You Only Have Control Over 2 Things

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I’m sure each of us is familiar with that, ‘everything is spiralling out of control feeling.’ I know I am. Time and time again, I’ve faced disappointment after disappointment and sometimes I haven’t even had the time to create an expectation that leads to disappointment because I’ve been three weeks behind in my own life! That spiralling-out-of-control feeling stemmed from my not taking charge of that which is in my control. Here’s the thing; the only way to gain control of your life is to do the following:

  1. Prepare well
  2. Respond well

Note that this deals with the BEFORE and AFTER of every event.

The actual event and the way that takes place is out of your hands. That is the work of the universe.

Mastering the two steps above requires work both on our external world, as well as our internal world.

Control mechanism 1: Preparation

“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.” 

― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We’ve all heard the classic, ‘proper preparation prevents poor performance.’ Whenever I hear this quote I cringe thinking about how many times I’ve flunked something in my life as a result of failing to prepare. You have full control over the extent and quality with which you prepare for a performance, test, interview, day, meeting or whatever opportunity lays before you. I want to give you the three P’s of proper preparation:

    1. Plan

Identify exactly what needs to be done on the route to achieving the desired outcome. Work your way back from the outcome and create smaller goals and then even smaller tasks so that what you are left with is a set of tiny incremental activities that you can carry out one step at a time.

    2. Prime

Get ready for action! Yes, I am saying that you need to prepare to prepare but this is not a Russian doll of preparation, all this means is that you have to ensure that you’re in the correct frame of mind before you begin and that you are in favorable working conditions as you embark on the work of preparation. If you need to work on a project, clean your workspace so that it is inviting and conducive to a focused and productive session. If you are into meditation, meditate for 10 minutes before a practice or work session to clear noisy thought patterns and prime the mind for progress. And if you aren’t into meditation – well, I suggest you get on it stat!

   3. Proceed

Just do it. If you have to forgo all but one of the steps of preparation, forgo the others and just DO something. If you’re waiting for your sign here it is. I am telling you, yes YOU to just start. It’s the hardest part of anything. If your plan has been suitably laid out, each step should be palatable allowing you to make progress and acknowledge your accomplishments along the way.

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Control mechanism 2: Response

The preparation referred to above can be achieved mainly in the external world but preparing for response requires work in our internal world. How many times do you react instead of respond i.e. use your emotions to drive your actions and words following an upsetting unfolding, rather than drawing upon the wisdom you have gained throughout your life to craft a response? I would say that (if you’re like me at least) it’s been an uncomfortable amount of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

This is the area where it is important to perform some inner work. You want to develop your character so that it is so strong so that in a moment that would send the common man to extract from his well of weakness, you are drawing from a place of strength. When I say, ‘you’, I mean you and me because believe me; I still mess up when it comes to this mechanism. Emotions, although raw and beautiful, can be a truly dangerous thing if not adequately managed. This is one of the main motivations for my lifelong dedication to self-development.

Here are steps to improve the quality of your responses:

   1. Wait!

Instead of letting your emotions speak their ‘truth’, rather give your mind a few hours or days to process what has transpired and evaluate your options from a place of rationality. If you don’t have a few hours to respond then take the maximum possible time to process the event requiring a response.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

― Abraham Lincoln

  2. Focus

Once you’ve taken time to calm down it’s time to carry on and here is your secret weapon: focus. You can choose to place your focus on any aspect of the situation that you want – whether that aspect is objectively visible or not. If you want to be solutions-focused, don’t divert any energy to what has already happened and can’t be changed. If you want to view the situation from a place of love and understanding, shift your focus to reframe how the situation may have arisen despite people’s good intentions. Our brains are not very good at considering what is outside our field of focus – use this fact to your advantage and not your disadvantage.

“He who says he can, and he who says he cannot are both usually correct.”

― Confucius

 3. Respond

Choose an appropriate response that is best in line with your values and the area of focus you’d like to approach the situation from (step 2). Then draft out a plan at a high level (revert to mechanism 1 if the scenario calls for it) and proceed.

This drawn-out process of responding may not provide the immediate satisfaction that can be gained by reacting from a charged emotional state but it does empower you to make the best decision for yourself given the circumstances and to minimize regret as you act in alignment with your highest virtues. This way, even if things don’t turn out as you would have liked, you know that you did your best and doing your best is the number one tool you have to eliminate self-resentment.

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Figure out what works for you and do more of it. Recognize what doesn’t and expel it.