Updated: Nov 14, 2021
In her catchy little book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, Amy Morin lists common tendencies that the average person is prone to engage in. One of the things that mentally strong people don't do, according to Morin, is to focus on things they cannot control.
In order to reduce anxiety, many people try to control as many aspects of their lives as is humanly possible. The experience of anxiety in itself is unmanageable, so instead, they will try to control their environment. Ironically, trying to maintain complete control actually leads to heightened anxiety. The false belief that everything is under your control can lead to the distorted impression that you are directly responsible when things don't go according to plan.
An important fact to remember is that there are multiple situations where we have very limited control. Much to our dismay, we cannot control the actions and behaviors of other people. We can definitely have a positive influence by being a good listener making suggestions, and leading by example, but in the end, we cannot directly change how others think or behave. The sooner we recognize this fact, the less time we will waste trying to change people and instead accept them for who they are.
There are many other things in our environment that occur over which we have no control. As the saying goes, "life happens while we are busy making other plans." we cannot change the weather, we cannot change unexpected illness, and very sadly, we cannot prevent the death of a loved one.
As we recognize our limited control over certain situations, we can gradually learn to loosen our grip and let go of them. Acceptance of our limitations opens the door to a calmer, more balanced life. Terry Fox is a good example of how to let go of what is beyond our control. He could not control the fact that he lost his leg to osteosarcoma, but he valiantly focused on what he DID have control over.
I find that there is no better reminder of the acceptance of what we have no control over than the serenity prayer, which has been used by AA for many decades: "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."
When we stop trying to control every minute detail of our life, we will have more energy to focus on the those aspects that we DO have control over.