The idea of ‘control’ in Life is a very appealing one. It would be nice to know the outcome of the decisions and plans you make today, without having to actually wait until tomorrow to see how things turned out. But that’s not the way life works. Something happens. You do something in response. Something else happens as a result. Time is a construct that keeps everything from happening at once.
If they could, most people would prefer to have some kind of control over their lives. If they could, most people would opt for the ability to control the behavior of others, including strangers, spouse, children, and co-workers. If everyone had everything just the way they wanted, life would glide along smoothly, we believe; the day’s work would flow quickly by, income would pile up in the bank account, your children would make all As, and they’ would never try drugs or alcohol. That jerk in the left lane would never think of cutting you off, Wall Street would never cheat, and so on. Life would be ideal. Or would it? If you got everything you wanted, scarcity theory dictates that someone else did not. And they are likely to be upset about it.
There are some who seem have an obsession with the notion of control, becoming jealous and unreasonably demanding with all their relationships, in their insistence on determining the actions, behaviors, and feelings of others. Everything must have their approval, decisions made and actions taken by everyone around them must meet the controlling persons’ expectations, or there will be you-know-what to pay.
Trying Everything But What Actually Works
The notion of having control over your life is still one many people embrace, even though they are constantly going about it the wrong way. They mistakenly believe that their life would be better if only their control of others was absolute. If only others would only follow the script they provide. If only life were fair. The sooner we realize that this is impossible, the sooner we can get into really guiding our lives in the way we’d like them to go, developing the only kind of control over our lives that is worth having.
It is possible to have a positive control over your life. In fact, it is really possible to have control over only one thing on earth – the only thing you can be sure to have any influence over – yourself. It may not be as glamorous or exciting as the continual drama involved in manipulating the behavior of everyone around you, but positive control can pay off in other ways, improving physical, mental, and emotional resilience to manage all the “slings and arrows that flesh is heir to.”
You choose positive control when you decide you want to improve the quality of your life, your health, and your ability to do things, feel happy, in short, to enjoy life. In truth, that is what we all long for, even though we may have forgotten, in our self-determined race to create and accumulate more, bigger, and better. This is, after all, man’s creativity at work; you cannot blame humankind for its inventions; they are the natural outcome of the curiosity and ingenuity of humans. Such creativity has run rampant, however, and the result is the worship of the convenient, when the true value in life lies in self-mastery.
So, the idea of gaining a Positive Control over your own life gives rise to the idea of relaxing, doing your best, letting go of the end result, and above all, respecting others to do the same for themselves. Positive control means we minimize our judgment of others and put the focus on ourselves. In addition, the methods of achieving such control are almost as many and varied as the users themselves.
Here are three truths that people would be wise to apply to life:
- Change is constant.
- You cannot control anyone else.
- You can only control yourself.
In that little list is a prescription for how to deal with life and the things that happen. Your response to events is the only thing that is in your control, and how you prepare yourself for the reality of stress in your life will determine how you deal with it, and whether you thrive on it, capitalizing on opportunities that come your way, or succumb to illness and difficulties as you face life’s challenges.
Steps to Gaining Positive Control over Your Life
First thing, take a health inventory, for you and your family. Writing down your health issues, and even those of your parents or siblings, focuses your attention on issues you may not realize are keeping you from optimal health and happiness. After all, if positive control does not lead you straight to health and happiness, what good is it anyway?
Tools You Can Use
FamilyHistory.hhs.gov is great interactive a tool from the Surgeon General that lets you develop a health picture of the family you come from. Another great site for info is http://www.whf.org/my-health/personal-health-information-family-health-history from the Washington state’s Healthiest State in the Nation website. (Vermont is the winner this year.) Download both the personal and the family health histories. Both these sources offer excellent ways to really get a handle on your possible health challenges.
Assess Your Stress
Stress is what happens when anything in the outside world affects you, from weather to divorce, so it is important to realize that you cannot avoid stress. Stress is part of everything that happens to you. It is impossible to get away from stress – even on a desert island, there’s some stress, surely. Hard to imagine, but, surely.
If you were thinking that you weren’t really that stressed, or if you don’t even recognize the types of stress you are under, you are not alone. Most people do not recognize stress and its effects until it is too late, and the stress has worn down a significant body system and they’ve got a disease or condition that could end their life. That’s usually the time when most people begin to notice and try to do something about the stress levels in their lives.
A well-known tool for self-assessment of stress levels was developed in 1976 by Thomas H. Holmes, MD, of the Department for Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences from the School of Medicine at the University of Washington, in Seattle. It is known as a Schedule of Recent Experience, or SRE, and gives a certain point value to each of 42 typical life experiences. The higher your score on this list, the higher your chances of becoming ill. When answering the questions, note how many times the stressor happened to you (but if more than 4 times, just go with 4.) Later, you’ll multiply the number of times by the assigned point value. For example, the first question deals with “A lot more or a lot less trouble with the boss.” The assigned value for each occurrence, up to four, is 23.
The most stressful event, according to the Schedule of Recent Experience, is the death of a spouse, and the value for that is 100. The very least stressful event noted is a minor law violation, like getting a ticket for jaywalking, and that comes in at 11. Adding up all the possible stressors in your life, including improvement or deterioration in your financial state, taking a vacation, or getting fired, married, or divorced is a good predictor of possible illness. Everything has its stress, and if you were to take this inventory, you would begin to get an idea of the stress you are facing. Any attempt to gain positive control over your life includes being aware of the stress factors that have effect on you. There are many copies of this copyrighted form available on the Internet. You might check here to download your own copy.
We desire control because we desire to avoid the unpleasantness of stress. The results from applying the Schedule of Recent Experience to your own life will convince you that you cannot avoid stress. However, the only state in which you can reasonably expect not to experience any stress at all is – when you’re dead!
How Do You React to Stress?
Next, assess your typical reactions to stress. Putting things down in black and white has a powerful effect on behavior. There are a number of excellent resources for self-evaluation of stress symptoms, again on the Internet, to help you begin this conversation with yourself. Look at such pages as here, here or here. Those checklists can help you achieve a greater awareness of your typical responses to stress, as well as indicate areas that you might like to improve.
Coping Mechanisms – the Good, the Bad, and the Ineffective
So, you have stress; how you are adapting to it? Maybe you’re eating more comfort foods, or watching old movies and crying on the sofa, perhaps drinking, smoking, driving too fast? These are all ineffective methods of coping with stress as they are either a) dangerous to you or others, and b) do nothing to strengthen your ability to cope with normal challenges and difficulties of life.
Realize that methods for coping with stress vary widely, from self-care methods like exercising and learning to breathe effectively, to eating as a means to fuel your body for activity rather than as reward or comfort. These two aspects of self-care, eating right and exercising, are core, and others build onto and enhance their value.
Do One Thing Differently
Figure out a few behaviors that you can be willing to change. Pick out one or two healthful activities to try at a time. This is so you won’t feel overwhelmed at a change to what will ultimately be a completely different way of life. The thing is to trick the body into starting to feel more energetic, more like its old self again, and, theoretically at least, increasingly healthy habits will begin to seem like what you want to do. Instead of doughnuts, for example, you’ll become drawn to jicama.
A Little Exercise Couldn’t Hurt
If you’ve been sedentary, commit yourself to little walk to the end of the street and back, once a day. How hard is that? Not at all. And it’s right there, ready for you anytime the weather permits, and you can do it again and again. If you commit only to the once a day walk to the corner and back, there will come a time when you will feel like going beyond the stop sign. After awhile, you might find yourself jogging. Then, who knows? The Boston Marathon, perhaps.
If you are competitive you can compete with a co-worker, spouse or friend for who walks the most using a tool like Fitbit. Many cell phones also track steps. For a person to aspire to being a serious athlete consider an app like Strava.
You Are What You Eat
The story of food throughout human history has been a chronicle of humanity’s control over what they put into their mouths. Up until about 50 years ago, we ate what we grew, caught, or shot ourselves. As our personal responsibility for day-to-day nutrition has been increasingly given over to big corporations, our personal control has increasingly become lost. To regain positive control in the area of nutrition, follow a few simple guidelines: eat whole foods as much as you can, stay away from heavily processed foods, like sugar and white flour. Make it your policy to avoid eating anything that comes in a box. Experiment with spices and low-fat cooking methods; you will lose weight naturally, and avoid the dangers of obesity and diabetes.
Affirmations, or Telling it Like it Is
Positive control of your life leaves aside any manipulation of others, and focuses on improving your ability to withstand stress. It sometimes includes a healthy kind of mind control, where you practice convincing yourself of your worthiness or imagining in detail the achievement of your goals. The mind is a powerful tool, and a terrible thing to waste either on mindless pursuits or on trying to control other people. The mind is a remarkable ally in any kind of self-improvement program you attempt. Many methods exist.
Shakti Gawain‘s bestseller, Creative Visualization, brought into public awareness the power of using your thoughts to manifest your desires. According to her, “An affirmation is a strong, positive statement that something is already so.”
Thus, the important elements of creating affirmations for your own life are:
- Positivity – Often we think of the things we do not want and try to make them into affirmations. “I will stop eating too much” does not work as well as “I am at a healthy weight for me.” Can you see why?
- Strong – “I’d like to be” is not nearly as powerful as “I am.”
- Already so – The tendency to put off good things into the future pushes off accomplishment until “someday.” With an affirmation, you state that the thing you want is already yours, in the here and now. Because, guess what? The future becomes the present moment, in just no time at all.
Another remarkable way to use affirmations can be found in the work of Louise Hay, a pioneer in the use of positive words to ourselves, to heal our lives, and make everything in our lives more honest and effective. Her website, offers a daily affirmation on an uncluttered page, inviting you to rest a moment, take in the affirmation (today’s offering is “I see with love and hear with compassion”) and bring it to mind during the day. The idea works on you to bring you into harmony with your life and those around you.
An affirmation is meant to be salted into your consciousness by repetition, in times of relaxation and meditation, as well as in times of stress. Some who practice affirmations swear by the technique of posting their affirmations on the bathroom mirror or any place else likely to be seen. The use of a healing, positive subtext for your day sure beats a litany of regret and resentment, don’t you agree?
Learn how you feel and how your lifestyle is affecting you. Find an attractive hardbound blank book and start recording things that you do and think about, things that happen to you, just noticing what’s ‘so’ in your life. Often, our internal dialogue goes by so fast, we don’t realize what we are telling ourselves, day in and day out. It may astound you to find that you have been harboring deep-seated anger toward someone for years, and have developed a habit of repeating to yourself some kind of mean or belittling remark every time this person comes to mind. Notice if there is blaming, explaining, or endless repetitions of what someone else did to you. If so, chances are good that you are not experiencing positive control. Be honest about what you may see in your journal, and look honestly at what judgments of others you could possibly relinquish.
You might also use a journal to keep a record of how you feel, what you eat, and what activities you engage in, so you can begin to get an objective view of how your behaviors affect how you feel.
Relaxation is key to achieving positive control, so we set about to learn methods that will enable us to relax on the spot, as soon as we realize that we are tense or that some situation is shaping up to be difficult.
Again, it pays to become aware of where in the body specifically we are holding tension, so that we can take steps to reverse and relax the tension. Doing a mental body scan, tuning into sensations as they exist in your muscles, joints, and organs, can increase your body awareness so you can begin to constructively relax tension.
Methods of relaxing include Progressive Relaxation, which calls for lying on the back or sitting in a comfortable, supportive chair, and systematically tensing and releasing the various muscles of the body. Other methods include palming, where, resting elbows on a table, both palms are laid on the eyes, creating a warm comfortable darkness, or visualizing a special place, or filling your body with a colored liquid, in your imagination, and letting it dissolve the tension in your body. The methods of relaxation are many; as you begin to seek them out, more will appear.
Relaxing muscular tension has been found to have wide-ranging benefits, such as relief from anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure. Relief from these conditions enables a person to be more comfortable and effective in his or her own life.
Natural music like Dean Raskin’s The Journey-Deep Relaxation works well for some people. Headspace is a popular meditation app.
In any self-improvement program, nothing compares with breath. If you would gain positive control over your life, get control of your breathing. Just a few minutes of abdominal breathing will begin to change the chemistry in your body from stress response hormones to relaxation response hormones.
Dr. Andrew Weil has a great audio resource called “Breathing: the Master Key,” which provides good foundational material to help you learn to breathe for your greater good. Another excellent resource is by Anders Olsson, called “Conscious Breathing.”
The Ultimate Stress Buster: Yoga
Yoga, many centuries old, means “union,” referring to a ‘union between mind, body, and spirit. This kind of integration is what we mean by a whole person, whose actions are consistent with beliefs ad feelings. Yoga aims to produce a genuine person, with integrity and respect for all living things, including the self. The practice of yoga promotes deeper relaxation, coupled with flexibility and strength. This is the aim of achieving positive control in our lives, to become whole, or integrated.
Honesty is the Only Policy
Without this one quality, there is little hope of gaining a positive control of your life. Such a pursuit requires brutal, loving objectivity. “To see with love and hear with compassion” is the only means of finding a way to apply a sincere, positive control over your life, become a more effective human being, and evolve spiritually. These are the true goals of human life.