Be Well, 20 VTBJ, Fall 2020-#35

AuthorBy Amy Wood, Psy.D
PositionVol. 46 3 Pg. 35


Vol. 46 No. 3 Pg. 35

Vermont Bar Journal

Fall, 2020

How to Feel in Control When Things are Out of Control

By Amy Wood, Psy.D

One of my favorite quotes goes something like, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” This is perfect advice when it comes to feeling in control when things are out of control around you. Attempting to alter what may not be in your power to change will only exhaust you, but becoming resilient – learning to flex and adapt, in other words, with unpredictability -- will allow you to ride the inevitable waves more easily.

These suggestions will show you the way:

Stop trying to control what you can’t control: There is so much we have no command over -- traffic, the weather, the court system, to name just some things from a very long list. And yet all of us waste time and energy worrying about and acting on circumstances outside our jurisdiction. We lie awake at night hoping that we’ll pass a particular test, get a certain job, attract an object of our affection, sidestep a contagious illness. We tense ourselves up trying to beat the competition, win over others, prevent loss and heartache, slow the fast pace of America, corral global movements that are much bigger than us. Even though we’re old enough to know better, we get caught up in the belief that we can will or force outcomes, avoiding the unpreventable realities of life, if we just push hard enough. Noticing every time that the more we try to control what we can’t control, the more out of control we become, we start to see that those things we can’t control are best left to do what they’re going to do anyway.

Strive to control what you can control: While it’s impossible to control what we have no control over, it’s actually quite possible to feel more in control when we focus on what we actually do have control over: our responses. No matter what is going on around you, you and you alone get to decide what attitude to take, how to prepare, what to say, how to greet bad news, how to treat yourself and others, how to cope. All of which adds up to your character -- who you are. The more your character is based on even-keeled, reasonable responses to all that you can’t control, the more solid you feel and the more likely it is, because you’re not feeling anxious and spent trying to fight a battle you can’t win, that circumstances will go more your way. And that of course is the irony...

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