Welcome back WIMBAs. I’m super happy to be here today to talk to you about something that I find actually pretty important. And that is all about control. Often times when we are anxious, when we feel out of control, is when we try to control our environment and other people. And you might have had this experience at work with a micromanager boss. You might have experienced this in a relationship when you’re dating someone and they are a super control freak and they’re trying to control everything that you do, everything that you wear, whatever you say. That is an example of somebody who feels insecure, feels out of control.
What we’re going to talk about today is what to do when you feel out of control that is actually helpful because clearly, what I just described is not the way to go about your life.
So one of the things that I want to address first and foremost is the distinction between things that are in your control and things that aren’t. Now as I said, we often look to our circumstances or we’ll look to other people and when those things don’t align with the way that we think they “should be,” that’s when we become frustrated. When you say, “Well, you know, my partner should have gotten me roses for Valentine’s Day” as an example, “and he didn’t, that’s when I feel frustrated with him.” But you can’t make your partner get you the roses and you can’t change how he does things and so when that doesn’t happen and maybe that’s not the best example, but the idea that is when we’re focusing on other people and what they do or what they say or what they might be thinking, then we really have zero control. And trying to change another person to fit the mold of what we think should be is absolutely the wrong thing to focus on because, once again, unless they are an active participant and it’s something that they want to change about themselves, we are going to continuously run up against a brick wall.
So a more fruitful way of engaging and using your own energy so that you can see some results is by focusing on the things that you actually have control over. Now let me first help you understand what that is because I want you to grasp the things that you actually can do. There are situations that are perhaps out of your control and then there are situations that you may not like but there is something that you can do about it. So when we’re focusing externally, if there is something that you can do about a situation, if there’s a thing that you can problem-solve and do something different, then that’s fantastic.
I’ll give you an example. So Covid happened and it is not something that anybody can control. And if you were a business owner and you were running your medical practice, perhaps you needed to shift the way in which you provide your services. And so instead of seeing people in your office you might be doing Zoom calls. So that’s problem-solving. It’s something that you can’t fix the problem, the overarching problem with Covid, but you can come up with a creative solution and that is something that you do. So you’re essentially changing your behavior here to match the situation so that you can attain the result that you’re going after.
That said, sometimes we have situations that are completely out of our control. For example, if a family member of yours passed away from Covid, there’s nothing you can do about it. So you can feel frustrated about it. You can obviously feel about it. You might even have some thoughts that this shouldn’t have happened but at the end of the day you’re not going to change the outcome. And so what do we do in situations like that?
Well, the only thing really to do that would be fruitful for you is to accept. And what do I mean by that? Sometimes people think that acceptance means that you’ve given up, that you’ve resigned yourself to the outcome, and it’s not exactly that. It’s just that you are being really strategic about how you spend your energy and by this I mean your mental energy. So if you are up against something that you really have no control over, the only thing you can do at that point not to overexert yourself and kind of spin your wheels and get absolutely nowhere, is to just accept that this is something that’s happened. It doesn’t mean that you like it. It just means that you recognize there’s nothing you can do.
Now I recently spoke to a colleague whose father just passed away a few months ago from Covid. One of the things that I recognized in her distress is that she was blaming herself. She said to herself, “I didn’t do enough.” And blaming yourself only brought on shame on top of the grief. Sometimes when we take too much responsibility, we’re adding additional layers of distress to the thing that’s already distressing. But if you just accept that “I did the best I could, there was nothing I could do about it and it happened and it’s sad and I truly miss my dad and I wish he was here but he’s not” then you have an opportunity to grieve appropriately.
As I was preparing for this episode, I was thinking about something fun that I can share with you about control and I thought back to Janet Jackson’s song from the 1980s about control and I wanted to just read you some of the lyrics in that song and then kind of dissect it so that we can make sense of it.
So she starts out by saying:
“When I was 17 I did what people told me. I did what my father said and let my mother mold me. But that was a long ago. I’m in control. Never going to stop. Control to get what I want. Control — I like to have a lot. Control — now I’m all grown up.”
So let’s take a look at that first verse and essentially what I took away from that is that with regards to control here she’s talking about how she wants to take control of her life. She doesn’t want people to tell her what to do. She wants to create the results for herself. And that is really part of growing up.
Let’s skip ahead and here’s what she says:
“Got my own mind. I want to make my own decisions. When it has to do with my life, I want to be the one in control.”
And that’s a different way of thinking about control. It’s about decision-making and taking responsibility. So this isn’t about external circumstances and I think this is a great place for us to end because we’ve talked about all the things that you can’t control which is other people and circumstances and a lot of that is really out of your control.
However, the one thing that you absolutely have control over and the thing that most people miss is they have control over their own life. They have control over their thoughts, their emotions, and their behaviors. And to that end, I want to share that mindset mastery is one of the top skills that you can invest in for yourself to really have the kinds of results that you want.
So if you are somebody who’s really anxious, and by the way, people who feel out of control and have a lot of anxiety tend to find ways of engaging in more controlling activities. So sometimes it becomes so bad that it’s something like OCD: obsessive compulsive disorder, where they’re engaging in behaviors over and over again to feel like they have a sense of control and that allows them to reduce their anxiety for the moment, but it’s not a long-term solution. Other times it’s just ruminating on the same thought over and over again and that’s certainly not helpful because it’s a huge waste of your energy. But the point here is that if you are struggling with negative emotions, be it stress, anxiety, burnout, any sort of negative emotion, frustration, you can actually turn that around and that’s exactly what I teach.
And so I put together a starter kit for you if you want to really just sink your teeth into this a little bit and learn more. It’s on my website. It’s absolutely free to download. It’s called Mindset Mastery Starter Kit and you can find it at www.drsharongrossman.com