A lot of my coaching clients come to me telling me they want to be in control of some part of their lives (their weight, their work, their relationship, their stress, their feelings...). Not only can it feel good to be in control (there’s a sense of stability), it’s almost as though we think society expects that of us: “Be cool and under control”.

Here’s the rub: we’re not in control. At least not of everything. Life has a lot of uncertainty. Some things we do have control over, but there are many things that we simply do not.  A key to making progress in life and being happy and fulfilled is recognising the areas that we are in control of and those that we are not.

A few examples...

On a macro-level, we have very limited control over things like elections and world politics, but we have some element of control/ choice over how we respond - what we do when the results come out.

Even on a very personal internal level, we are not really in control of our thoughts and our feelings. They arise and move through us, pop, bang, splat! But we can have some control over how we respond to them when they do come up.  That is where we have some level of choice.

Likewise, somewhere in the middle, there is a limit to what we can control. For instance, redundancy, being left by a partner, people we care about dying or getting sick. There may be things we can do to prevent certain things from happening but if they do happen, the question is, how do we respond? … Hopefully by now you’re getting the picture.

Here’s a big clue: one thing we rarely have any meaningful control over at all is other people! (We may have some influence but no control.) More on that another time! …

What happens?... What does that mean?...

When we expect more control than is readily available in our lives, we tend to get ourselves into trouble. It can be upsetting and affect our self-esteem over time. We are bound to fail to control the things we just don’t have control over! And that failure doesn’t feel good. Instead, we need to manage our expectations and take control of the things we can control - this includes our reaction to the things that happen in our lives.

Add to this that we only have a limited amount of “willpower” to help direct ourselves. We can’t use it willy-nilly on anything that takes our fancy!  We have to prioritise and figure out what is really important to us. That is why I spend time with my clients working out what it is they really want and why. Chasing goals that are meaningless to you is a waste of time and effort and will affect your self-esteem. It is so much more difficult to achieve something you don’t really care about than something you do.

What can we do about it? …

So here’s what I suggest if there’s something you really want to change in your life:

  • First check out how important it is to you and your wellbeing.
  • Ask yourself: ‘Why?’ What kind of difference will this make in my life? Is this really the right goal for me?

  • Then ask yourself what are you willing to put into changing this aspect of your life? How many resources are you willing to dedicate to it? How much willpower? How uncomfortable are you willing to be for it? How much time are you willing to dedicate to it? How much money? Where is the time coming from? So, for example, how much time at work are you willing to let go of, how much time with friends and family? (Depending on what kind of goal it is.) For how long? Is this a “for a week” thing or a “forever” thing? What’s needed to really make it work.

  • Next, sit down and make a list of the elements that affect this part of your life and split them into three columns:

    • 1. Things you control,

    • 2. Things you have some control over but not full control,

    • 3. Things that you have little or no control over

           I need you to be brutally honest here. No wishful thinking.

  • Make peace with the things you have little or no control over.

  • Now you are ready to put your effort into things you can actually change and stop wasting effort on things you can’t.

Good luck and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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