Before I launched my new company, Bright Blue, I cleaned out and organized every closet in our house. When my husband went on an 8-day motorcycle ride out West, I made it my mission to painstakingly water the lawn in an attempt to keep my lawn alive during a record heat wave. I am quite talented at trying to control the little things in my life when the bigger things seem completely out of control.
I noticed this tendency has become more acute now that my children are facing the increasingly complex challenges of childhood and the world around me seems to grow more Orwellian by the day. (I mean, there is only so much I can DO about global warming, right?)
When things seem out of control around us, it can be a natural tendency to try and control those few things that are actually in our domain. Where we can run into trouble is when we try to control things that are outside our sphere of influence.
How do we break out of the cycle of trying to control that which we cannot control - which just causes us stress and worry? We need to start by understanding what really is within our control. And, then move to the hardest part: slowly let go...
I often ask my clients to list out what exactly they can control. I like to share this graphic with them (created by the very talented Mayi Carles).
Take a moment and try it out - what can you really, truly control in your life?
The exercise seems easy at first. As you lean in, you realize that the list is pretty small.
In short, you can control:
Your behaviors and actions
Your reactions to your emotions (you cannot control your emotions - only the way you express them)
What you eat and wear (as long as you have access to items and money to buy them)
How your spend your time (it may not FEEL like you control this sometimes)
The organization of your closets (until someone goes and messes it up)
The list of things you can influence - but not directly control - can a bit longer, and it only seems to point out how little you can really, truly, directly control
Behavior of your spouse or kids
Your health and the health of your family (you can influence it by making good choices but you cannot control it)
How friends, family and other people see or think of you
The values of your children
If you get a promotion or raise at work
Decisions in your workplace where you have a voice through your position or expertise
Office and maybe even local politics if you get really active
The green-ness of your lawn
If you really want to go for the gold, list out all the things you cannot control. That is a very, very long list.
By understanding what it is that we can control, we can begin to be more mindful about the long, long list of things we cannot control and the items we can only influence, guide or support. We don't have to like the lists or the answers the lists show us, but by acknowledging what we truly can control, we can begin the journey to letting go of that need to control the uncontrollable - and all the stress than goes along with it.
Imagine if we walked through life only trying to control what we can truly control and began to back away from trying to control the outcome of every workplace scenario or the behavior of our boss or spouse? As with all of my coaching advice, start small. Think about pivoting from trying to control and outcome to trying to observe it.
And if you need to organize or closet or water a lawn to process your stress about what you can control - go for it. Just do it mindfully!
Nicole Provonchee is an executive coach and founder of Bright Blue Consulting. When she is not watering her lawn or organizing a closet, she is working with women leaders and their teams, to help them seize opportunities and overcome obstacles to move toward greater success. You can learn more about her at ConsultBrightBlue.com.