain those thoughts as truth, they become mental actions taken that influence you and the results you see from your efforts.
Your Attitude: It’s your state of mind based on thoughts you believe. They are emotional states triggered by your thoughts and can be positive or negative, constructive or destructive.
Your Imagination: It’s the images we hold in our minds. Whether we know it or not, we spend time imagining scenarios that have never actually happened and are never likely to happen. This produces much of our fear and worry. Fear arises when we imagine bad outcomes for ourselves or others. Controlling our imagination allows us to manage our psychological and physiological response to the unknowns in our lives. Rather than fill our minds with images of fear and anxiety, we can choose images that support and empower us.
Your Words: The words we speak are important. They alone can make or break a relationship and make or break the successful outcome of our goals. By choosing our words to be in alignment with our intentions and desired results, we position ourselves to be more effective and more influential no matter our place in life.
Your Actions: The physical actions we take are powerful. They say more about us than all our thoughts, attitudes, images, and words combined. If you want to see what someone is thinking and feeling, just watch their actions. You will always see what truly motivates people based on the actions they take.
What You Can’t Control
Other People’s’ behaviour: They are the radical anti-vaxxers who protest loudly online and in real-life, or the passive, doe-eyed friends you’ve got that just won’t stand up for themselves. You can present them with a number of scientific studies, self-help books, quotes, movies – and they won’t mean a thing until they are willing to internalise the lessons and apply them.
Other People’s Opinions: Try as you might, there is nothing you can do to make someone like you or want to be around you. A person may like us because we display characteristics that they are already attracted to on some level, but as soon as that behaviour is no longer present, or at least to the degree that they want, that person may not like us. It’s not us making them like us with control over the degree to which they show us a favour or recognise us, it’s them noticing behaviour or physical characteristics that they already like and will probably find in someone else.
The Future: We can make plans based on what we want or don’t want, but there is absolutely no guarantee that every single thing we may dream up or plan for will be exactly as we thought. Every human being knows this, but we’re sold the idea that we can control the future to one degree or another. All we ever really do is assume. We assume the weather will be this or that, we assume that even with a car alarm no one will attempt to break into our car, and we assume that our boss won’t turn into an irate lunatic and fire us the next time we see him/her. We have no real control over if these things occur or not. We can control ourselves in terms of attempting to influence these things, but then we are focusing on what we can control, and that doesn’t belong in this section.
The Past: A lot of people spend time mulling over the past and trying to think of ways they could’ve done things better or what they could’ve avoided if they did this or that differently. There is no controlling what has already occurred. It’s happened, and no amount of analysing is going to change it. Learn from it and you can control elements of yourself going forward.
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” – Oprah Winfrey
How To Let Go Of Things You Can’t Control
Determine What You Can Control
Take the time to “inventory” and audit those things where you feel you have control as well as those you feel you don’t. Use this list to identify those items you control that you should be “laser-focused” on. Recognise that sometimes all you can control is your effort, attitude, words, imagination and your focus to achieve your goals as a person.
The first step of determining what you can control is to cultivate self-awareness. Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to cultivate self-awareness. With mindfulness, you can train yourself to notice your thoughts, feelings, and what is around you. And, with that awareness, you can choose whether or how to respond to what you experience. You can choose to stay focused on the present moment.
Mindfulness seems fairly simple in principle, but it takes practice to develop the skill so you can use it with ease. When you first try it out, you won’t be able to go very long without your mind wandering. Keep at it and you’ll get more adept at controlling your thoughts, attitudes, and imagination. From there, you’ll be more able to control your words and actions.
Limit your Negative Self-Talk
I have written about this a great deal here on this blog, and there are loads of methods you can apply from here, so I’ll not repeat them here.
Consider self-monitoring though. Write down what was bothering you, what you are worried about. It helps you get your thoughts out of your head and settles somewhere else. And later, you could go back and read how those events never happened.
Let Go Of Your Ego
Take yourself down a notch. You’re great, but so are others. You have to share the spotlight and let others use their skills. Believe it or not, you’re not the best at everything.
Acknowledge You Can’t Control Everything
Give yourself a break and learn to go with the flow now and again. Once you see everything works out just fine without your intervention, you’ll get more comfortable with the idea. Just learn to accept that a lot of things are beyond your control and be happy about it.
Make the best of each day in the realm that you can control, and gradually things will begin to go your way.
Give Up Control In One Small Area Of Your Life
Make a conscious decision to completely give up control in one small area of your life. Maybe you’ll let others decide what’s for dinner. Maybe you’ll go on holiday without planning a single excursion. Maybe you’ll just take a walk without knowing where you’re going. Whatever you choose, let the circumstances and people around you take the lead. Bite your tongue, sit back and relax. You’re a passenger. Enjoy the view.
Don’t Chase Perfectionism
Remind yourself that you’re human. Everybody has problems, just like you.
Move away from the perfectionist mindset, and onto the excellence mindset. There is no such thing as perfection. It is an externally set goal. That destination can be changed at any minute by parents, teachers, lovers, the media, whatever. Excellence is an internal measure. When you fail, you recognise this as a chance to learn and develop. That incident is not the end, it is the beginning. And as you live and learn, you will do better.
Most of what we worry about never actually happens. Studies on this topic vary in results, but most show that about 85% of the things we worry about are simply that, worry. A 2018 Princeton study showed that excessive worry can shrink the brain and your IQ.
So, It’s necessary to accept when some part of your life has reached its inevitable end. Closing the door, completing the chapter, turning the page, etc. – it doesn’t matter what you title it; what matters is that you find the strength to leave in the past those parts of your life that are over. It’s all about embracing the truth: What has happened is uncontrollable; what you do now changes everything!
Stop trying to control the uncontrollable, focus on what you can control and do your best in those areas; this is a recipe for more happiness and satisfaction in life.
Have some of these themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist who is looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book, it’ll help you advance eating habits!