You hear or read it all the time.
“Take control of your life!” or “Just let go!”
What do those mean exactly and how do you do each? Read on to find out.
Taking Control Means Responding Rather Than Reacting
Taking control of your life is about controlling the only thing you can ever really control in this world — you. You are rarely in control of much of what happens around you, but you always have the option to control your actions and behavior.
I’m not saying that it’s easy. It’s not. But it can be done. And when you get better at practicing self-control, you will experience more success and happiness in your professional and personal life.
Taking control of your life requires that you guide your mind and emotions so that you consciously choose your actions. It comes down to the difference between responding and reacting. Reacting is instinctual without intentional thought and comes from a primitive part of your brain only concerned with your survival. Responding is a conscious choice involving input from several sources and a part of your brain that is more evolved.
You Already Have the Power!
Research shows that nerves inside the network of your brain carry impulses between two and 20 miles per hour. That is much slower than the rest of our bodies where nerves whiz impulses around at speeds of up to 240 miles per hour. Once a message reaches the brain, it moves more slowly, and then, it takes even more time for your brain to formulate a response. That time gap is where you have the power to choose and take control of your life. That is why you want to move from reacting to responding.
When something happens, your body is going to react automatically and instinctually anyway — usually below your conscious awareness. The goal is to become aware of your initial reaction, pause, resist doing anything immediately, involve your thinking brain by considering options, possible outcomes, who you want to be, and what is going to be in your best interest, and, then, deliberately choose how to respond.
Here’s How You Take Control in the Gap
You can learn to exert conscious choice in the time gap between reacting and responding by building self-control through emotional intelligence, and mindfulness.
In Embrace Change through Emotional Intelligence, I write:
“Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and control your emotions while knowing the effect your behaviour has on others. It’s a mixture of awareness, which focuses on observing reactions and responses, and management, which involves making conscious decisions.”
People with high emotional intelligence are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get unhinged in stressful situations because they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly determine a solution and map out a plan of action. They’re excellent decision-makers, knowing when to gather more information and when to trust their intuition. They’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly, take criticism well, and know how to use feedback to improve their performance. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned and developed.
Mindfulness is simply a way of thinking. It’s training your brain to pay attention and focus. It’s learning to direct your attention to what’s happening in your present experience, including your mind, body, and environment.
In terms of your physical brain, mindfulness asks that you deliberately shift control of your thoughts and actions away from the instinctual “reptilian” brain to the conscious awareness of your frontal lobe. This is the difference in reaction and responding we were talking about earlier. The frontal lobe is where higher-level thought and decision-making happen. Because of neuroplasticity, repetitively and consistently thinking and behaving mindfully will alter your brain’s form and function and, in turn, your life.
You can learn more about mindfulness in my article 6 Steps to Live More Mindfully.
Please realize that you were never really in control of anything — but yourself — to begin with. Most of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to control things that we really have no influence over. It’s only natural. Trying to be in control makes your brain feel good because control is rooted in fear. When your brain feels more in control, it feels less fear. The more your brain knows about your world, the safer it feels. On the other hand, the less you know, the more anxious you feel. So, the answer to letting go of the need for control is really about getting comfortable with uncertainty and facing your fears.
The First Step – Surrendering and Acceptance
The first step in letting go is surrendering. Now, surrendering does not mean “giving up.” It means to stop fighting to try to be in control. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the circumstances. Stop resisting and pushing against reality and accept what is before you.
Think of a small boat furiously paddling upstream but making little progress. What if the boat stopped fighting the current and figured out a new way to get where it wanted to go by going with the current? That is surrendering. Surrendering is not about inaction or giving up your power. It’s about taking action and using your power wisely from a place of acceptance.
Acceptance means acknowledging the reality of the experience and quitting wishing things were different. You aren’t trying to change anything here — feelings, thoughts, or circumstances. You just want to let things be and figure out the best way for you to navigate the situation. This step is a hard one, and it may take some time. That’s OK. Give yourself as much time as you need to arrive at and move through acceptance.
The Next Step – Let It Go
In this step, you want to actively prevent, reduce, or end whatever you can that is proving painful or harmful to you in the situation you’re facing. For example, you could vent your feelings to a friend, reframe self-critical or catastrophizing thoughts, stop any behaviors that are contributing negatively, or reduce your stress with self-care practices.
In order to let go, you have to actively guide your attention and brain away from any negative and anxiety-producing thought loops and support and encourage yourself with your self-talk instead. Challenge your negative, anxious thoughts. Try to zoom out and see a bigger picture. Reassure and calm yourself with affirmations like:
- This is for now, not forever.
- Similar things have happened before, and I have gotten through them just fine.
- Just because it’s not what I wanted, doesn’t mean things can’t turn out OK.
- Challenging times are opportunities for growth.
- I can get through this.
- I am stronger than I think.
Taking control of your life and letting go of control really require the same skill. They both require that you develop your awareness and emotional intelligence and act consciously in your own best interest no matter the circumstances or which one you are doing. So, letting go — when it is a conscious decision — is really taking control.
This post was first mentioned in the Authoritti5.0 Magazine