We face struggles, so we try to control the uncontrollable, but this brings even more stress. Better to stay in the zone of what we can control – ourselves.
It was out of my control. The decision on how they would treat me was beyond my control.
Have you ever been in that situation?
You are at the mercy of other people’s judgment of you.
We see it all the time in the legal system. The defendant awaits the decision of the judge.
Everyone in the courtroom has an opinion, but none of those opinions matter because the judge sitting in their seat of power has the final say. Guilty or innocent.
But we are all judges to some degree. We all make judgments about various people.
We are presented with evidence, and we weigh it against our own experience and values. We pronounce a verdict.
It’s a verdict that we will hold on to until we are presented with more evidence.
Then we have to retry the defendant and of course, because we have already made a judgment changing our opinion involves an acknowledgment that we had got it wrong.
‘Know me before you judge me’ is a line from a Mental Health promotion we had here in New Zealand many years ago, but how many of us are genuinely willing to get in the ditch of another life and know the story that shaped the soul.
Who or what are you trying to control?
I want to control certain situations and some people. Because I know best. In my human pride, I think I know best about how things should work out.
So I manipulate, deceive and lie to try to get the outcome I want.
We all do it. We want to control the other person or the situation so that it goes well for us.
We have this “turned/curved inward on oneself” bias. In Latin, it is ‘Incurvatus in se.’ It’s like a gravitational pull affecting everything I do.
I want people to like me, so I present a certain reality that I think people will find attractive. I want to control the narrative of what they think about me.
It’s foolishness because you can’t control another person’s opinion.
You can influence it, and indeed, the politicians and pop stars know what techniques to use, but in the end, people will think what they think.
Love, hate, or indifference.
And so much stress is generated when we try and control the story when we have ulterior motives that aren’t self-sacrificial to the pure benefit of others.
I am convinced that some people, often without knowing it, want to treat others like hand puppets. The hand goes up inside the puppet and manipulates the person to do whatever the puppeteer wants.
Or it’s the ‘strings attached’ version of a puppet. They pull you this way and that through various means of overt or covert manipulation.
Why do we want to be in control? Because we want a safe world that complies with meeting our needs, our way.
I want to control you, and especially I want to control God because I have needs that aren’t being met my way in my time.
I think of Jesus.
He could have controlled the uncontrollable.
With all that divine superpower, Jesus could have controlled the uncontrollable – us.
He could have snapped his fingers and made his followers do exactly what he wanted, but he wasn’t a dictator.
Instead of demanding mindless loyalty, he said to some fishermen, ‘ Come, follow me.’
When on the cross, he let the crucifiers have their way. He even prayed to forgive them ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’
There was a bigger story going on here that nobody could understand. We even struggle with it today.
Christ’s security was found in something greater than the opinions and judgments of others.
Circles of control, influence, out of my control
Let’s think about what we can control, what we can influence, and what is out of our control – uncontrollable. This is based on Stephen Coveys Circles of Influence.
The inner circle is what we can control. The middle circle is what we can influence but can’t control. The outer circle is what we can’t control.
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The question to answer is how much focus time do you spend in each circle?
Where you focus is where you will go.
What I focus on gets me.
Focus on the negatives/ challenges will always take me down
Focus on the positive/good things will always give me hope.
Anxious and depressed people spend a lot of time dwelling and ruminating in the circle of what they can’t control.
The depressed ruminates on the past with the Mr. Could Have and Mrs. Should Have.
The anxious frets with Mr. Might Happen and Mrs. What If. Often we pendulum swing between the two.
Centredness brings us to a place of what is within our control and what we can influence. It’s a place of mindful awareness of the now.
Jesus teaches me to focus on what is within my control and to use it in a healthy way for where I can influence.
Very rarely did he step into the zone of the humanly uncontrollable.
But wouldn’t we like to have that miracle power and change what is beyond our control? We pray for it, but healthy, mindful people stay in the inner circle and leave the miracles up to God.
The one thing you have control of
It’s raining outside as I write these words. I have work to do outdoors and wanted it to be fine, but I have no control over the weather.
I want to find the weather tap and turn it on and off according to my desires. I even pray for this at times.
Then again, when it’s hot and dry, I pray for rainy days like this one is going to be.
I can’t control the weather, but I can control my response to it. Will I dance in the rain or drown in it?
Will I wear a coat and think of all the water filling the vast reservoirs below my feet or will I soak in grumpiness at getting wet?
I sit within a room of straight lines. The doors, windows, and desk are all neat and straight. I find order according to a kind of safety and familiarity. I know where everything is, and I am secure.
But I step into nature, and it’s round, curved, and irregular. There is a kind of disordered beauty.
This world, and especially others, are more curved than straightforward.
If I am honest with myself, I am more curved and jelly wobbly in my life than straightforward, exact, and in control.
Others want to control me. To put me in a box of categories so they will feel safe and secure. To march me under precise parade ground orders, but I want to dance a combination of Disco, Waltz, and some Morris dancing for good measure.
Truly, the only thing I think I am in control of is my response to you and the world around me.
Even then, my body is fragile that when put under stress, my brain may become so unwell that its cognitive functions lose connection to reality.
Ask anyone who has had psychosis about the loss of control, and you realize that there is a fragility to our lives that should sober us up to a need for humble prayer.
How much stress do you have from trying to control others? How much stress do you have from others trying to control you?
Take responsibility for what is within your control, and you will find the stress load begins to fall off.
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Quotes to consider
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.
- When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl
- Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor Frankl
- Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.
Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.
Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions—in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing. Epictetus
- At the head of all understanding – is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change. Solomon ibn Gabirol (11th-century Jewish philosopher)
- Blessed is he, who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity, what he cannot save. Friedrich von Schiller
- Stay in your own territory. Do all that you can do, but leave the miracles to God. David Riddell
- Don’t try to change others, work on yourself instead. Your response to others is always your responsibility, and the right response ensures respect all around. David Riddell
Questions to answer
- Which circle do you tend to spend the most time in?
- We want miracles – the uncontrollable to be in our control, but how much stress does this induce in our bodies?
- Who do you spend the most time with – Mr. Could Have and Mrs. Should Have or Mr. Might Happen and Mrs. What If?