Finding Control Amid the Uncontrollable

I have (accurately) been accused of having control issues. While I don’t think I am controlling of others, I do like to think that I can have an impact — some level of control — on whatever situation I may be faced with on a given day. For me, feeling like I can influence the circumstances before me brings a measure of calm amid the storm. It allows me to take thoughtful action to move through the challenges I need to face. With the many uncontrollable, unexpected situations that a leader may encounter, how can you gain a sense of control? Here are a few tips to consider:

Proactively control what you can.

Unexpecteds are a given. However, when you can be planful on the details you can anticipate, you have more bandwidth to respond to the things that you can’t. Create a schedule. Make a list. Delegate details. Embed prompts or reminders – either in human or electronic form. Doing these things allows you to empty the details from your mind. When you are using up space in your brain thinking, “I can’t forget to . . .” you have less capacity to respond the crisis du jour. When you instead leave room for the unexpected, you are much more likely to have a calm and effective response. And if the unexpected doesn’t happen, you have simply built in a bit of breathing room to enjoy the moment.

Slow down the pace.

When things seem to be falling apart around you . . . stop. Take a deep breath. Count backwards from 10 (or a higher number depending on the chaos of the situation). Stand up and stretch. Whatever you need to do to change the pace enough to get out of back brain — that fight/flight/freeze survival response hardwired into our bodies. When you are in back brain, you are not able to access the thinking part of your brain. As a leader, your people are looking to you for a thoughtful response. Slow down enough that you can access your wisest self where you can intentionally consider the next best step.

There are always things you can control. 

We tend to focus on all the things we can’t control instead of what we can. When people around you (or the voice in your head) are saying “there is nothing we can do about this,” intentionally ask yourself what you CAN do. There is always something. It might be as simple as to taking one step forward. It might be focusing on what you will achieve when (not if) you emerge on the other side of the current storm. It might be focusing on the strengths you and your organization possess to bring to the challenge before you, and the blessings that will sustain you even in the most difficult situations. There is always something.

Even in the midst of what seems like an uncontrollable situation, you always have a choice. Take control.

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