How To Take Complete Control Over The Direction Of Your Life

Photo by Roberto Nickson

We all grow up in different situations, with varying levels of privilege. Some grow up in dire situations, in which survival is their main concern. Others grow up knowing exactly what they want in life, and are given the means and attention for making it happen. Most of us, though, are somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of your experience growing up — no matter how good or bad — there comes a point when you decide how you will respond. As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in, Man’s Search For Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Somewhere inside every person, no matter how dimmed and defeated by their external environment, is the ability to choose.

The moment you decide things are going to change, they must change. Even if the process takes years. You must still cling to your hope of a better future.

At least, this was my experience. Growing up, I began to feel powerless over the direction of my life. My parents got divorced when I was 11, going in opposite directions. My two younger brothers and I were taken on an emotional, spiritual, and socio-economic free-fall.

In order to maintain any sense of control, I ignored the reality of my situation through video games, skateboarding, and snowboarding. My confused identity attracted like-minded friends, which facilitated a host of behavioral problems.

Although everything in my world felt like it was crashing in on me, I knew within myself that I had the power, even in such circumstances, to be the person I wanted to be.

At age 19, I became fed up enough with life to do something about it. Two things happened during this pivotal time. I started running a lot and also distanced myself from my peer group. I needed space and also an outlet. Over a short period of time, my perception of myself and the possibilities of my future changed, becoming more positive.

I began to see opportunities to change my circumstances, to surround myself with different types of people, and to engage in meaningful work. I developed the desire to do and become my best, letting go of the pain and guilt from my past, and confidently striving for my ideal future.

Circumstances are far less significant than choices

If Viktor Frankl could find meaning and happiness in a concentration camp, after being stripped of everything in his life — including his dignity, all of his possessions, his hopes for a bright future, and losing his closest family and friends to gruesome torture — surely we should be able to find happiness and meaning in our circumstances.

Actually, Frankl’s story and teachings challenge each of us to own up to the fact that circumstances, in the end, matter very little in the grand scheme of things. We must learn to live congruently with our values and goals, regardless of our current situation. We must learn to find deep meaning, and thus happiness, even if we are consigned to a concentration camp.

Former football coach, Lou Holtz, has famously said, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

Holtz’s statement is backed by loads of psychology research on having a sense of meaning in life. According to research, how you respond to trauma and difficulty determines almost everything about your well-being, socioeconomic status, health, and quality of relationships.

People who respond poorly to life traumas and difficulties are far more likely to have an external locus of control, where they feel factors outside of them are the moving cause in their lives.

We all experience challenge and difficulty in life. The qualitative differences of those difficulties is far less important than our internal resolve to proactively respond. As we’ve seen, some people rise above the most treacherous of circumstances, while others crumble under seemingly small things.

We should never judge how other people respond to the challenges they face. But we can remember Frankl. We can remember that within us is the power to proactively respond to anything life throws at us.

Human-beings are fundamentally different than animals

Frankl challenges us to see ourselves as being fundamentally different than animals. Animals are the direct product of their environment. They reactively evolve over time based on external circumstances. The process of their evolution is slow and random.

As a human being, you are the indirect product of your environment. Although the environment is the medium through which you adapt and evolve, your choices determine your environments.

This is the fundamental difference.

You get to decide the course and intensity of your personal evolution by intelligently designing your environments. By purposefully embracing difficult environments, and by cultivating highly conscious habits, you will actualize as a human being and experience complete freedom over the direction of your life.

This process starts with an awareness that your circumstances don’t match your values and goals. For many people, this happens young in life, when you determine the lifestyle and values of your parents or peers don’t reflect the life you intend to create for yourself. The next step involves non-conformity to your environment.

As Frankl explains, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Only when you determine who you will be regardless of the circumstances will you have the freedom to consciously design your ideal circumstances.

When, like Frankl, you learn to thrive even in horrible conditions, you’ll be empowered to design your environment to facilitate your values and goals. You’ll be able to thrive in any environment, since, what is outside of you is far less powerful and real than what is within you.

No matter your current circumstances, you have the power within you, right this moment, to consciously choose who you will be. To oppose conformity to your environment. It won’t take long — acting in accordance with your intrinsic values and goals — that you will develop the confidence and ability to consciously shape your life and circumstances in a way that resonates with you.

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The Life Well Lived section is sponsored by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.