When We Try to Control Things That Are Out Of Our Control
The way in which we interact with life can bring us joy and success. It can also bring us suffering and pain. Sometimes, we don’t notice what it is that leads to joy and success, nor to pain and suffering. It seems to be the luck of the draw. What works for us in one situation does not always seem to work for us in other situations.
When we are constantly operating from pain and suffering, we become caught in a cycle where the reduced quality of our interactions causes suffering which, in turn, results in reduced quality of interactions. When we reduce the quality of our interactions, we remove the potential for living what we might think of as a good life. It can become a struggle for what we believe is “right”.
I wonder, as we fight for our truth in our interactions with others, whether we might be also fighting for control?
Circles of Control, Influence and Concern
Throughout our lives, we will encounter things that we can control, things that we can influence and things that may concern us but over which we have no control. A very simple example of this might be:
That which I can control – What I wear today
That which I can influence – What my husband wears today
That which I cannot control – The weather
We can apply this approach more broadly in our everyday interactions with life.
As an example of this, a few years back, I was working in a role that I loved, with an amazing manager. He left the organisation and a new manager came on board. My new manager and I did not hit it off. I wasn’t sure why, but every interaction with him felt like a challenge. Even the most innocent of actions on my part seemed to generate reactions in him that I didn’t expect. I couldn’t understand what was happening.
Applying the circles, they looked something like this:
That which I can control – How I am being, how I respond to situations, the work that I am doing, my mindset with regard to work, how I use my mindset at work.
That which I can influence – My relationship with my manager, my relationship with my staff, my relationship with my customer
That which I cannot control – The behaviours of my manager, the way in which my manager interprets situations
In this particular situation, I remember feeling quite frustrated. I was trying to do my job in a way that had worked fabulously with my previous manager. However, my new manager seemed to have assumed the worst of me. What I can see now is that much of my suffering in my interactions with this manager came from me unwittingly assuming that I could control aspects of the situation that were out of my control. I had, without realising, felt that I could control how he interacted with me, what would come of those interactions and so forth.
What I thought I could control or, what I wanted to control, was very different to what I genuinely could control.
What is it that leads us to feel as though we can control that which we can’t control? What would it be useful to shift so that how we are seeing the circles aligns with life?
The actions that we take in the world – including what we see as inside and outside of our control – are influenced by our way of being. What is that? I hear you ask.
Our way of being is the combination of what we are saying to ourselves (and others), what emotions we are operating from, and how we are holding these in our body. From our way of being, some actions are possible and some are not. We observe the world from our way of being, which means that we will interpret the world differently from different ways of being. When we see something as inside or outside our control, we are doing so from our way of being.
In the case of my situation with my manager, my way of being was centred in a strongly-held view that my manager was wrong and I was the victim. I held my manager being wrong as a truth. Because my way of being was cemented in a perception of “wrongness”, I thought that I could control this outcome – “right” would prevail. It took me a while to realise that there was no right and wrong in this situation. When I was able to do that, I was able to shift who I was being in the world – I was no longer the guardian for “right”.
What was interesting was that once I shifted how I was viewing the world and, in particular, how I was viewing my manager, I was able to see what was within my circles of control, influence and concern. And, once I could see what was in each of these circles, I could look at what way of being would enable me to accept those circles (at that point in time).
When we understand what appears able to be controlled, able to be influenced and of concern to us, we can start to look at how we grow our circle of influence so that we can increase our proactiveness in the world.
Bringing it All Together
Different ways of being make different actions and behaviours available to us, meaning that we observe the world differently from different ways of being. If we can understand the way of being from which we are operating, we can understand how we are seeing ourselves with regard to our circles of control, influence, and concern. And, if we can understand how we are seeing the circles, we can understand how we can accept those boundaries and, eventually grow or shrink them as appropriate.