How much control do we really have in life?
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
How much of our life do we actually control?
And if we don't control much, then what's the point of working toward goals?
On one hand we are told that we have the power to design our outcomes and experiences in life, and on the other we are told that the only way to feel really fulfilled in life is to completely let go.
With the ever growing challenges in our world, it can seem increasingly difficult to work out if we should try to control any of the events or outcomes of our lives, or whether we should just give everything up to chance.
One of our basic human needs is a sense of control - to know that we have a choice, that our actions make a difference. For decades, psychologists have studied this concept as locus of control (LOC). The more internal our LOC, the more we believe our own efforts determine what happens in our lives, and the more external our LOC, the more we feel our lives are controlled by outside forces.
Research has linked external LOC with poor mental and physical health and learned helplessness, and internal LOC with greater happiness, health, success, and the ability to cope with challenge.
So often we can feel trapped by our circumstances, dominated by others’ demands, caught up in an endless round of tasks, feeling like our own needs or dreams have been pushed aside.
It's easy to think or believe that things outside of us or people in our lives are 'preventing' us from doing something we want to do. You might hear someone in your life say, 'I want to get fit, but I get home too late from work to exercise. It's out of my hands.' Or, 'I'd really like to study _____, but I just can't find the right course/time/money.'
It can be a very worthwhile exercise for all of us at any time of year to remember and reflect on what we do have control over and what we don't, and where we are choosing to place our focus.
It can help to do this as an exercise in your mind, or even on a piece of paper, drawing your smiling face in the middle and a big circle around your head.
Considering this circle as your circle of influence, start to consider the things you can spend your time focusing on and then you can write them inside the circle of your influence or outside.
Inside your control:
What you say
What you do
How you feel
How you respond
What you wear
Who you spend time with
What you eat
What you believe
How much sleep you get
How much exercise you do
Outside your control:
What other people say
What other people do
What other people think
Time and aging
Other people's feelings
Other people's responses or reactions
What other people post online
So how do we maintain a healthy internal locus of control without trying to control those things outside our circle of influence is balance?
Maybe it is possible to stick to what is inside your circle, while still having goals and dreams and things that you would like to do or see or be or have or experience. Taking daily steps towards the positive habits you want to develop, and focusing on all those things inside your circle, while enjoying the process.
Perhaps the key is a balance of striving and accepting, of desiring and allowing, of moving forward and at the same time letting go of the need of the outcome.
Maybe that's where the fulfillment is.
'Incredible changes happen in your life when you decide to take control over what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.' Steve Maraboli
Until next time,
The PLS team