January 18, 2015
By Tami Rubino, BioSpace Hiring and Branding Guru
I was certain I knew where I was going … that I was on the right path, but as my skis came to a stop at a snowy ridge that dropped down at a 40 degree angle, I realized I had taken a wrong turn.
My friend was about 50 yards behind me. I turned to her and said, “It’s bad.” She yelled down in a panicked voice, “Are those moguls?”
“Yes,” I said, “scary ones!”
She had a few choice words for me as she scanned the terrain to see if there was an escape route. “It’s too late now. We’re already committed,” I yelled up to her. “Come on, we can do this…together.”
Reluctantly, she made her way over to the tree line, and with white knuckles, we started to make our way down. Although we chose entirely differently paths, we both arrived safely—and surprisingly upright—at the bottom of the run. As our breathing slowed and we looked up in awe at the steep slope behind us, our perspective suddenly changed. No longer anxious and afraid, we felt confident and empowered. Smiles spread across our faces as we took off down the mountain believing that we could conquer the world.
In challenging situations like this one, feeling out of control makes us doubt ourselves. When something unexpected happens—such as an illness, an accident, a broken relationship or losing a job—our sense of control over our lives comes to an abrupt halt. We quickly go from certainty and security to feeling powerless—like a puppet on a string. I don’t know anyone who enjoys that feeling.
Being out of control means not knowing what the outcome will be. That is a ripe environment for our inner critic to start prophesizing about every possible thing that can go wrong:
“I’m going to get hurt…”
“My new boss is going to hate me…”
“I’m going to fail…”
“I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life…”
Conversely, the sense of being in control feeds our survival instincts. We create routines in our daily lives that provide stability and predictability. We seek relationships that are healthy and consistent. We ask questions to understand how and why things work the way they do. And we do a good job so we don’t have to worry where our next paycheck is coming from.
But what happens when those routines are changed without our consent? How do we handle serious health issues or the loss of a relationship? How do we get through those dark and scary times when we feel out of control with our career or financial situation?
The secret is consciously disrupting that out-of-control feeling. Our minds are extremely powerful and the best weapon we have to protect our thoughts and actions from spiraling into an abyss of negativity and defeat. Here are my top five strategies to reclaim control over my life in any situation:
Lean on others for indirect control.
People you trust will often fill this role without even being asked—and it is most likely someone who has some level of authority over you. That authority can be formal, such as a manager or advisor who you believe has your best interest at heart, or the loving kind of authority you grant to a parent, spouse or friend who you entrust with your emotional and physical well-being. Regaining your sense of control can be as easy as assessing and strategizing the situation with someone you trust to guide you down the right path. They may have perspective, information or relevant experiences that can serve as a temporary surrogate for your need to control.
Weigh all of the possibilities.
When you take inventory of your options, you automatically regain some sense of control. Consider a corporate restructuring where you suddenly find yourself part of entirely new team. You had no say in the decision and you didn’t see it coming. It’s an unsettling feeling as you try to navigate through the corporate announcements to figure out where you belong. Fear can creep in and convince you that your job is in jeopardy or that you’re not valued. But don’t assume the worst—instead look for new opportunities that may have been created by the restructure. Raise your hand and ask for additional responsibilities to show your new team that you’re committed. Don’t take corporate decisions personally. Understand it’s not happening to you, it’s happening around you. You always have choices—choices about what you say, how you react, how hard you try, and how open you are to change. Ultimately, you’re still in control.
Evaluate the risks.
Fear can be the primary driver of our decision making when we’re feeling out of control, however, fear clouds your judgement. Be careful not to let emotions trump good, hard data. Fear, especially, will often mislead or cause you to make an impulsive decision that you may come to regret. Adrenaline junkies use the term “no fear” to describe their risky behavior. People standing and watching on the sidelines call the adrenaline junkies “crazy.” Neither of those descriptions are true. People who chase one death-defying extreme after another are typically very confident in their abilities and they’ve conditioned their mind and body to go to the next level. They come prepared and feel very much in control of the outcome, which is pure exhilaration and a sense of accomplishment when it’s over. If fear were the only voice they listened to, there is no way they would ever strap a parachute on their back.
Don’t overthink every situation you’re in. This is the trap many of us fall into when we’re staring up at the ceiling and praying for sleep to come. If you don’t take action, you’re going to get very frustrated, likely to the point of giving up. Taking action means physically doing something or making a choice in your mind. When you feel out of control, do something that brings discipline or routine to your life such as practicing yoga or reading a book. Another example of taking action is making the conscious decision to surrender, which simply means to stop resisting. As hard as that can be for some of us, this one simple act can bring immediate and significant peace to your life.
Know when to fold ’em.
It’s perfectly okay to set limits on what you’re willing to do or how far you will go to make something work. If you discover you’re being manipulated or lied to, it’s okay to walk away. If you believe you’re in danger or your ethical boundaries are being stretched, it’s probably time abandon ship. Don’t ignore your internal compass or sacrifice your self-respect to hold onto an uncontrollable situation.
Whenever I feel like I’m spinning out of control, I fall back on these important concepts and remind myself that life is a journey. Yes, there will be bumps and bruises, twists and turns. It’s unavoidable. But I’ve proven that I can get back on track by muscling through it—mind, body and spirit.
I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to managing my desperate need for control, but I will admit there is magical peace that comes from simply letting go of the wheel and seeing where the journey takes me.
Where has your journey taken you?