• Colleen Lennon, LCSW

What Can you Control?

Let’s face it, uncertainty of the unknown can often times be scary and make us anxious.

When something is uncertain or unknown, we tend to ask ourselves questions such as:

What could or will happen?

What if the result is bad or I don’t like it?

How will I deal with the situation if it turns out bad?

We think these questions help us to better prepare for the future by considering possibilities and thinking we can plan for them, but in reality, they are only causing more harm than good. It is overwhelming to sit and think of all the possible outcomes or consequences. Unfortunately, our thoughts tend to be negative or catastrophic and not helping us be better prepared for the future. We tend to default to worst case scenario outcomes, which in turn only makes us more afraid or anxious, possibly causing us to not even pursue the situation we are considering.

The questions we should really be asking ourselves are: “What is in my control?” and “What can I do about it?” If we want to be able to influence the future or decrease the amount of uncertainty or anxiety we have about a situation, we first need to figure out what actually is in our control and what we can do about it. In every situation, the only aspects we truly have control over are what we choose to focus on, what we say, and what we choose to do.

Let’s consider an example of a future event to help explain the process. Say you are interviewing for a job in a few days that you desperately want. You are extremely nervous about the interview, concerned about what the interviewer might ask, and afraid you might not get the job. Your brain is constantly thinking: “What if I don’t know an answer to a question or say something stupid?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I never find a job again?” Yes, all of those are possible outcomes, but do you know for certain that any of them are one hundred percent going to happen? No! You cannot control what the interviewer is going to ask, whether they like you or not, or if you get the job. But what you can control is how prepared you are and what information you know ahead of time by having all of your information together and researching the company and job. The rest is accepting that we can’t know what we don’t know!

On the other hand, let’s look at an example of a general worry or anxiety about the future. Say you are constantly anxious that you will always be single. You think all the negative thoughts about how horrible your life will be because you are single, how you will never find anyone, and how you will always be alone. There may not be an event you can prepare for or have control of, but you can control your thoughts. Ask yourself: “Do I know with one hundred percent certainty that my life would be better if I were married?” “Do I know for sure I will never find someone or that I will be alone forever?” Again, no. Most of the questions or worries we have we do not know with one hundred percent certainty that they will happen or even that they will be good for us. Our thoughts and emotions can tell us what we care about but they are not facts about the world. It can also be helpful to challenge a thought about what we are trying to control may not make us happy, even when we are so certain it will.

We cannot control the future.

We can find acceptance in understanding what is in our control and how to let go of worries.

The power of our thoughts, how we look at them, and the power we give them can impact anxiety, worrying. and stress. When we learn to not allow our thoughts to dictate what we do, we can regain control of our own lives and alleviate unnecessary worrying. If you are feeling anxious about the unknown, the future, or find yourself thinking a lot about the “what if’s” in life working with a therapist can help you to gain perspective on your thoughts and create more helpful thought processes to help you deal with uncertainty.

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