Whatever our circumstances, we always have control over at least one thing: how we perceive our own condition. Human beings have the ability to choose how we experience our lives, regardless of the specific situation. Yet many people don’t realize this important truth. Others who do recognize it don’t know how to exercise this control.

Often in work settings, people feel as though they have little or no influence over their situations. As a result, they may experience helplessness, despair, being overwhelmed, or frustration. If these feelings become ingrained, employees cannot possibly be engaged, motivated, or productive workers, and organizations cannot optimize their business results. Thus it’s in the best interests of all concerned for organizational leaders to step up and show that there are alternatives to what amounts to victimhood.

Recently I was talking with employees whose organization had relied on salary cuts, furloughs, and layoffs to help it remain viable during tough economic times. Many of these individuals expressed feelings such as fear, anxiety, worry, and concern - in short, they felt like their lives were out of control. To help them begin to see that they can make healthy choices and thereby re-gain a sense of personal control, I suggested that they identify and distinguish clearly between the things they can control and those they cannot. Here is one way to do this visually:

  1. Draw a big rectangle on a piece of paper.
  2. On the inside of the rectangle, write all the things you have control over (e.g., how you view your situation, who you associate with, the language you use, the choices you make, the degree of self-care you exercise).
  3. On the outside of the rectangle, write all the things over which you have no control (e.g., the economy, layoffs, furloughs). Be realistic!

Now think of the rectangle as a playing field, such as a soccer or football field. The players can only control what happens on the field; they cannot do anything about what’s going on outside its boundaries. To be successful, they must focus exclusively on what’s going on inside the field. The same thing is true of you: although you are aware of the outside forces, you cannot afford to let them disturb your concentration. Recognize that you cannot do anything about them, at least at this moment, and release them. Focus only on what’s on your field, namely the things that you can control. Then make healthy decisions about how you will deal with them so you can move forward productively.

I realize that suggesting that you release the things you cannot control may be easier said than done. After all, most people have had years of practice worrying about things they cannot possibly influence. For ideas about how to overcome those unhealthy habits, you may want to read our article How to Release Things You Cannot Control. For other suggestions, contact us!

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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