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One Thing to Boost Productivity, Results and Happiness: Letting Go of Control

I’ve got to fess up. I’m a recovering control-freak.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten so wrapped up in trying to influence the things I have absolutely no control over. I usually end up stressed out, disappointed, and in tears – or just plain angry - over an outcome I didn’t like, but couldn't influence.

 Can anyone relate?

If you’re raising your hand right now, you’re not alone.  The need for control is part of our basic human drive for survival. Safety, security, and predictability are cornerstones of our existence as a species and has evolved over time. Scientific studies show how our perception of being in control leads to greater feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction in modern life. So yeah, the need for control is real.

The challenge comes when we get super focused on something that is beyond our ability to control. When we become deeply focused on things we can’t influence, it creates a feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Once you lose that feeling of self-efficacy, it’s easy to respond by doubling your energy and fighting the situation even harder. In the end you can ruminate on a situation to the point where it becomes an obsession that takes over your life.

If you’re obsessing, but not progressing, here’s how you can get your focus back:

Know the difference between what you can and can’t control: Getting caught up in the wild swirl of uncontrollable situations creates huge levels of stress. Recognizing what you can and can’t control can help restore calm. If you’re experiencing that icky sensation of being stuck and stressed, grab a piece of paper, and try this exercise:

  1. Start by drawing a line down the middle of your paper.
  2. On one side, list the things that are within your ability to control.
  3. On the other side make a list of the things that you have no control over.
  4. Make a conscious choice to let go of the things you can't control and focus on what you can control.

Release what you can’t control. This is the hardest part for so many people. Letting go of control – especially if the situation is emotionally charged – can be hard. You can’t make other people think, feel, or say what you want. You can’t control if your company has a round of layoffs. You can’t control if someone loves you – or stops loving you.

The truth is, a good 80% of what happens in the world might impact you, but it’s also beyond your control. In these cases, the best gift you can give yourself is the gift of letting go.

  1. Avoid the blame game. The situation you can’t control may not be fair or right. Placing the blame on an unfair situation or person ends up giving them your power. Avoid the stress by making a conscious choice to thank them for the lesson and let them go instead.
  2. Trust the process. Even if you can’t control the situation, you can make a difference by focusing where you can make an impact. Trust that the outcome is what’s meant to be. Trusting the process can help you move forward without feeling a need for other people or situations to provide the outcome you want.
  3. Look for the benefit. What is the gift in letting go? It may be peace of mind, more time to spend on important things, or gaining confidence as you take on the things you can change, and you start seeing results.

Focus on what you can control. You can’t control everything, but there are some key things you can influence. Try focusing on these areas instead:

    1. Your thoughts and actions: Your response to life’s situations ultimately sets you up for success. Step away from the intensity of a what’s going on before responding. The space this creates allows you to respond in a way that is measured and meaningful.
    2. Your environment: Clutter and piles of ‘stuff’ in your office or living space encourage stagnation and feeling stuck in a way that can drive you back to the things you can’t control. Ditching clutter makes space for new energy and ideas. Rearrange the furniture, clean out the closets and let go of the old stuff. Letting go of old material items can serve as a bridge for releasing those bigger situations that you’ve been hanging on to.
    3. Your time: You can’t control everything, but you can take charge of your time. Your calendar is your best friend. Make time to focus on your goals and the things you really want. Use your time to create a weekly action plan for the places you can make a difference. And don’t forget to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t serve your goals and dreams.
    4. Your energy: Low energy moments are often where our resolve weakens. This is when the danger of falling back into thinking about all the things we can’t control is most likely to happen. Managing your energy can help you stay focused and ready to make a difference where you can. Eat healthy energy-giving foods, make time for movement, and get plenty of sleep so you can stay alert and on top of your game.

There will always be things you can’t control. If you’re stressing over a situation, use the steps above to release what you can’t control and shift your efforts to the places where you can make a difference. You’ll be more productive, less stressed – and there's a good chance you'll be happier too!

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