It’s not uncommon for people to feel that they have lost control over their lives based on the way some events unfold. Whatever plans they are making seems to be disrupted by external circumstances outside of their control. Think of these scenarios. There is a surprise management change at head quarters, there is a new boss from next month, there is a talk about transfer to another location, father is suddenly hospitalized in the midst of a planned overseas trip, child is hurt at a soccer game while abroad, a routine medical test has suddenly revealed a heart problem… the list can go on. From time to time it happens to all of us when the cosmic planets seem to conspire against us and mess up all our plans and schedules that we completely feel powerless and helpless.
All of us feel comfortable when we are in control of the events, circumstances and people around us. The first thing that you have to realize is that you’ll never be able to control everything. Life happens, and as long as other people are playing some direct or indirect role in your life, there will be things that you can’t control. Accept that and just move on. Don’t try to change anyone else, as it will only lead to fights and frustration.
Having said that, you can change. You can change the way you think about reacting under circumstances that are beyond your control and managing things that are within your control. You don’t have to thing everything is ‘fate’ and beyond your control to manage. There are still many things you can do and many things you will not be able to do. Just accept this reality instead of fighting. But finally you alone are responsible for your happiness and for deciding what aspects of life you can take control of. There are still many things you can do within your control.
Start with something small just to gain confidence that you can do it. Take ten minutes in a day. It can be any time of day, but the first ten minutes of your day are best because that sets the tone for the rest of it. Use that time every day to do something that you deem productive, and preferably make it the same thing every day. It could be starting an exercise, doing prayer, meditating, learning something.. anything that you deem useful. Assume this 10 minutes is within your control and no one is going to take it away from. Assume you can do whatever you can with this time in whichever way you like. It suddenly feels like you have control on this 10 minutes. Start small and this will help you realize change is still possible and everything is still not out of control.
Useful framework for prioritizing your day
You should go ahead and set your priorities for the day. A framework I find useful is the one recommended by Stephen Covey in ‘First things first’. Classify your tasks as:
- URGENT & IMPORTANT
- IMPORTANT NOT URGENT
- URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT
- NOT URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT
You should never be doing any task falling in item 4 and possibly under item 3 too.
Write down 5 important tasks that you wish to accomplish for the day. Do at least 1 or 2 tasks that come under the category of Important not urgent. Example: acquiring new knowledge & skills, exercising etc. are all important but not urgent. Something that is urgent and important will automatically gain our attention. Even here take a hard look at the items and see if it is really important to do it or not. Sometimes there are items that provide false alarm of being urgent and important, when they are not. So scrutinize this with care when deciding the top 5 priorities of the day. Your priorities ideally must help you move closer to the goals you have set for yourself to accomplish in the long run.
If during the day some event crops up that is outside of your control (ex: son injured in a soccer game or need to go to the dentist due to a tooth pain etc), you cannot help it and you need to accommodate that. It also falls under Urgent and Important category. So add it in your list and strike it off once completed. It was unplanned, but include it in your day’s priority as though it was planned so you don’t feel bad about attending to it.
You will soon realize that while the larger aspects of our lives are still uncontrollable, there are many things we can manage and should manage so as to make our day fulfilling and satisfying. Don’t fret over events that are outside of your control, but at the same time don’t sit back and stop planning or working on your priorities because it’s still in your hands to make your day memorable or miserable.