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How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Control

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it.

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Your schedule was in place, your goals were set…everyone had started 2020 ready to live their best life.

And then a chain of events occurred, derailing most people’s lives without any control over them. The truth is, pandemic or not, you have no control over many things in your life.

As a confessed control freak myself, that sentence was painful to even write. But it is the truth. Whether you run around micromanaging tasks and forcing others to change to fit your mold, or you drown your time worrying about things without taking action…control is not yours to have.

In efforts to release some of that control, or time spent worrying about it, here are four tips to apply to your life:

1. Establish what you can control.

Instead of focusing on what external things you can’t control, focus on habits, thoughts, and actions that you can manage. Although you can’t stop a rainstorm from happening, you can put up tarps and sandbags to prevent leaks and flooding.

This could be as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning, applying for jobs online, showing up to Zoom calls on time. Those things you have complete control over.

For all my fellow control freaks out there, think about the things out of your control that is bothering you, and then make a list of things surrounding that item that you can control, then focus only on those actions. I can’t control that acting audition stopped happening, but I can control creating a virtual webseries and acting online through a screen on my laptop. I can’t control that my gym closed, but I can control my work ethic with body weight and cardio workouts.

On this list, it could be simply your emotions, and how you let your attitude be transformed by what’s happening. When you put your energy into things you can control..guess what, you’ll be in control.

2. Know what scares you.

Face your fears. Ask yourself, what are you afraid will happen next? The fear of the unknown is by far the most difficult fear to face. But, if you know what scares you, it becomes easier to put stopgaps in place to support you if they ever come to fruition.

We can say positive thoughts and affirmations all day long, but if something catastrophic occurs, the person who already had a plan in place in preparation is going to be better off than the person who pretended it could never happen. This is by no means a message to be pessimistic, it is a chance to actually feel safe. Knowing that you can handle the worst-case scenario can help you put your energy into more productive and positive action.

Block some time in your week to sit down, consider your fears and know your plans of action.

Every time I get on an airplane I watch the safety video, I’m not afraid of the plane crashing, but I do spend the flight feeling rest assured that I know how to put on my life jacket and oxygen mask. The same goes for controlling the fear of the unknown.

3. Understand your thoughts.

We all do it, we play the same conversations, imagined or real, in our heads over and over. We analyze every word, and question every action for what it may or may not have meant. In the past, this may have been over a work conflict or a relationship fight. Today, you may be watching news story after news story wondering what’s going to happen next.

The key to letting go, and controlling what you can, is to consider whether your thought patterns are productive. Ask yourself, is this rumination a productive and positive experience in my day? If reflecting on a topic or conversation is being done with the intention of solving a problem, that is one thing. But if you are simply reliving the thought without taking actions or devising a plan, take a break and do something else.

The next time you feel yourself begin to ruminate, pick a word tall mentally tell yourself, like Dave Shapelles “safe word” of Pinneaples. Drop this word into your thoughts and use it as a cue to go do something else for a few minutes. Take a walk, listen to your favorite song or text someone you love.

4. Focus on being an example.

Although sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, you have complete control over what people you hold close. And right now, perhaps that is (physically) no one. But you can control your level of interaction with people and who you choose to spend your time with.

For those who are in close proximity to people on a new level, it may be tempting to try and control them. To get them to work a certain way, do things the way you want them to or on the flip-side, leave you alone when you want to be left alone.

I have always loved the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t get them to drink it.” the same goes for people. Focus on providing them the tools to succeed. Recognize that one of the best tools you can provide is an example. If you want things done a certain way, make sure you do them that way first. Focus on doing things how you want them done because that’s what you control.

Above all else, remember this: You can control what you let control you.

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Previously published on Medium.

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