How Much Can You Really Control?

Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience.
— Hunter S. Thompson

People make me laugh.

Control is an interesting thing. It’s interesting because when you realise how little you can control, things change. Your perspective takes a massive shift.

I can count on seeing a person getting unnecessarily angry over some matter that he/she cannot control today. Even though he/she has no control, they choose to get upset. This, not only upsets the lovely people who are living by default around them (unfortunately), but it further upsets them and their mood is defaulted to anger. The cycle continues until he/she is home, until it begins again the next day.

I’m an extremely benumbed person when shit hits the fan. I’m generally the calmest in the room. For two reasons:

  1. The influence Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had on me. Mr. Covey writes about the Circle of Influence we live in. Most people let external stimulus determine their frame of mind and therefore, their life. If you frame your life into the perspective of shifting your inner circle outwards — so controlling what you can — everything changes.

  2. Stoicism. The general teaching around stoicism is controlling — and fretting about — only the aspects of life you can control. Usually those aspects are your reactions to events. I tend to judge people on how they react to events outside their control. Traffic is unexpectedly bad this morning? It usually takes you 13 minutes to get to work, today, it’s looking more like 30 minutes. You become reactive. You start to shift your anger to the lovely people enjoying podcasts and good music next to you. You cut curves, pull fingers and become ‘that guy’ in traffic. All for what? You can’t control the fact that traffic is backed up. Maybe the universe is trying to show you the value in enjoying the moment. The value in being patient. When you stop and listen, the universe plays some melodic tunes in the form of self-discovery and understanding. Point is, trying to control the traffic is 99.9% a waste of your time and energy.

In the end, very little of what you do and say matters. It will all get lost in the abyss of eternity. To some, this may sound depressing, but I would argue it’s actually liberating. It means that you can focus your time and energy on matters that truly matter.

Your purpose, not the fact that you got the wrong order handed to you at Starbucks. Your community, not the fact that a taxi has cut in front of you. Your family and friends, not the negative co-worker.

Take back your control by controlling the matters you can control. Live by design. Look for pockets in your day, where you feel a rumble of negativity brewing, and try find the lesson. This helps a shit load.