Resilience; You can’t Change everything so Focus on what You Control
Throughout the years, I’ve realized that one of my most significant powers comes from focusing on what I can control and making the best of what I can’t control.
- Years ago, a doctor made a mistake while attempting to fix my feet. A second surgeon confirmed this and suggested I live with it rather than attempt further surgeries. My feet hurt every day and change yearly. I can’t change my feet but can mitigate my pain through orthotics and carefully chosen flat shoes.
- My father died of Lewy body dementia. I could control how I interacted with my father but couldn’t control how he acted or his disease’s progression.
- While caring for my father, my ears began ringing. Now I have constant ringing in my ears. There is no cure for this. I have learned to live with it.
2020 has wholly reaffirmed my recognition of what I do and don’t have control over. Like many of you, my work ended abruptly with COVID. As a speaker, I present to large audiences throughout the country. Obviously, my work has shut down.
I do have control over creating a studio and performing virtual presentations. Due diligence and lots of practice have made my virtual performance exceptionally well received. That’s good. But I have no control over when my live keynotes will begin again.
My commitment to recognizing what I can and can’t change is a significant cornerstone in Stoicism’s ancient philosophy. Stoicism gives us tools that will make us more resilient, wiser, more virtuous, and even happier when applied.
Stoicism and just rational thinking point out that the root cause of emotional suffering comes from worrying about things outside of our control.
Will I get the promotion?
Is this this plane going to crash (once airborne)?
Why are my hips so wide?
Will my adult child text me back?
Giving power to things we have no control over is the cause of mental and emotional suffering. Worrying over circumstances or events we cannot change is not only a waste of time; it is a painful waste of time.
Instead, we need to focus on what we do have control over. We have control over our perception and our actions. In other words, we can decide how to interpret an event, what it means to us, and how we want to react to said event. We control whether our action (response) to that event is honorable or corrupt, noble or lowly, good or bad.
After that, nothing else is under our control. We can’t control the weather, other people’s actions, our health, and body. Frankly, we can’t control anything or everything else that happens around us.
You may object by saying, “I can control my body through diet and exercise.” But these are behaviors. Yes, you can jog fifty miles a week, but this won’t affect your height, the size of your feet, or the color of your eyes. There are things about our bodies we don’t control.
Some things are up to us, and some things are not.
Change your Focus
Alcoholics Anonymous embraces this philosophy through the first lines of the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
A person suffering from alcoholism cannot return to the past to change the pain they caused themselves or others. He can’t un-drink the alcohol. Instead, he can accept the past and focus on changing the present and the future by making better everyday choices.
Remember the story of William Tell? A cruel Sheriff forced him to shoot an apple off his son’s head. Stoics used the archer metaphor to illustrate their fundamental belief of focusing on what you control.
William Tell focused on the apple, drew his bow, aimed, and fired. But he couldn’t control the wind, that may have blown the arrow off course. He had no control over his son, who may have moved his head in fear. Once the arrow left his bow, he had no more control. His only choice was to wait and see what happens.
Tell could do his very best up until the arrow left his bow. But ultimately, whether he hit the apple or killed his son was not in his control.
This story is a metaphor for the same control we have in our everyday life. We can prepare, choose our intentions and our response, but ultimately, the outcome depends on variables outside our control.
Years ago, I worked with a difficult person. She was rude, demanding, and lazy. Multiple complaints to management did nothing. I realized I had three choices.
- I could avoid her as much as possible.
- Or could approach her saying, “I’ve been thinking about it, and If you could change your personality, it would really help me out.”
- Lastly, I could decide not to let her bother me. I can also respond to her poor behavior according to my personal ethics and values.
COVID is a significant problem in our country. I wear a mask, socially distance, and wash my hands. However, I cannot control other people who choose differently.
While I cannot control when live speaking events appear, I can develop new stories and research to make my programs even better.
Whether you are dealing with a crabby co-worker, the effects of COVID, an angry teenager or unpopular changes at work, your first step to resilience is recognizing what you can and can’t control.
Focus on what you do have control over, then make the best out of what you cannot control.
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