Most of us like to live our lives with a sense of control. We intentionally organize our lives in ways that will give us a strong foundation and security to be able to thrive. Feeling a sense of control gives us the confidence to be able to soar and experience new things. Yet, as hard as it is for a Type A person like me to admit - sometimes things happen that we cannot control!
It's never a nice feeling being in a situation or facing adverse circumstances over which we have little or no control. Of course, it's a frequent occurrence while traveling - when we are subject to many external factors that affect our experience (weather delays, strikes, baggage lost, grumpy staff, smelly seatmates, lack of oxygen, late departures causing missed connections etc.) Yet even regular day-to-day externals can also greatly impact us such as changes in the political climate, world events, personal health or family illnesses, economic downturn, etc. The feeling of helplessness and stress one gets from being controlled by externals can be extreme.
Most of us generally live the "outer game" and allow our lives and our moods to be governed and run by events and peoples actions outside of us. The danger of that approach is that we are allowing our joy, happiness and success to be dependent on forces outside of our control.
We can take back control by learning how to consciously control our own internal thoughts when confronted with external challenges. We can shift our thought defaults from crippling paralyzers to ones that serve us. Inspirational author, Louise Hay, said "You are the only thinker in your own mind." We can CHOOSE what we put our mental focus on. We can then choose our REACTION. That is entirely in our control.
4 STEPS TO TAKING BACK CONTROL WHEN YOU HAVE NO CONTROL
1/ ACKNOWLEDGE AND ALLOW
It's perfectly okay to feel upset, out of control, angry or fearful when your feelings of control have been stripped away by external factors. Those emotions might be alarming to those of you who prefer to be most often "in control" (yup, that's me too!) , yet they are absolutely normal reactions. Denying those feelings only make them stronger. Call the situation out - it IS happening and you are upset. Stay there for as long as you need to, knowing though that while you are deep in the emotion it will be more difficult to move forward. When you are ready, then let go of the paralyzing part of the emotion and move on to Step 2.
2/ ACCEPT AND RELEASE
OK. You have picked yourself up off the floor (or in my case, the airport mezzanine) and are ready to move forward. To be able to open up space in our internal world we must let go of the external forces that are filling that space. To move on, we must release the hold that the disappointing, maddening or frustrating conditions have on us mentally.
When I say accept, I am talking about a simple acknowledgement of the situation, not approval or happiness with the situation. E.g/ In my airport travel story: "I accept the fact that this trip today did not turn out the way that I had hoped. I accept the fact that my time in Paris has been cut short." I let my attachment to that former ideal situation go.
To use another example: You are stuck in a traffic jam and are going to be late for your appointment. You can sit and fume and curse and feel your blood pressure rising. When you accept the facts: "Yes, the traffic is at a standstill and yes, I will be late for my appointment", you will feel the release that simple acceptance gives.
3/ REFOCUS TO THE STATE YOU WANT
What now? You have acknowledged your feelings, accepted the external situation and now it's time to refocus your internal world and return you to a place of mental freedom.
Let's run through this step by step.
Think of something that is out of your control, yet affects your life. How do you feel about it? Take a moment and live in that feeling.
Ask yourself - Is this situation something that is within my power or control to change?
If yes, then focus on what you want to change and put a first step in place to change that.
If it is not in your control, then ask yourself how you would prefer to feel about that situation.
E.g/ using my airline travel story: I felt upset, angry, distressed and helpless. Could I change the situation? No, I couldn't. How did I want to feel about the situation? I wanted to feel at peace, in control. With that small re-focus, there was instantly some mental bandwidth opened up and I could begin to think again - of possible solutions and possibilities.
Using the example of the traffic jam: You feel angry, frustrated and your blood pressure is rising. Can you control the situation and get the traffic moving again? Unlikely. What do you want to feel in the situation? Calm, at peace, less anxious. When you refocus yourself to the those feelings and the mental state you want you can think again. (and move to Step 4).
4/ CHOOSE AND GET RESOURCEFUL
Now you have acknowledged your feelings, accepted the situation from a factual perspective and refocused yourself mentally to the state of mind you want. You have created mental space to think again and and are in control of your inner state. How then will you act based on your new mental state? How you behave, or what actions you then take are absolutely in your control.