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What's REALLY in Your Control?

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Eight Tips for Living with Greater Ease

"Focus on what you can control and don't waste energy on the things that you cannot." - Unknown

The above quote (or a version of it) is banded around quite often, but have you actually ever sat down to think about what this means for you?

If so, great! Perhaps you’ll already be familiar with all of what’s contained in this blog. If not, here’s an opportunity to reflect a little deeper on this subject of ‘control’ and how it impacts us – both positively and negatively over the course of our days.

Here’s a quick (and non-exhaustive) list of the things that I’ve learned are both inside and outside of our control. No doubt you will also have others:

​What's in Your Control

What's Out of Your Control

Your words

The past

Your actions

The future

Your attitude / Your mindset

The weather, the traffic

Your thoughts

Other people's happiness

Your responses to situations

What others say and do / How people respond

Who you surround yourself with

The family you are born into

How you spend your time


Your goals and dreams

How people perceive you

Now think about this.

How often do you find yourselves worrying or anxious (or even frustrated, angry and agitated) about the things that are out of our control? My guess – if you’re anything like me and totally human – is a lot of the time.

Recognising and acknowledging what’s inside and outside of our control is the FIRST STEP towards living a life of greater ease.

In my work as a life and leadership coach, where I support people in moving FORWARD towards their goals and dreams, one important step I help them with is figuring out (for themselves) what’s inside or outside of their control. From this place, it's easier to move forward.

Having the right amount of control (or at least perceived control) is what helps keep us in choice, motivated, balanced, moving forward and at a place of ease and contentment. Conversely, feeling that you have no control can lead to low morale, low motivation, frustration, impatience, low mood / mood swings and can be detrimental (in a small or big way) to our health and wellbeing and ultimately lead to more severe symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression.

Who doesn’t like to feel in control?

Most of us healthy humans do – for all the reasons mentioned above. That said, if the desire for control is rooted in fear of uncertainty (like it was for many during the recent Covid-19 pandemic), this can impact our mental health in small or bigger ways.

During times of uncertainty, therefore, it’s especially important to help us feel like we have a sense of control. However, for some people, the need to control can become all-consuming and can make us feel as if we need to control all the outcomes, all the results, and people around us. If you recognise yourself here, don't worry, you're not alone. The challenge here is that this is: a) almost impossible; b) can be unhealthy and detrimental to your health.

In my work, much of the source of frustration, despondency and energy spent comes from people grappling with a sense of control. As humans, we have this innate wiring to problem solve and fix – therefore when we are feeling out of control our tendency (in order to regain a sense of control) is to “lean in”, “try harder”, “just do it”, “do more”, “work harder”, “go faster”, “man-up”, “don’t complain just get on with it”.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with having determination, perseverance and having a goal-directed focus. The above phrases may be adaptive, productive, and appropriate responses in many situations.

However, sometimes these automatic and subconscious reactions arise as a result of a perceived risk or threat in our environment. For example, if you’re a business owner, you may fear that work will dry up so you work harder and go faster at trying to generate more sales but spending energy in an unconstructive way; Or, if a relationship with a loved one is going south, you may be trying harder to fix/resolve or even try and change them but your behaviour is counter-productive. During these heightened occasions of stress or exhaustion (when the fight / flight response has been activated), we are expending a HUGE amount of energy (not always positive). In this state, we could also be lessening our ability to make sound judgements, think with clarity, and access our best inner resources and wisdom.

If any of the above resonates for you, here are eight tips and tools to help you consider this question of control and how to live with more ease.

Tip 1: Remind yourself of what's most important

Remembering what's most important (your core values), remembering what gives YOU meaning and remembering who YOU want to be can help bring focus back to what's in YOUR control. No-one can take these things away from you. You own them and they are totally in YOUR control.

Tip 2: Use the Circle of Control, Influence and Concern to distinguish what you can do something about.

I've found this model particularly helpful during times of change. We all react OR choose to respond differently to change. Those who effectively embrace change focus on what they have control over and they don’t spend too much of their time and energy (if any) on things that they don’t.

Quick Exercise and How to use this model.

1. Write down 10 things that are on your mind and/or worrying you – don’t overthink, just write them down.

2. Categorise your identified items using the circle of Control, Influence, and Concern – see below explanations.

The Circle of Concern (outer circle): What matters to us, but we can’t control. Examples: family, work, finances, health, economy, environment.

Reacting to things outside our control (e.g., family illness during an epidemic; a change in company strategy that impacts our team; stock-market crash) can hugely deplete our energy and resourcefulness and this negative energy can make the circle of influence smaller.

✴ The Circle of Influence (middle circle): What we care about and that we CAN impact the energy associated here is a more positive & proactive energy. By focussing on what we can influence e.g., in our family, business, or environment, we can directly and indirectly positively influence how we feel and how this may have positive impacts on those around.

✴ The Circle of Control (inner circle): What’s in our control and what can we do something about. When we focus on what we can fully control (our actions, our behaviour, planning, our mindset/attitudes), we may also indirectly and positively grow the circle of influence.

3. Answer the below 2 questions:

⭐ In which circle are you currently focusing your time and energy?

⭐ What can you do today to expand your Circle of Influence to build more positive energy in your life and at work?

TIP 3: Set Boundaries and Manage Expectations

When we’re constantly saying YES when we would rather say NO (either because we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the capability or we simply don’t want to say yes), we may, over time, lose our sense of control (and perhaps even start to feel a little powerless).

Setting healthy boundaries and managing expectations is a sure way to help us retain a sense of control without feeling that the world is being ‘done’ to us or that other people may be taking advantage of us.

For more information on boundaries take a look at my blog, Healthy Boundary Setting - Selfish or Self-Care?

TIP 4: Goal Setting and Prioritisation

Having goals and taking action can greatly contribute to our sense of control & comfort - especially during times of stress, uncertainty and ambiguity. Goals provide clarity and focus.

When you find yourself distracted by anything e.g. social media, emails, your phone etc. and you feel like you are losing a sense of control, come back to your goals and your priorities. If something isn’t working consider whether you need to change the plan rather than the goal first.

Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have. - John C. Maxwell

TIP 5: Move / Exercise / Breathe

Physical movement, along with proper rest and nutrition puts our mind and body into great balance – giving us a more strength, stamina and motivation. Research also shows that exercise can lead to a greater sense of self-control.

If you’re stuck on a problem at work, get up and walk around or discuss an issue whilst walking or get out into fresh air.

Breathing also helps to oxygenate the brain and body which helps us to think more clearly, make better more conscious decisions and act with greater integrity and authenticity.

Tip 6: Recognise and Manage Your Emotions

Lack of control can, for some of us, feel overwhelming. Taking the time to recognise and acknowledge our beliefs and emotions as they arise can slow down our overthinking, influence our reactive behaviour, and positively impact our judgement, helping us to feel more grounded.

For more on emotional regulation, read my blog Understanding Our Emotions and Embracing Them.

Tip 7: Learn to Let Go and Acceptance

These two ideas can be potentially some of the most challenging things to do as they may conflict deep down with some of your fundamental beliefs about how the world should be and how people should be. However, having the ability to let go and accept can be truly life-changing and bring a greater sense of ease and peace to your life.

Anything you can't control is teaching you to let go.

Letting go – contrary to what you may believe, does not mean giving up or that you don’t care. Rather, it means acknowledging and accepting that things may be different. Sometimes we have to let go of some old ideas, thinking, behaviour, attachment to certain outcomes or relationships that have been with us for a long time but that are no longer serving us. See if any of the below resonate for you.

  • “I must always be nice.”

  • “Saying no is rude.”

  • “I must never complain.”

  • “Quitters never win.”

  • “A real man never leaves his job.”

  • “I must always be perfect.”

If any of these ideas or statements ring true for you, perhaps it’s time to start releasing some of these old ideas that keep you stuck and wanting to control yourself, a situation, a certain outcome or another person.

What if you let go of all the things that are out of your control and that you cannot change? What might your life be like then?

Acceptance is also radical act of self-love and self-kindness and releasing of control. Acceptance is the ultimate acknowledgement of a situation or a condition (often negative or uncomfortable) without attempting to change it or protest it. It may mean accepting that a person, a place, thing or situation is not going to change (and that there is nothing you can do about it!).

What do you need to accept in your life today that will bring you a greater sense of peace and ease?

And for those of you with a spiritual inclination, the Serenity Prayer can be a grounding mantra:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Finally, if you’re wondering how you’ll know if you have let go or fully accepted a situation, you'll know when because your physical body will tell you. You will feel a release of tension in your body, you will feel a sense of relief, even a peaceful and calm energy. Listen to your body. It has many of the answers.

Tip 8: Share What’s on Your Mind

Often, speaking to someone else (a friend, family, coach, therapist) about what’s on your mind can help you feel better about a situation as well as provide a fresh and new perspective. This in turn can help us to release any sense of control around how things should be.

If this topic speaks to you, if you’re looking for support, accountability or strategies/tools to help you focus on the things you can control to transform your life and work and move forward, please get in touch.

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