If we have learned one thing from 2020, it is this: we are not in control of anything or anyone but ourselves. In these uncertain times, there are many unanswered questions that are beyond our control. We don’t have control over the weather, or the seasons. We have limited control over complex situations, and we don’t have control over anyone's actions but our own.
So, when it comes to the one thing we can control - our behaviors and attitudes - how do we maximize that in a time of ambiguity and uncertainty? When we may feel powerless, we need to practice mastery over what is within our control. No matter how small, we can control these aspects of our lives.
Control Makes Us Feel More Powerful
We do not have the ability to control an ambiguous situation. We can take actions to mitigate risk (wear the mask, avoid crowds), and we can control our actions. Feeling stress and navigating a complex world is a part of life. And in the midst of a pandemic, we have revealed how little control we over situations, both over our environment, and other people. So, how do we make the most out of the control that we do have, and why is it vital to do so during this time?
Having control gives us a sense of competency, and makes us feel powerful. The kind of control that we’re talking about has nothing to do with being in a position of power, where you have the ability to influence the actions of other people - there are many moments in history (past and present) where that kind of control and sense of power has gone to a bad place. We’re talking about the control we have over ourselves and our actions.
Figuring Out What Is Within Our Control
Exactly at this moment, when we’re in a time of crisis and upheaval in our lives, we must ask ourselves: what is within my control? What do I have the power to change within my own life, and in particular, what can I change that is weighing me down? What action can I take that can lift me up, make me feel safer, help me connect?
As we grow up, we’re slowly given more control over our daily lives, to slowly develop the ability to responsibly make decisions for ourselves. This starts with something as simple as selecting what we would like to eat, and how we would like to dress. As we get older, increasing control is released to us by our parents, and therefore, more responsibility. As adults, we develop a deeper sense of what we can control, and what we cannot.
We develop the understanding that we have no say in whether or not it rains when we’ve planned an outdoor celebration, with all our friends and family. And we realize that we can choose our reaction. Let me repeat: we have control over our reactions and our state of mind. We have control over the time we give to our friends and family, what we eat, how we exercise, and what time we put ourselves to bed. We don’t have control over whether or not we have a bad dream, but we try our best to use what is within our control to quiet our mind so we can get back to sleep. And exercising this little bit of mastery over one's own decisions, especially in a time of great ambiguity such as the pandemic, can make a massive difference when it comes to your state of mind.
Mastery, Achievement and Confidence
At this time, when so much is out of our control, it’s important to look within yourself and acknowledge what is within your power. We know that our mind, our body, and our spirit is within our own control - no one else's. And understanding and exercising this control gives you a sense of power, strength, and confidence that can only come from within.
Putting the power and control that we do have into action, can also help you achieve goals that might seem out of reach, especially during a difficult time. It can be easy to let the weight of the world drag you down, and make you feel powerless, when in fact, the power is within you, waiting for activation. No matter what is going on in the world around us, we can always work on and achieve personal accomplishments, which will in turn, give us more confidence.
Think of something that you’d like to master (ukelele? sourdough bread?), create a plan and due dates for milestones. For example, say you wish to become a runner. Pick a race our a course -- 5K, 10K, and decide how you will train to prepare yourself. Understand that only you have the ability to make this accomplishment happen. No one else. Commit, complete and enjoy the accomplishment. This can apply to any goal in your life, no matter how big or small.
And that’s how you get your control and feeling of satisfaction back in a time where we can feel low. It’s all within you. Nothing and no one has control over your life but you. And as a result of this realization and putting your goals into action, you will feel a new sense of accomplishment and empowerment.
What Would You Like to Master?
In addition to identifying which areas of life you can control, think about an area where you would like to have a level of mastery, no matter how big, or how small. My son and I are figuring out how to complete the Rubik's cube on our own and it's a blast. Giving yourself the realization that you can take back control of your own life will increase your confidence.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all have "rocks" that weigh us down. And we have interests that we've been curious about, hobbies that we’ve wanted to develop , but have not allotted the time. Choose this time of ambiguity to take the control over your life. Set your goal, take a look at how long it will take, beginning to end, to complete it. Allow yourself to get into your flow state, and complete your goal. Enjoy the accomplishment.
Take this time to elevate yourself, and actively pursue reach that next level that you desire. By allowing yourself to take back your control, you will feel more contentment in a difficult time.
And for more on this subject, please listen to my podcast on Control and Mastery in A Time of Ambiguity