Don’t Freak Out About What You Can’t Control

The uncomfortable truth in life is that you can’t control every event, experience, or outcome.

All that stress, pain, and worry shouldn’t be your burden.

Epictetus classified things as being under our control or not under our control. His classic Enchiridion (The Good Life Handbook) starts with this basic idea of control;

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.”

That powerful statement is also the same sentiment expressed by the 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer;

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

Reinhold Nieburh came up with that prayer around 1934.

The basic idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for a while.

The typical occupation of the human mind is to lean towards some seemingly important event or experience that can’t be changed or controlled and stressing about how they can affect us today, tomorrow, or even next month. That pivotal experience may not affect you in any way but the mind can’t let go. It keeps wondering.

We’re very accustomed to worrying, and it’s such a conditioned pattern that there’s no single antidote. The mind just jumps into scenarios and visions. Worrying achieves nothing but stress.

Many people waste their whole life completely preoccupied with everything that is out of their control, stressing on what disempowers, and overlooking everything that empowers them.

Corrie ten Boom says,“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Replaying conversations in your head or imagining tragic outcomes over and over again is not good for your health and total well-being.

If you are like most people you probably spend more time worrying than taking action towards your life’s purpose and goals. Worrying about job security, project deadlines, health, shrinking budgets, rising taxes, the housing market, even the weather.

According to Epictetus, to make the most of life, divide your moment-to-moment concerns into two categories;

  1. The things you can control
  2. And the things you can’t

The key to maintaining a positive attitude in life is to know the difference.

Whenever you feel any sort of anger, desire or aversion, you look at the situation in terms of those two bins.

David Cain agrees. He argues “By reclaiming your energy, all day every day, from your sphere of concern (the range of things that appeal to your emotions) to your sphere of influence (the range of things you can affect) you are continually developing the essential Stoic skill of taking your lumps as they come, with minimal fuss and tantrum.”

Don’t bother worrying about whether there will be problems. There will be plenty of them, and you’ll work your way through every one of them.

Every obstacle is the way forward.

You always have a choice. Today is a choice. Today, choose presence over panic. You can choose how you will respond to life’s surprises and disappointments when they arise, and whether you will see them as setbacks or opportunities for growth.

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Worrying about the things outside your control accomplishes nothing except expending a lot of energy that could be better spent elsewhere.

Control what you Can. Ignore the rest

“No amount of regretting can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future.” ― Roy T. Bennett

According to the Stoics, all day long you should be returning your attention to the relatively small realm you can control.

The good news is, you can do something about most things you stress about. Start making a list.

Beside each of the items you can control (example, personal health and wealth), include an action item.

If you’re concerned about an impending deadline, make a list of all the things required to get the project completed. List all the tiny tasks you need to do to get closer to that goal.

Make a commitment to take charge of everything within your control and be intentional about not worrying about the things you can’t.

You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you CAN control the way you respond. And in your response is your greatest power.

Don’t get consumed with what others think of you because you can’t control that. Don’t stress over future decisions, because you can’t control them today.

Keep being mindful. Things ultimately turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.

If you tend to ruminate on issues, change the channel in your brain. Acknowledge that your thoughts aren’t helpful.

Get involved in an activity that will distract you for a few minutes and get your brain focused on something more productive.

Try taking stock of what you actually have control over in a typical day.

You’ll likely be surprised by how little you can really influence.

Instead of letting that be a source of stress, try embracing it and narrowing your focus to where you can have the greatest impact.

Life is short. Don’t devote your your limited time to things around you that are going to upset, distress and exhaust you.

With practice, you can train your brain to think and act differently.

And you’ll begin to accept that while you can’t control every situation, you can control how you think, feel, and behave.

Before you go…

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