You Can't Control Everything | You Can Only Control Your Reaction

You might not be able to control everything that happens to you, but what you can control is how you react.06.05.24

photo of someone worrying too much

You Can Only Control Your Reaction

Acceptance has been the first step. Accepting what has already happened. Accepting that the past cannot be changed. Accepting that yes, it sucks. And finally accepting that it can get much worse before it can get better.

Life is a crapshoot every single day. It's so easy to get caught up in tiny, little, meaningless moments and have them snowball into a much bigger mess. What could be a simple acceptance, winds up being a load of anxiety that my fragile brain can't handle. Between financial stress, things unexpectedly needing repair, schedules, it's a constant stream of "stuff". And one of those little unexpected blips, can take up much more time than we think.

It's taken some time, but over the course of the past few years I've been slowly starting to learn to let go and accept what's in front of me, and instead of spending time worrying, I've been putting that energy towards figuring out a solution.

Most of life is out of our control. Yes you have control over getting up right now, and mosying to the kitchen to grab a snack. And yes you have control over what time you'll go to bed tonight. But maybe not...Maybe your sister calls you out of the blue, and asks for you to drive over to her place at 10:30pm. You have a really important work meeting in the morning and you wanted to get a good night sleep, but it's an emergency. Your sister needs you. You do have the choice to tell her no, but she has no one else to help her right now so you feel obliged. Your sleep is going to be compromised and that sucks. Instead of getting upset and letting your anxiety-brain start to take over, you can accept that this is the hand you've been dealt, and the only thing in your control is how you move forwar and react.

The Flow Chart For Acceptance

flow chart showing acceptance is always the end

We'll Figure It Out: A Story Of A Controlled Reaction

Lets backpedal and let me start with an example. It was about four years ago my wife and I took a trip overseas to Europe. We spent our first week in Lisbon and our second in Barcelona. The trip was nothing short of perfect. Beaches, wine, tapas, sunshine, history: the works. Upon leaving to head home we made sure to give ourselves a few extra hours in the airport to get ourselves situated. We get through initial security and of course we have to walk through the duty-free store to get to the terminals. Of course we grab a basket and start loading it up. Why not? We still have two hours at this point before our flight takes off. This is all tax free merchandise!

Time slips by, we keep browsing, and finally I check the time to see we have about fifteen minutes until boarding starts. Time to go. We hurry over to the checkout and settle up with the clerk. As we are rounding the corner to the terminals I'm telling my wife "We still have time but we are starting to cut it close here let's pick up the pace a little."

We turn the corner and boom. There is a line of about four hundred people smack dab in front of us. Sh*t. Of course we have to go through customs before we can get to our terminal. How could we be so stupid and naive thinking otherwise. Both of us have traveled abroad countless times, so this isn't new news. There are three windows open. Boarding now starts in about seven minutes. Our flight takes off in fifty. After customs we still have to get to the other side of the airport to our terminal. This is about to be a very very expensive mistake. Not to mention the fact that we will most likely be sleeping in the terminal overnight.

I let out a "Welp". My wife slowly turns her head around and I'll honestly never forget that look. She was looking at me like I was in the middle of the airport, stark-naked, and riding a unicorn. "Welp?" she asks? "What welp?? How can you possibly be this way??" Word vomit started pouring from her mouth going over the ten million reasons why we shouldn't be calm right now and how this is the worst possible thing that could have happened.

Need The Bad To Recognize The Good

Fact of the matter is though, we're helpless. What can we honestly do? It's like being stuck on the highway in bumper to bumper traffic. Noone is just magically teleporting there car out of that situation. You have to wait til the next exit. Why get anxious and worry about it? This is life. And life royally sucks sometimes, it's a part of it. I always tell myself without these terrible times, we'd never be able to identify the good times. You need the bad in order to be able to recognize the good. The good being lying across the ocean, on the beautiful beach depicted below. The bad being a few headaches along the way.

our trip to portugal, a photo of the beach
I'm expecting that we'll miss the flight. That's it. If we make it I'll be overjoyed, but right now in this moment, I'm not going to worry about it. I start to hum a tune. At this point, my wife is ready to toss me off a bridge. I turn to her and say "Listen, it's out of our control right? We f*cked up and all we can do is go with the flow. Even if we miss the flight we'll figure it out. Let's just see. No use in worrying it's completely out of our control." She takes a deep breath and seems to calm down a little. Fast forward we make it through customs, run to our terminal only to get pulled off to the side for a random-terrorist check. I'm laughing out loud thinking of her reaction to that, but that's for another time.

We wound up making the flight and everything was fine. We could have spent the next thirty minutes in that line though stressing, sweating, and cursing. What would the use have been? Nothing would have changed. The outcome is the outcome. Had we missed the flight, we would have had to just trust in ourselves and figure it out. Book a new ticket, if we wanted sleep find a cheap hotel. Maybe extend our credit card.

Invoking Change Through Self-Awareness

Now, all of this is easier said than done of course, there needs to be a plan to handle these types of situations. Learning to keep calm did not just happen over night. It was a process that took some time.

Being conscious of the triggering-event is the first step when trying to invoke a change.

Catching ourselves in real time and being able to identify the pattern is the starting point. If we want to make an actual change in a pattern behavior, we need to be able to recognize the scenario as it's unfolding. It's important to be conscious of the situation as it's unfolding and of yourself. Once you are aware of it, you can start to implement a change. Instead of spiraling into a hole of stress and worry, we use a coping mechanism.

Coming Up With A Coping Mechanism

Next step then is obviously coming up with that said coping mechanism. For me personally taking a deep breath is always the start. I then remind myself how I have little control over the situation. And then remind myself that I'm not a completely inept individual and I will be able to source a solution from somewhere. "It is what it is, I can accept it." Vocalize it.

1. Take a deep breath
2. Focus on what you can control: Your breathing
3. Remind yourself it's okay if you can't control everything
4. Reassure yourself that you will be able to figure it out

This all seems to be pretty straight forward but that's because it is. Sometimes in life the most basic solutions end up being the best. Emotions have the ability to take over our brain and blind us of reality. I learned this from years of working in a very stressful industry. When our emotions get heightened they can temporarily cloud our reason and logic. So it's important to bring them back down and calm ourselves in order to be able to think more clearly.

You Can Always Reach Out To Someone

And if all else fails you can always call someone close to you. Never be afraid to reach out to people. Something I have learned over time is people love helping, and even more so if they cherish your relationship. Whenever I have a friend who needs support I know it makes me feel special that they rely on me in their time of need.

Other Forms Of Stress Release

There are also other things you can do to help curb those feelings of impending doom that aren't necessarily tied to that immediate moment:

- Daily Exercise: Working out can be a great release
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Practicing relaxation and meditation
- Moderate your caffiene intake
- Limit alcohol intake
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Moderate your caffiene intake
- Professional help via therapy

Life Is Forever Unpredictable

I came across this ancient Zen teaching. I believe there is something powerful in it, something to meditate on:

“A farmer and his son had a beloved black stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, 'Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!' The farmer replied, 'We'll see.'

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a handful of wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, 'Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!' The farmer replied, 'We'll see.'

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, 'Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!' The farmer replied, 'We'll see.'

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, 'Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!' To which the farmer replied, 'We'll see.'

The End.

Final Thoughts: Life Is Too Short For Worry

This is not supposed to come off as insensitive because I know that for some it's inherent, the worrying and anxiety is impossible. But I also can understand how that feels, because for a long time that was me. It took time to learn how to not get overwhelmed and have more confidence in myself and my own capabilities.

No matter what life throws our way whether its good times or bad times we still never know what is directly around the corner from us. The more time we spend worrying about the things out of our control, the less we will make of what we can control. It's best to try and find coping mechanisms that work for you to help squash those worries and fears because ultimately life happens, it will be both bad at times, and good at times. All we can do is strap in and go for the ride.

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