If you read that list as depressing or demoralizing, consider this HUGE thing we can control: How you feel. As much as we don’t like admitting it, there is very little under our control. Here is a tiny sampling of stuff we cannot direct on our own:
- Weather, politics, sports, and virtually all of what we call culture or current events
- Subways, highway traffic, airport delays, etc.
- Natural disasters
- Other people’s perceptions of us
- Whether or not someone finds us interesting or attractive or smart or funny or anything
- Pretty much everything
Control is An (Alluring) Illusion
It’s enticing to believe that we are in control. It is also self-sabotaging. Imagine you have a medical symptom that concerns you. You make a doctor’s appointment and then, you hit the search engines. In no time, you have diagnosed yourself with every possible terminal illness.
In reality, you made one move that was under your control: you identified a symptom and got it checked out. The trouble began when you subconsciously assumed there was more to do. It can be scary to let go and accept. But is it scarier than those search engine findings?
Pro tip: Follow up one good move with more self-control. After all, it is under your control to not mistake ruminating for problem-solving.
How You Feel Really Is an Inside Job
When we delegate our feelings to factors that are out of our control, we will not feel good. Feeling good (or feeling anything) is an inside job. As the Stoic thinker, Epictetus explained:
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
Control These Things About How You Feel:
- How often you smile, help others, say I love you, give others the benefit of the doubt, take your responsibilities seriously
- Choose not to compete
- Be honest, be direct in your language
- Staying prepared
- Express gratitude
- Hone your communication skills
- Think before interpreting situations and acting on your feelings
- Your eating habits, sleep patterns, exercise routine, stress management
- Take care of personal hygiene and the cleanliness of your living space
- Giving full attention to your loved ones
- Honoring your commitments
- Decide which books to read, events to attend, project to try
- Try new things
- Take calculated risks
- Deciding whether to dwell on negative news, thoughts, and feelings
- Your inner monologue (especially when talking to yourself)
- Judging others
- How much time you spend worrying
- Feeling guilty about the past
- Feeling anxiety about the future
- Choose to stay right here, in the present moment
- Asking for help when you need it (see below)
Asking For Help When You Need It
One area in which we can exercise a whole lot of control is getting the help we require. We all dwell in a culture that inundates us with news, fake news, ups, downs, and everything in-between. It comes as no surprise that we can often feel stuck when it comes to taking the steps we need to take. We crave change but find ourselves running in place. As discussed above, worrying won’t help. Neither will the practice of blaming others or comparing ourselves to all of those seemingly happy folks on social media.
A proven path towards change and control? Solid therapy.
Working, on a weekly basis, with a skilled professional can teach us valuable new skills. Perhaps most importantly, we can obtain the guidance we need to differentiate between what is and what is not under our personal control. The peace we seek lies in employing that knowledge.