Controlling the Controllables

I’ve found myself the most annoyed and drained emotionally lately when I worry or stress about the things I really have no control over.  Someone said something ridiculous on social media.  The weather has ruined the lake day we had planned.  Someone responds negatively to something I’m doing.  I’m so over it!  I can’t do anything about it.  I was taught years ago to control the controllables.  So this blog post is about controlling what we perceive we can.  (And also a way to re-teach myself as I write it.)

Do you find yourself also wasting time and energy complaining or obsessing over things out of your control?  Or worse, do you find yourself playing victim or making excuses when you actually can do something about it?  There are so many things we cannot control, but three areas we can.  Lets concentrate on the three:  our time, our effort, and our attitude.

1. Our time.  We all know everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day to accomplish things and that most of us waste a good portion of ours.  What can you do about the past?  Nothing.  (Why do I obsess over it then?  You should look into my highlight reel I have playing the second my head hits the pillow at night and keeps me up…)  What can you do with the time you have moving forward?  Everything.  But we have to schedule it.  I had gotten away from a paper calendar where I would schedule every hour of the day.  I would take time every Sunday night to map out every hour of my week.  And I built a successful insurance business doing this.  When I left my career, I didn’t feel like I needed it as much.  I suddenly had all this extra time on my hands and wasn’t getting anything accomplished.

If you want something done, you usually give it to a busy person.  Why?  Because they HAVE to schedule their time and be efficient.  I will always remember a conversation I had with another mom.  She spent most of the hour-long conversation talking about how little time she had.  I kept thinking, “Well, maybe if you just got to the point you’d have more time!”  Seriously, if you want control over your schedule, schedule your time.  Every minute of it.  When you meditate.  When you eat and sleep.  When you work.  When you spend time with family and friends.  It’s those undocumented hours that are spent watching mindless tv or scrolling social media.  If you find yourself being busy, you can look to your calendar.  Control your time and you will control your stress level.  I’ve started back up with my weekly game plan and it’s been crazy seeing how much more I get done by just checking things off my list and not thinking about doing them for hours.

IMG_3822I use a Weekly Game Plan like this – simple but effective for time management.

2.  Our effort.  I remember watching Will Smith play a homeless man in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.  He had just gotten an unpaid internship with an amazing company to get new investing clients.  If he did a good job, it would result in an amazing career for him.  He had to optimize his time because he also had another straight-commission job that was “paying” his bills.  He figured out that every time he physically hung up the phone in the cradle it wasted time, so he would just click the hook with his finger and keep the phone in his hand.  (Remember when phones were like that?!?!)  He had to optimize his effort, and so do we.  By making more calls he got more conversations.  With more conversations comes more closed sales.  We can control our efficiency and what we do with the time we have.  Emergencies come up that need to be handled, but how long do we need to spend on non-urgent and unimportant tasks?  If you aren’t happy with your results, look at your effort.  And change accordingly.

3. Our attitude.  My Instagram feed is full of inspiring quotes from people I follow.  Attitude goes beyond positive thoughts.  Attitude is a belief that what you are spending your time and effort doing will work out and is aligned with your strengths and purpose.  I have always struggled with my attitude.  Controlling the physical things are easier for me.  Study 5 hours?  Sure!  Run 20 miles for training?  Check.  Keep your head up after hearing 30 no’s in sales calls?  What?!?!?  We can’t control what happens to us but can control how we respond.

I know I haven’t handled myself the best in the past when stressed out and things have gone wrong.  I’ve cried.  I’ve had stern and nasty things to say to people I felt wronged me.  It’s in those moments when we learn how we don’t want to respond to negative situations.  As we all grow and mature, we learn that how we respond says more about who we are than what actually happened.  Playing the victim, getting revenge, and escalating the situation all sound like they would FEEL good, but don’t help us get anywhere.  And yet, people do this all the time.

And since I’ve become a parent I see this third point as one of the most important things I can teach my kids.  We recently took a family vacation and my husband and I didn’t communicate on who was in charge of directions.  He printed out directions for our 10 hour road trip, and I had assumed they were to our hotel.  He didn’t know where our hotel was and assumed I had that.  No directions and we had to rely on GPS.  Turns out our phones didn’t get reception in the mountains and we got lost.  We didn’t scream or panic – we simply asked for directions (twice!) and got to our hotel.  And this was a slight miracle because I HATE getting lost.  I once threw an atlas at the windshield when we got lost in Northern California and were late to a meeting (in 2005 so cut me some slack.)  But we knew we were fine – and that we would find the hotel.  We got an extra scenic tour in….and once we got to the hotel, made a beeline for the restaurant and ordered a few drinks.  We controlled what we could and learned that maybe planning a little better next time will benefit our marriage. 🙂


This was the dead-end road our phones were telling us to take.  Not taking the road less traveled this time iPhone, not this time.

To bring this whole blog post home, I just want all of you to know that I’m working on these principles.  And I hope that you can also take a pause next time something doesn’t go your way and take some time to think about what you can control.  And do something about that.

(Family photo taken by Tracy Walsh photography.)

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