How To Feel In Total Control, Even When You’re Not

Doesn’t it seem as if the more the pace of modern life increases, the more we scramble to keep things under control?

In the movie Click, Adam Sandler’s character was given a universal remote control that allowed him to pause, rewind and fast-forward to manipulate the events of his life. But although we may indulge in similar wishful thinking, do we really want to be totally in charge of everything – the weather, the traffic, what our colleagues, friends and family wear, say and do? I mean, aren’t we already kind of busy as it is?!

What We Really Want

Instead of being in control in actuality, I think what we really want is simply the sense of exercising control. This is one reason why being in the “flow” — that exhilarating state of being totally immersed in an activity — is so satisfying: in the flow, we experience a heightened sense of personal control.

Take rock climbers, for example. Rather than fret about the very real physical threats over which they have no control — a sudden storm, avalanche or drop in temperature – they focus on what they can control: their discipline, preparation and skill, and finding the next hand hold. Although the final outcome will always be uncertain and out of their actual control, they derive satisfaction from knowing they are equipped to handle whatever comes up and thus influence the outcome.

The One Thing You Can Always Control

The modern workplace, with its constant stream of distractions, changing strategies and unpredictable demands, can create a sense of powerlessness that is frustrating and de-motivating. Amid all the external variables, however, there is one thing over which you, and only you, have absolute and total control: where you focus your attention.

So when your boss comes in with yet another urgent priority, the client calls for the twentieth time with a question about the agreement, or your colleague needs help putting out a fire that you warned him about, you can sit there seething and sighing in annoyance at the injustice of it all – or you can take control and decide where to put your focus. (Hint: taking a deep breath is a good start.)

Setting an intention (“I am going to stay calm”) and asking questions are a powerful way to do this – “What’s the first thing I need to do?” or “How can I make a game out of this?” or “Will this bother me in ten months?”

Simply by learning how to reframe even the most chaotic situation, you’ll find that feeling “in control” is reliant less on things going just as you planned, and more on your ability to determine where you focus your attention.

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