It’s Christmas Season and that means shopping. And Christmas parties. And decorating trees. And wrapping presents. And cooking. And organising holidays. And Tim Allen on tv. Again (Guilty admission: I still find the first movie funny).
Sometimes our mind focuses on all the trees and all their baubles and just the thought of entering that Christmas forest is daunting.
So many leaves! So many branches!
What happens if the wind is too strong?
What if the tree gets uprooted? What happens if all the trees get uprooted?
What if I slip on a leaf?
Sometimes it’s hard to see a path meandering through the underbrush because we’re so busy looking everywhere else.
And you know, all of those things are legitimately stressful. They really are and it really is okay to feel stressed out by them.
The question is, do we want to be controlled by them?
Not so long ago in a galaxy that may or may not resemble yours, I had a rather stressful life. Hang it. I still have a stressful life. By it doesn’t feel as stressful as it once did.
… in a galaxy that may or may not resemble yours …
One of the things I had to learn about my life was, of the things that I am distressed about today, which of them do I really (truly) have no control over? And which ones can I exercise at least some control over? And what about full control?
For me, the excessive number and type of stressors led me to a place of chronic fatigue. I’d spent so long trying to be strong and take it all on the chin, trying not be worried about stuff that would send most people into a depressed vortex.
In the end, I got sucked into that vortex anyway. And along with the depression, I became chronically fatigued. While that’s a read for another time, the important thing today is that I felt out of control and overstressed.
A Tale of Two Lists
I hate lists. Despise them. Ask my wife (she’s over there by the whiteboard writing up this weekend’s to-do list).
You can imagine my disdain when I was told by my psychologist and my exercise physiologist that I had to write not one list but two. Every day.
One listed the stressors that I could not control. These are the things that I might worry about or that might interrupt my daily plans and that I can not control in any way.
Things like weather, other people’s moods, traffic, my illness or injuries, the need to pay rent or what other people think about my decisions.
The other list contained the things in my day that I can control. This may mean I can exercise complete control over them or it may mean I can exercise a limited amount of control — which means I can have some level of control, which is better than none.
Things like what I wear outside, my words and tone of voice, how fast I drive, taking time out during my day, choosing to exercise, working to get money or making decisions based on my wellbeing and not another’s.
The Missing Bit
But for me, being so overwhelmed by so much stuff, I found it hard to focus. More than that, I found it too daunting a task because I saw so many things that stressed me out. Thirdly, I would misplace the lists or just forget their contents as the day moved on. I needed something to focus me.
I needed something to focus me.
I came up with a plan. I decided to put my daily diary and my lists together in one place. This way I could list the tasks of my day at the same time as assessing what I could control about each task and what I couldn’t.
My first few drafts were workable but missing something. Slowly I refined the process and the design.
As I regained a sense of control – and with it, hope – I discovered a new sensation. It was the feeling and the thought that perhaps I can do this thing called life. It began the journey of me becoming the agent of my own change.
The stressful things were still there. The big things didn’t all go away.
But I no longer felt like I was living inside a washing machine, being tumbled about with wet clothes in a space I couldn’t control.
I still hated the stressful things, still hated what they did to my life. And I no longer felt like they were controlling me.
Can you imagine the feeling, the sense of hope that gives a person? To look at the things you have no control over and realise that it’s okay? That you can control other things and that they make a difference?
I no longer felt like I was living inside a washing machine, being tumbled about with wet clothes in a space I couldn’t control
The combination of diary and lists was added to. I made some adjustments and added some other elements in.
I realised that this is something that others could benefit from, too.
The Controllables Diary
So I self-published the book and called it The Controllables Diary.
You can get a copy of it today. I really want to get this resource out there because there are so many people struggling with this kind of stuff.
Please feel free to click here and order a copy. If you’re like me, you can probably think of someone in your life who may benefit from it. Maybe a client or a friend. Maybe you could try it yourself.
It’s changed my life. Ask my wife.
She just handed me a whiteboard marker.
You may also like these articles by Stuart:
Don’t Hold Back Your Procrastinating
What Your Corporate Coach Didn’t Tell You About Being Successful
The Evolution of Your Story
Stuart McDonald, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and martial arts instructor, specialises in stress management, self-regulation, change fitness and restoring the joy of movement to people. Clinically, he has worked with mood and anxiety disorders, chronic hip and back complaints and was the Holistic Care Consultant for people with multiple myeloma cancer. As a sport scientist, he specialises in martial arts performance enhancement and as head of Research with Global Performance Testing.
Check out his website here: stuartmcdonald.weebly.com