Has living through the pandemic made you feel that you’ve lost control of your life? Are you frustrated with the endless restrictions? Fed up that life still hasn’t got back to normal? Worried that we might all be in lock down again come Christmas?
Then read on. I’ve got some suggestions to help you manage your frustrations and still enjoy your life. I’m going to show you how you can feel in control again, no matter what happens.
Levels of control
I have recently been reading a book by William B. Irvine which is about stoicism. I came across him on the app that I use for meditation called Waking Up. Bill Irvine is a philosopher and stoicism is a philosophy of life. Basically a way of living, which according to professor Irvine can lead to a good life.
Professor Irvine considers in some depth the concept of feeling in control. He breaks it down into three categories. Firstly, there are those things over which we have no control such as the pandemic, others over which we have complete control e.g. what we eat for breakfast and finally those where we have some control.
Let’s explore each of those in more depth…
In reality life is unpredictable, we just don’t want to think it is. It’s not until fate intervenes and reminds you that you aren’t in control that we realise we can’t influence a large part of what happens to us. The skill is in accepting that and building resilience so that when life throws you a curved ball you can pick yourself up again and move on. We all want to feel aggrieved when something bad happens and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but how much time, effort and emotional energy do you want to invest in that.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it is worth repeating – getting worked up about things you can’t change is pointless. It just leads to more frustration. Holding on to that frustration and brooding on it just prolongs the agony. Whatever has happened you can’t change it now. You don’t have any control. You didn’t choose it, but it has happened and accepting it and moving on will make it easier in the long run than spending time focusing on the unfairness of life.
I have seen small examples of this in people I’ve worked with. When the management introduce something new for us to do people spend so much time complaining about it, in fact more time than it takes to actually do the task asked of them. At the end of all of that frustration they are just back in exactly the same place they were when they started. I’m not advocating just accepting everything and never raising an objection where you can, but if you do that and hit a brick wall, don’t just keep running at it as after a while your head is going to start hurting.
Next there are situations where we can feel in complete control e.g. what clothes we decide to put on, who we marry, what career we choose. Whilst those will be influenced by some external factors such as how much money you have, who you meet and your academic capabilities we would all agree that to a large extent we have control in these areas.
Finally there are the areas where we can feel we have some control. For example, if we want to get promoted at work we don’t have complete control, as we are not the ones making the final decision. We can though do our best to influence the decision. We can work hard, be punctual, offer solutions to the organisation’s problems, be positive. If the decision doesn’t go in your favour at least you will know that you did your best. Ultimately you cannot control the behaviour of other people i.e. your boss, but you can control your behaviour.
Let me give you an example…
When the pandemic started, as for many others, my Pilates class ended and I was no longer able to engage in exercise by attending a weekly class at the local village hall. I was concerned that I couldn’t go anymore, but I had no influence over whether the class took place or not.
What I did have control over though was whether or not I exercised. Instead of complaining that the lockdown was preventing me from exercising I looked for an alternative. I found an online Pilates programme, joined that and now I do Pilates most days of the week. In fact, if the classes I used to attend ever start up again I wouldn’t go back as what I’ve found is actually better for me. It allows me to work out every day if I wanted to, I prefer this teacher to my old one and it is so much cheaper.
A lot of my class mates bemoaned the cancelling of the class, but were unwilling to try anything else in order to be able to exercise. As a result of the cancelled class they no longer exercise, and I expect blamed the fact that the class closed as the reason why they aren’t feeling so good anymore.
Stephen Covey, the author of the legendary book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ would call my classmates ‘reactive people‘ as they focus on circumstances over which they have no control. They blame things outside of themselves and a consequence of this is that they have increased feelings of victimisation. In other words, as Peter Crone aka the Mind Architect, would say, they have become a victim of their circumstances. What happens when you do this is that you handover power to external factors. You allow your circumstances to dictate your happiness.
So let’s go back to the pandemic and the restrictions that has put on our lives. When the pandemic started you couldn’t do anything about the fact that we all had to stay at home (unless you wanted to be fined by the police), and that may well be the case again.
As a consequence you couldn’t meet up with your friends and family, but you could organise regular Zoom calls to keep in touch. How amazing is it that we have this technology? One hundred years ago when the Spanish Flu pandemic hit the only way of keeping in touch would have been by letter or telegram. If you aren’t able to travel far from your home, focus on what you could enjoy by discovering what there is to see on a local walk. Think about places you’ve never explored. Google nature activities to do with the kids whilst you’re out walking.
It’s all about having a positive attitude. Making the best of the circumstances in which you find yourself and thinking outside of the box to find ways to do things differently. To change what you can change. There is always the option to feel that you are in control. You are in control of your own behaviour, even if it is just control over your thoughts about your circumstances. You do have a choice. A choice about how you respond and that can make all the difference between being happy and wallowing in self-pity when you find yourself somewhere that you don’t want to be.