does what you control matter? does it matter what you control?


If you were shown the picture above and asked where it is that you spend the majority of your time, where would you point?

Worry seems to be a state of mind that so many of us face on a weekly, daily or even on a moment-by-moment basis. And so much of worry seems inherently connected to control. There was a time in my life that I believed that if I just worried enough I could prevent control bad things from happening. It was only later that I began to learn how to embrace the quote that says “worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.” I know that this is a powerful message for many because when I posted it to the intentionista facebook page, the statistics showed that it reached hundreds of people…far more than any other to date.

In my decade of worrying, I learned the hard way that with increased responsibility, comes the increased opportunity for worry. And as many leaders say, “Sometimes, it can be lonely at the top.” As the CEO of a nonprofit organization, I worried about our people (staff, board, volunteers, donors), processes (finance, pr and marketing, revenue, human resources and programs), and outcomes (mission and impact) as well as a myriad of other things. I learned that there is a balance to be found between anticipation and preparation and worry. Fortunately, I was balanced by other insightful souls who were able to complement my thinking.

Ultimately, I learned that in order to stay healthy, I had to strive for balance in this concept-as in all aspects of life. Worry affects the body as well as the mind. Worry can affect appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, and sleep-ultimately shaping every aspect of our lives. It is the reason that there are best-selling books on worry, fear adrenal fatigue the stress syndromes of the twenty-first century. Interestingly enough, I find that my leadership role fostered similar challenges to staying at home. There are still plenty of opportunities to worry and I still need to be with people who complement my thinking. 

When you really break the concept of worry down, it is primarily manifested when we are dealing with any issue that has an unknown outcome. And if we break it down further, worry typically connects with other people. We worry about what other people think, how they feel, what they do, how they act, what they say and how these things affect us.

It’s apparent that humans are not very good at dealing with unknown outcomes, particularly related to others…but the biggest issue is that we actually think we are good at it. I will never forget the day that I was talking with my counselor about a relationship that I was very concerned about and she said, “It’s interesting, Erin, that you think you have the power to control this situation.” I walked away feeling hurt and angry. And it hurt badly because I never wanted to be a person rooted in control.  I was angry because she was right. However, once I opened my eyes to the reality of the situation, I realized that the outcome of this particular situation was purely based on the actions of another person. And I was wanting to change them. And I couldn’t.

We worry about other people to the point that we nearly forget about ourselves….and interestingly enough, it is with ourselves that our focus should be…

We think that we can control more than we can, and we cannot. We cannot control how others see, do or think anything. And if we think we can, we are not authentic in our interactions. What we CAN control is ourselves. 

In The Seven Laws of the Harvest: God’s Proven Plan for Abundant Life, by John Lawrence, he shares a powerful set of statements:

WE CANNOT CONTROL the length of our life, but we can control its width and depth.

WE CANNOT CONTROL the contour of our countenance, but we can control its expression.

WE CANNOT CONTROL the other person’s annoying habits, but we can do something about our own.

WE CANNOT CONTROL the distance our head is above the ground, but we can control the height of the contents we feed into it…

We can control where we spend our time, who we spend it with, what we do, how we do it, what we say, how we say it and how we show up to the world. Whether we are the CEO of an organization or the CEO of our household or the CEO our life, we can be focused inward and have much greater impact than focusing outwardly and worrying about other people.

Rumi said is so perfectly, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

There are things we can control AND there are things that matter. If we can focus our energies on the space where these two important concepts converge, we will be wiser, calmer and happier.

Here are a few of my favorites from the list of  50 Things you CAN Control Right Now, taken from Tiny Buddha:

1. How many times you smile today.
2. How much effort you exert at work.
3. Your level of honesty.
5. How you act on your feelings.
6. How often you say “thank you.”
7. When you pull out your wallet for luxuries.
8. Whether or not you give someone the benefit of the doubt.
9. How you interpret situations.
10. Whether or not you compete with people around you.
11. How often you notice and appreciate small acts of kindness—they’re everywhere!
12. Whether you listen or wait to talk.
13. When you walk away from a conversation.
14. How nice you are to yourself in your head.
17. The type of food you eat.
19. How much time you spend worrying.
20. How many new things you try.
21. How much exercise you get.
24. How much time you spend trying to convince people you’re right.
25. How often you think about your past.
27. The attention you give to your loved ones when you see them.
28. How much you enjoy the things you have right now.
29. Whether or not you communicate something that’s on your mind.
30. How clean or uncluttered you keep your space.
31. What books you read.
33. How deeply you breathe when you experience stress.
34. How many times you admit you don’t know something—and then learn something new.
35. How often you use your influence to help people instead of focusing on building your influence.
36. When you ask for help.
37. Which commitments you keep and cancel.
40. How clear you are when you explain your thoughts.
42. How much information you get before you make a decision.
43. How much information you share with people.
45. Whether or not you judge other people.
47. How much of what other people say you believe.
49. How many times you say “I love you.”

Enjoy! And don’t worry so much. 


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