The Dichotomy of Control

Traffic jams, multiples devices, notifications, headphones, the sound of jackhammers, espresso machines, and airplanes are all commonplace today. Emails and messages inundate us. Requests and commitments abound. As a generation, we are overworked, overscheduled, and are prone to stress. When we're running on ‘E’, we can't think as clearly or make sound decisions. As a result, we make mistakes and can exhaust ourselves. How then can one make time for thought? To engage in meaningful work? To relax and detach? When I think of it, the word that comes to mind is ‘stillness’.

Essentially, stillness means maintaining your balance when the world spins around you. To act in a calm manner; hearing only what is of value. The world around us can be at war and in full disarray, but if we can develop this stillness, this peace in ourselves, we can maintain our tranquility. We’ll still be able to think well, work well and live well.

But how does one find stillness? Many times, we hear others say, "I think too much," or "I can't get out of my own head". However, maybe thinking isn't the issue; the difficulty arises when we're continually spinning stories in our thoughts and become engrossed in them. Our imaginations move from one thing to the next in search of a distraction or an escape from trouble. We can't concentrate, we can't be present in the moment, and we feel compelled to be active all of the time. Rather than giving in to those churning, nervous-energy thoughts—rather than striving harder and harder, attempt to completely clear your mind.

The key is to focus on what is within our control in the face of pressure. But this requires discipline. When it comes to regulating our emotions, we should try to differentiate between what we can change and what we can’t; what we have influence over and what we do not. If you really think about it, what we do have full control of is our mind, nothing external to us. If for example we received extra work from our boss despite our already full plate, is this inherently bad? Or is it our state of mind that allows us to think it’s bad? It’s within our power to decide how we look at this. We can view it as an opportunity to learn more and perhaps better our time management skills. I understand the pressures of being overworked. We all have been there. But what I am trying to get at is training the mind to be still, to be calm and understand that we can react in two ways: positively or negatively.

Choosing to be positive engenders self-growth. Taking responsibility of what we can control will help us develop as human beings. Simply put, focusing our energies and leading with a victim-mindset is not healthy. We need to find the value. If we attempt to manage the uncontrollable, we feel helpless, disappointed, nervous, ineffectual, bitter, and angry because we have no impact. However, when we focus our time and attention on what is within our control (our beliefs, values, and behaviors), this increases our efficiency, effectiveness and overall well-being significantly.

Viktor Frankl wrote this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” My challenge to you is to begin identifying what you can and cannot control. Remember, we always have the option to choose how we react. We always have the potential to make the greatest possible use of what we have. Sometimes all it takes is to change our perspective, the way we may look at things.

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