When Chaos Rules Your Life, Use This Psychology Model to Regain Control

Kylie Fuller
Jul 3, 2020 · 5 min read

In an age of overwhelm, reclaim control of your life by changing by your perception about one thing.

Illustration: Jiaqi Wang

We live in an era of multitasking. Our cultural landscape is littered with concepts like the side hustle and the freelancer. To succeed, we’re no longer expected to become masters of our trade by climbing the proverbial career ladder. We’re expected to juggle many things at once, learn skills no one else knows, and set bars no one else has met.

It’s no wonder the workforce is more stressed than ever.

According to the American Institute of Stress, of the 71% of Americans experiencing daily stress, 72% report feeling overwhelmed from work. A heavy workload and an unsteady work-life balance were the greatest recorded contributors to work-related anxiety.

The American workforce is overextending itself and suffering the consequences.

When we’ve put too much on our plates and everything starts unraveling, it can seem impossible to tie up all the loose strings and regain control. The feeling of overwhelm sets in and chaos takes the reins.

According to a psychology model called the Theory of Planned Behavior, we can reclaim control of our lives by challenging our perception of control.

To Stay In Control, Believe You’re In Control.

When juggling a million and one projects, collapsing on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s seems a lot more appealing than checking off your to-do list. Poor follow-through is often a product of surrendering to the overwhelm.

You can be organized, allot mini-breaks, reward yourself for completing tasks, and be 100% determined to crush your to-do list. You can value what you’re doing, and you can surround yourself with a supportive network that also values what you’re doing. You can do all the things.

But you’re still going to struggle with follow-through if you don’t believe you’re in control of the outcome.

The Theory of Planned Behavior explains that our perceived behavioral control is the most important predictor of our actual behavior. Even if you really want to complete a new project, if you don’t believe you’re ultimately in control of whether or not the project is completed, the prospects for completion are naught.

Why? Because the most important determinant of behavior is behavioral intention. And the most important determinant of behavioral intention is perceived behavioral control.

If you never intend to do something, you’re not very likely to do it. Why would you? By the same token, if you don’t believe you’re in control of something, you won’t develop a strong behavioral intention to pursue it. I may want to be an excellent dancer. But at this point in my life, I don’t believe that’s something in my realm of control. So, my chances of becoming an excellent dancer…not great.

Here’s an example:

According to a University College Northhampton study, citizens’ attitudes toward recycling was highly predictive of whether or not they recycled. However, citizens’ perceived control was even more important for predicting behavior. If they believed they were unable to overcome the limited access to recycling facilities, they were very unlikely to recycle.

Without confidence in their ability to control the outcome, subjects never developed an intention to recycle in the first place.

Whether it’s completing a project, nailing the interview, or learning a new skill, our perception of our ability to overcome barriers is pivotal. By believing we shape our success, we naturally increase our likelihood of success because it sets the stage for a strong behavioral intention.

How can we use this information going forward?

If perception is the problem, then we must change our perception.

Challenge Your Selective Perception. Develop a Strong Intention. Reclaim Control of Your Life.

It sounds like a simple process, but altering your perception of control is easier said than done. This is especially true when conditioning comes into the equation. If you have conditioned yourself to believe you are not capable of something, there’s no switch you can flip to change that belief. The same goes if society or family members condition you to believe something.

So how do you break past your self-limiting perception?

To “un-condition” the mind, you must recondition the mind. In other words, you must replace a self-limiting belief with an empowering belief.

I outlined a simple process to start unraveling your subconscious conditioning and intentionally reinstate productive ideas. This isn’t a process that can be done overnight, but with regular practice, you will see your perception surrounding control begin to change.

The first step is identifying what’s distorting your perception. Let’s say you’re struggling with a tardiness problem. Your first instinct may be to blame your outrageous schedule. How could you possibly be expected to follow a strict timeline with a daily itinerary that totals twenty-six hours?

Follow that train of thought. At its core, this perception originates from a low perceived behavioral control. The belief, in its raw form: I am incapable of keeping up with this schedule. It’s beyond my control.

Identifying this pattern of thought is crucial. Reinforcing that identification is equally important. Write down your self-limiting belief in its ugliest, simplest form.

Now that you’ve identified your self-limiting belief, find a replacement. What’s the opposite belief? Continuing with the tardiness example, your empowering belief might be: I am capable of keeping up with my schedule because I create my schedule.

Write this belief down, too. It’s important to keep your thoughts organized and easy to recall.

Writing down a belief doesn’t necessarily mean you believe it. The next step is proving that your new, empowering belief is true.

Think of times you exemplified your empowering belief. Perhaps you made it to your meeting on time last week. Or perhaps you exhibited some quality time-management skills a few weeks back by removing some unnecessary to-do’s.

Now that you’ve established a replacement belief and provided support to its existence, recondition yourself by actively reminding yourself that you’re in control. In order to fortify a belief, you must have repeated exposure to it.

When you look at the clock and realize you’re supposed to leave in five minutes, remind yourself that you’re in control. Do you really need to unload the dishwasher right now? Must you type out the email before you leave, or can it wait an hour? You’re in control.

Regular reminders prompt you to change your beliefs because you see yourself being in control. And changing our beliefs is how we mold our perception.

To change your perception, follow the simple process: Identify your self-limiting beliefs, establish and prove an empowering belief, and remind yourself that you are in control.

Instead of allowing our subconscious limitations to seize control of us, we can use our penchant for conditioning against our limitations and reclaim control for ourselves.

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