Child's drawing of the rainbow of hope

Is it worth worrying about things you can’t control?

I’m not sure why, but recently I found myself thinking about what is within my control and what’s not. In psychology, this is called locus of control and is a concept initially developed in the 1950s.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should not worry about things that are outside of your control. Worrying about things that are not in our control ends up with us feeling stressed and potentially overwhelmed.

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People he breaks things down into three distinct groups.

  • Direct control – things that are within your control eg your own behaviour.
  • Indirect control – things you have no direct control over, but can influence e.g. another person’s behaviour.
  • No control – problems that you can do nothing about it e.g. past events or current situational realities.

Let’s have a look at something that is happening right now.

We have no control over the fact that a new virus has arrived in the human population. It has already happened and, as we have not yet invented time travel, we cannot change that fact.

The governments of various nations have put in place indirect controls. They cannot make the virus change its behaviour, but by influencing our behaviour the governments are changing the immediate effects of the virus.

Today your reality is heavily influenced by the virus and the controls that your government has put into place. You have no direct control over what is happening.

All of us do have some indirect control over the path the virus takes though. Whether you are a key worker, are manufacturing parts for ventilators or complying with social distancing then indirect control over the virus is being demonstrated.

Then there are things that are totally within our control. Do we shut down in fear or do we stand up and take action to control what we can?

The business leaders who are taking steps to protect their business or minimise the damage are taking control.

The furloughed person who is planning a new career as plan B is taking control.

The key worker who is taking care to look after their own health is taking control.

Upon reflection, we all have more control than we think. It’s not whether we worry about what we cannot control but how we react to what we can control, whether directly or indirectly. Of course, we all worry about something as big as a global pandemic, it’s unrealistic not to. Let’s use most of our energy on working with what we can control, directly or indirectly, that’s what will increase our chances of better outcomes.

Take some time today and reflect upon the things that are within your control. Which ones are you going to act upon?

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

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