What’s on Our Minds: A Balanced Approach to “Controlling What You Can Control”

Controlling what you can control is an important part of building resilience because when we face adversity, believing that how we respond will make a difference helps us to cope with stress. But being in control of certain things does not mean we need to be in control of everything, especially all of the time. We also need to be mindful not to turn accountability into rigidity.

It’s easy to see how trying to find a way to gain more control over a situation somehow morphs into thinking it is the only way to do something. If that happens, we may be less likely to be self-compassionate, tolerant, and open to honest self-reflection. We might even slip into people pleasing, perfectionism, and self-criticism. And all of these are more aligned with anxiety than resilience.


Why It Matters


Turning a desire to take things into our own hands into an excessive need to control things can take a productive activity and turn it into a damaging one. It’s also important for us to consider how our newly found resolve to do something differently may affect other people.

We know a number of people struggle with achieving a more desirable weight.  Generally speaking, nutritional planning and physical activity are in most people’s control. However, it’s a delicate balance between eating the right quantity and quality of foods and getting an appropriate amount of activity to reach our goals, without overdoing it. Beating ourselves up over a “cheat meal,” exercising for hours on end, and chastising people we live with for bringing foods into the house on the “do not eat list” can spin our control-what-you-can-control intentions out of control. Over time, this can eat away at our energy, attitude, commitment, and our relationships.


Something to Think About


Resilience entails optimizing our situation by working to positively influence our outcomes. Choice here is key. There may come a point when a choice we are making becomes more of a burden or a chore. At its worst, an “at any cost” mentality can isolate us from others and limit the flexibility of our thinking.

The big take-away: We all slip up and fail to control the controllables sometimes (think unforced errors in tennis).  When that happens, recognize it—and use that recognition as a catalyst to not repeat the mistake the next time it presents itself.

Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.

- Tony Dungy, former NFL Coach