So, What Can We Actually Control?

One of the more universal learnings we can take away so far from 2020 is that there is very little in our lives that we can actually control.

This year, we have learned that we have no control of the situation that has forced us to “shelter in place”, to “work from home”, and to “educate remotely”. We have no control of the fallout from this situation in terms of its impact on social gatherings, eating at restaurants, working out at gyms or simply getting a massage. We have no control of whether or not our work is considered essential, or whether we can continue to earn a living in our chosen and honed professions.

We have no control of the conditions that led to the racial injustices & social unrest we are experiencing in our country. We have no control of the tremendous divide our country is facing both politically & philosophically. There is so much more on that long and painful list as you know.

So, the question many of us are grappling with is, “What can we actually control?”.

In Viktor Frankl’s influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he chronicles the unspeakable horrors he endured as a concentration camp prisoner. During that period of immense suffering, the psychiatrist began to understand the true nature of cause and effect and its impact on our psychology. He states, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It appears the only thing we have control over is how we respond to the circumstances in our lives. When it comes down to it, what drives our responses are our thoughts & actions alone. While some of us tend to be more thought-oriented and others more focused on action, ultimately the “power to choose our response” is based on our consideration of the situation combined with what we actually do.

It turns out that even these two simple things aren’t completely in our control.

If you’ve ever attempted to meditate, the first thing you likely noticed is the incessant chatter of your brain. Your thoughts are never-ending and many of them seem foreign, confusing and self-destructive. Where are these thoughts coming from anyway? In meditation practice, your work is to disassociate yourself from your thoughts, allowing them to flow freely without attaching to them. This means that we really can’t control our thoughts, just how we relate to them.

And the action part of our response is equally questionable. Something like 80% of the actions & behaviors we engage in every day are automatic in nature. They are unconscious and unconsidered, which means they are controlled by habit, instinct & fear. Not by choice. Not by us.

In closing, the most important thing to understand is that behind every thought and action, there exists a self. This is you, and your job is to be present for your life. To pay attention, to know and live by your values, and to bring your purpose and intentions into your responses to make the most of the very little you can actually control and, if you don’t know what your purpose and your values are, now is the time to figure that out. That you can control.

About the Author / Tony Cooper
Tony instigates breakthrough performance for businesses through his fascination of playing the “game behind the game”. He brings out the best in business leaders by helping them simplify complicated issues and supporting them to gain new skills and insights quickly. Tony has been training, coaching, and consulting since 2002, serving his passion of supporting the entrepreneurial spirit. He graduated with distinction from Cornell University, earning a BS in Mechanical Engineering. In Tony's youth he was a nationally-ranked diver and Tae Kwon Do martial artist. And now after a lifetime of city dwelling, he is raising his family on a farm in Davis, California.