I’m very happy with my life. I am what I am. I don’t worry about anything that I can’t control. That’s a really good lesson in life.
Anyone who has lived for more than a few years will at some stage come to the realisation that there are just some things in life that we can’t control. We know, for example, that we can’t control the weather, we can’t control how other drivers behave on the road, and whether the surf will be up. We also have to accept, that no matter how many scarfs or memberships we buy, we can’t control our favourite team winning a premiership! Unfortunately there are a lot of things in this world that we simply can’t do anything about.
There is, however, much we can have some degree of influence over (rather than complete control). For instance, we can affect how well we perform at work or school, by how well we apply ourselves. We can influence, but never totally control, other’s perceptions of us, by behaving well or badly. We can even potentially influence the outcome of an election, by taking part in a rally or writing to a local politician – or even becoming a politician! If we really think about it, there are many, many, things in life we can exert at least some influence over.
There’s a third group of things in life we can definitely control. For instance, we can control what time we get up in the morning, whether we brush our teeth, what we eat, how we treat people, how we spend/save our money, and what job we take. This group of choices is enormous. If we think about it, there is much in life we can control.
Our approach to the issue of control can also have a big impact on our happiness. Here’s a few tips on how to approach things in a healthy way.
1. Work out what degree of influence you can exert and live with it
Establishing the degree of control or influence you have over a situation, and your willingness to take action, is a quick way to work out your next move. If you have no control over a situation, trying to have influence or control will only lead to unhappiness and suffering. But if you can influence or even control a situation, and are willing to take action, then this can lead to feelings of empowerment and fulfilment. On a cold winter’s day for instance, we can’t control the weather, but we can choose to get out of bed with a smile on our face, practice gratitude, and make sure we go to work with a purposeful and optimistic mindset. You can also control your goals in life, such as a holiday you are saving for with people you love. Recognising the things we can control gives us some power and avoids ‘learned helplessness’ (the idea that we can’t influence anything), and can make us feel more optimistic and happier.
2. Accept sometimes you can control a process, not an outcome
Sometimes we have control over a process, but not an outcome, and we see this in all areas of human endeavour. Think about the student that studies their heart out but misses out on a place at university, or the many Olympians who work tirelessly but fail to get a medal. All we can really do in life is work on the ‘process’ and enjoy the journey. By taking action, trying our hardest and being the best we can be, we can gain satisfaction from the knowledge that we were in the game and gave it our best shot. The result, however, is up to fate, the universe, somebody else, or whatever you believe controls the outcome of things. The outcome of many situations are not entirely up to us, and thinking otherwise is a recipe for suffering.
3. The bottom line
So what’s the bottom line with control and influence? The big lesson is that if we are going to be happy, we need to first realise which of these three categories a situation fits into. Can we exert total control, some influence, or no control? Once we have decided the category, we then need to act appropriately. If we can’t control the situation at all, then the best action to take for our wellness and happiness is to learn to accept it. If we can have influence or control and we are prepared to act to exert this influence, then we must do our best, and see what happens. Don’t forget to also recognise the difference between the process of taking action, and the outcome.
So control the things you can and let go of the things you can’t – this is a recipe for living happily with the many vagaries of life or the sh*t life throws at us at times!
All the best,
Ivan and Dani