Control What You Can

When it comes to personal relationships, the biggest challenges in my life have always come when I step out of my realm of control.  There are only two things we humans can control: our own attitudes and our own actions.  It’s a hard concept to accept, but once we embrace it, life becomes more enjoyable. It really bothers me to hear people say things like, “Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that, but if he hadn’t [done thus and such], then I wouldn’t have.”  The only correct statement is, “I should not have done that” PERIOD. Why? Because you have no control over what he or she did, what he said or what he thought. You can only control your own responses. The problem is we tend to be reactive. Some people react immediately with no thought regarding consequences. Others hold frustration in for an extended period of time, but then the reaction is destructively explosive. What I’ve been learning to do is process situations with the goal of responding rather than reacting.  I’ve noticed that in my business life, responsiveness comes easily. But in personal matters, reactions can easily take over. My goal has been to rectify that. It’s quite the challenge! I’m on a mission to control only what I can: my attitude and my action. Here are some things that have helped me.

First, I’ve had to learn to let things roll off my shoulders. This is particularly helpful with personal conflicts. I have a friend who is also a business associate. After a long work week, I always guard my down time. This friend tends to call me often during my off hours, and undoubtedly, the conversation turns to business, which really bothers me. I talked to her about it: “When you call me on the weekends, I become frustrated because the lines between our friendship and business become blurred. I’d rather not discuss business after hours. It’s my recharging time!” Notice I never accused her! However, she became mildly annoyed with me. In the past, a reaction like that would have led me to apologize and fall on my sword to protect our relationship. Not this time. I knew I had been respectful and honest with her – after that, I had no control. She did get passed it, though she doesn’t really call me on the weekends anymore. Again, that’s her choice and she owns it.  I’m satisfied that I did the right thing by both of us.

Second, if I feel deeply disturbed by a conflict, I use a stream of consciousness to process it in writing. My iPad and trusty stylus are tools I couldn’t live without. I write down what happened, why I am bothered, how I feel and what I can do to help it heal – in other words – what can I control in this situation?  This way, I can process the conflict so that my actions result in a well-thought-out response.  Then, I delete it.

Third, never be a doormat. When someone is wrong, recognize that they own it. It doesn’t have to involve a fight, and you can’t take the responsibility for someone else’s attitudes and actions. I have learned to avoid generalizations in my responses. For instance, don’t use the words “you always do that” or “you never listen to me” or “that’s typical of you”. Attacking is an escalator for further conflict.  Instead, say things like: “I want to do the right thing here because our relationship is important to me, and I’m pretty sure it is to you. You’ve chosen to be angry with me, and I want to understand it.  I’d like us to communicate without accusations and resolve this.” Remember, it’s someone’s choice to be angry, stay angry or state accusations. Choice is part of our own realm of control, influenced by our attitude and then acted upon. They own their choices and you own yours. If accusations start flying, the best response is, “We really aren’t communicating well, so let’s revisit this later when we’ve both had the opportunity to process it.”

Controlling what you can, like most things, takes practice for some – like me. Others were taught early in life to own their behaviors and attitudes. It’s never too late to work on it. My relationship with family and friends has greatly improved. In a sense, for the first time in my life, I actually do have control.

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