You Can Control Your Life: Here’s How
Written By: Matt Mignona
Sometimes it seems like the world is spinning around us and we have nothing to do with it. Things keep happening, and we have no control.
Or do we?
You can't always control the events that happen in the world, but you can control your reactions to those events. Furthermore, you have control over a lot of different things in your daily life. The key is to recognize this and take action. Here are four ways to start leveraging your control. As you do, you'll see how much power you truly hold.
Barring intense cardiovascular exercise or a health crisis of some sort, this is one thing you always have control over: your breath. Most of the time, you allow your breath to happen naturally without giving it much thought. Unfortunately, that often means you're allowing circumstances to dictate how you breathe: for example, if you're anxious or nervous, you're probably taking short, shallow breaths that reflect your inner turmoil. This is a vicious cycle, since those short breaths leave you feeling anxious, as well.
When you control your breath, you help regulate your emotions. Focusing on the breath can kick-start your relaxation response and reduce stress; this is true whether you devote 10 minutes to a dedicated breathing practice or simply take a few deep breaths while working at your desk. Within a few minutes, you feel calmer and more in control.
In this article, Arianna Huffington spoke about using conscious breathing to help her calm down enough to sleep:
"As our breath flows in and out, our tensions gradually give way, as if our breath is massaging us from the inside out, releasing the stresses of the day we're still needlessly holding on to."
Start Here: Devote 10-20 minutes to deep breathing, like a mini meditation. If that feels like too much, start with five minutes and work your way up. This could be right after waking up or at any time during the day when you can sit quietly and breathe, focusing on longer, slower breaths than you typically take throughout the day. Try counting the length of your inhales and exhales to help you stay focused and keep the breath consistent. With daily practice, you'll reduce stress, and deeper breathing will become more natural for you throughout the day.
Make a List
We all have a lot to do every day; that never-ending to-do list can seem overwhelming and leave us feeling, well, out of control. The key here is to prioritize and narrow that list, so you have a few set goals to accomplish. For example, every morning, write down just one or two things you want to get done during the day. That could be prepping your meals for the week, paying the utility bill, or running a specific errand. When we have a list of 20 things, we can't do them all; even if we manage to do two, we feel like we're failing because so much is left undone. By setting just one goal and accomplishing it, you feel successful—because you are!—and you feel in control of that to-do list.
Start Here: Every morning, write down one thing you want to get done that day and commit to doing it. At the end of the day, acknowledge your accomplishment and congratulate yourself on your discipline and commitment.
Set a Positive Tone
This is a small action you can take every morning before you even get out of bed. One of the easiest ways to do it is to make a short list of things you're grateful for; that way, you get up smiling and remembering that life is pretty good, no matter what happens that day. You might also choose to read a funny article, watch a funny video, or read a chapter in a personal development book. These actions don't take much time, but they're something you have control over. You can easily make the choice to do these things every single day, and they help get you thinking in the right direction.
Start Here: Keep a gratitude log. Regular reflection on all the good things in your life, from your health and your family to your favorite notebook and your refrigerator, helps you stay positive even when you face challenging times.
Practice Acting Instead of Reacting
This is an advanced move, but life gives us lots of opportunities to practice! We can all admit there's a lot we can't control: political unrest at home and abroad, what projects your boss gives you, whether that blind date is going to stand you up or not. Still, we always have a choice in dealing with these things:
- Reaction: This is typically a default. Panic, cry, get angry, yell at someone, be rude to a waiter, avoid dating, complain to anyone who will listen. Sometimes we'll have these reactions despite our best efforts, and that's okay (even though we might need to apologize to someone) since they give us good information about how we're feeling. The trick is to then use that information to take control. You do that with...
- Action: This is a choice. Research political candidates and vote. Stay up to speed with what's happening in other countries and keep a healthy distance from it, acknowledging that, perhaps, there's no way for you to help directly at the present moment. Approach that new project one step at a time, or get help if you need it. If it's beyond your scope, ask to speak with your boss. Laugh about the bad date and go on another.
No matter what happens, you can take a deep breath and decide how you're going to respond. If there's something you can do about it, do it. If not, it might be a good time to schedule your breathing practice!
Start Here: Don't aim for perfection. You won't do this perfectly; no one does, especially not at first. Instead, try to get a little bit better at it every day. Journaling is a simple way to help you do this: you can write down your accomplishments and congratulate yourself on those efforts to choose actions rather than default to reactions. If you're not sure where to start, download the Happier Mind Journal Quick Start Guide for a roadmap on the hows and whys of journaling.
Have you noticed a commonality between these four things? It's consistency. These are small actions that aren't especially difficult, but the extraordinary power is in doing them every day. With that consistency, you'll feel more in control of your day-to-day life, which helps you stay confident even when those uncontrollable things happen.
Think of yourself as the director of your life—because you are. Don't give that power to anyone else. Assign yourself to that role, then start to live it by integrating these four practices.