How do you feel when someone ruins your day? How about that time when you were running late and traffic shows up out of nowhere? What about that time you made plans for a trip but then your friends back out last minute? Don’t forget the time when someone at work forgot to do something you repeatedly told them to do.
What is the usual response to this? If you’re like most people, you get pissed off. If you’re lucky, something good happens and you feel a bit better.
When times like these come up, it’s hard to get past them. Your emotions tend to stay with you the rest of the day. You end up wishing you could make the other party pay for making you this frustrated or have them see what it’s like to be in your shoes.
Now what if you had a better way of dealing with situations like these? What would it feel like to be in control again? If you’re interested, look below.
What Is The One Thing You’re In Control of?
Unless you happen to be a deity reading this blog, you are just another human. That means you don’t have any power over how other people are, their actions and the implications of their actions on your life. Even though you wish you could, you cannot control other people.
But how often do you wish you could?
This is the thought that comes into our minds everyday. If only that person would like me. If only that person would give me a chance. If only that person believed in me.
These are the people who like to depend on others for their happiness. If you want to know why, they do so because that is the easy way out.
When something goes wrong, what is the easiest thing to do? Place the blame on someone else. No promotion this year? It was that other associate’s fault. Stuck in traffic? Teenage drivers need to learn how to drive. Did the florist brought the wrong flowers? Their shop should be burned down.
The reason why this feels natural is because the other alternative is difficult to swallow. What if you were the reason why you didn’t get what you wanted?
If you didn’t get promoted, could you think of anything else you could have done better? If you got stuck in traffic, could you have left earlier? If your vendor messed up your order, did you take the time to confirm your order was right?
When you start thinking about what you could have done, you start to pull focus away from what other people do to what you can do. You may not be in control of others but at the same time, no one else is in control of you (unless you give it away).
When you hear epic lines in movies like “You may have my body but never my heart!”, this is what they are referring to. By focusing on what you can do, you also get to decide how you feel about this situation. Anger is a common choice but it is not the only one.
You may argue that this doesn’t help improve your situation in any way, shape or form. You are correct; the world will not have changed because you think differently. But you will have changed.
No longer will you be subject to having the world piss you off at every little thing. No longer will you let the incompetence of others ruin your day. No longer will you let others decide which emotions dominate you.
This is what being responsible for your life looks like.
In an organization, this type of thinking can completely overturn the culture of the workplace. Maybe you had a highly political team where the focus was on avoiding blame. Maybe you had a team where the focus was on blaming others..
Situations like these are common in organizations. All change must start at the top and if you , the leader, can show others that you are taking ownership, you can encourage others to do the same.
By giving up the illusion of control over anything else outside of yourself, you have gained the freedom of how you want to think or feel. Enjoy it.
Make Backup Plans
The human mind has some serious blind spots. This creeps up on you more than you realize. When you create your itinerary for a trip, have you ever accounted for delays? When you plan out a date, what do you do when the place you decided on had closed early for the day?
These may not be the most positive thoughts to have but that doesn’t make them any less real. Situations like these are why Murphy’s Law exists: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
In the past when I ran an event planning team, I instilled a need for contingencies into every single member. In the past, last minute problems would pop up and the team would be rushing everywhere trying to solve them. One of the first policies I implemented was to have all the details worked out not days but weeks beforehand.
As the team reviewed those details in the coming weeks, they saw the last minute problems that could arise and accounted for them in their planning. What if one of the drivers got caught up in traffic? There was a second one ready and on standby. What if prep time took longer than expected? There were time buffers added to account for delays.
Think about it this way. Why do you have health insurance? What about insurance for your car, home or even your life? If you think about this, these are all backup plans.
The question of effort may be in your head. Having to default to a Plan B doesn’t necessarily have to require a lot of planning. This may be as simple as having a go to cafe when the new one you try out is out of seats.
In addition to saving you many times to come, having backup plans gives you and your team wriggle room. When you don’t need to rush, you will be able to release more creativity. You put less pressure on yourself and that in turns prevents you from making mistakes. You might even see a more efficient way of doing things.
Look For Your Triggers
When you become upset, angry or depressed, you don’t notice it but there was a cue to led to those emotions. Your brain registers this and without realizing it, you let out your favorite swear sword.
Your responses to events is not completely under your control. As you default to a specific response, a link is created between what happens and your response.This link is strengthened over time to form a habit. If you ever tried to break a bad habit, you know how strong the link can be.
The start to any of your bad habits is a trigger. These can be external, such as seeing a text on your phone or hearing someone criticize your idea. They can also be internal. One such trigger would feeling a certain way and then taking action depending on those emotions, e.g. binge eating ice cream when sad.
You don’t think about this process. It just happens without any conscious thought. This is why you can be completely oblivious to how you got angry or upset. So what should you do in a situation like that?
The first steps are to stop and breathe. Any time you feel like you are emotionally charged, take a moment to do this.
Then ask yourself the following questions:
1. On a scale of 1-10, how emotional am I feeling in response to this situation?
2. How am I interpreting this in a way that is upsetting me?
3. What else could be happening here?
This questions help bring awareness to what set you off. Then you can take steps to address that specific trigger. After you do this, try to see how you can answer this last question.
If this happens again, how will you handle it?
Imagine if you were in a meeting where two or more people were getting heated over their debate. That type of energy spreads easily without people even realizing it and before you know it, even you are affected. Think about how damaging that could be to the rest of your team when you’re trying to have a discussion.
But as you become more aware of how you react to events like this, you can step out of the emotions and not lose yourself. You also start to apply those questions to both yourself and others.
The result is an improvement in self-awareness, an essential trait for any leader.
See Everything As An Opportunity
“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
A keystone to being control of your life is to see everything around you as an opportunity. This sounds easy enough but when disaster strikes, you’ll forget this in a heartbeat.
When you encounter a stroke of bad luck, your first reaction would be to curse fate. That neither benefits you nor puts you in control. Instead that shifts your mind to all that is wrong in this world and leaves you feeling helpless. Is that how you want to end up?
There is a great power that comes with seeing obstacles and misfortune as opportunities. When you change your lens to see life like this, you stop asking yourself “why did this have to happen?” to “what can I do to change this?”
The former puts you into a victim mindset while the latter puts you in the mind of a challenger. A victim mindset is more dangerous than you think. People who don’t feel in control of their work life balance live shorter lives. Victims focus on blame. By perceiving themselves to be helpless in this world, they give up.
A victim mentality is exactly what it is: a mentality. Victims think they deserve pity. Challengers think differently by focusing on what actions they can take to make a difference in their life. They ask themselves one question.
“How can I?”
This isn’t a question of whether you can or cannot do something. This is a question of how you can do it and what steps you need to take. Perhaps what you want is massively difficult. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating how hard a goal or dream is. But instead of getting stuck on that, the best leaders focus on breaking that dream down as a series of smaller goals.
That is how you set yourself up to think in terms of “how”.
Your obstacles are there to make you stronger. You would not be half the person you are today if you had not overcome the tests, drama and heartbreak on the way there.
Jim Carrey was once homeless and lived in a van. What were his steps? He worked odd jobs. He persisted in going around to comedy clubs in Toronto. He was constantly boo’ed off stage. He went to audition after audition where he was told to go home. Then he hit the Hollywood scene. How much emotional fortitude do you think he had to hear the crowd mock him time and time again before he found success?
Barbara Cocoran, famously known as a real estate mogul and from the show Shark Tank, went through 23 jobs, getting fired from 3 of them, before she created and sold a multi-million dollar company. This is the woman who says failure is her specialty. What do you see failure as?
Abe Lincoln got fired, failed at a business he started, had his sweetheart pass away, was bedridden due to a nervous breakdown, was clinically depressed and lost 8 elections before he became president. Yet if you know look back on his writings, you can see how much wisdom those failures taught him and how they made him a better leader.
Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow. We hear this time and time again but most people never even try to see something horrible as an opportunity. This is how the successful distinguish themselves from the mediocre. Which group you would rather be in?
If you can take away just one thing from this, try to catch yourself when you start to blame someone or something else. When you do, ask yourself this instead.
What could I have done?
I hope this helps you feel more empowered because every decision you make is truly your decision and no one else’s. You choose whether or not to get angry at someone. You choose whether or not to hold a grudge. You choose whether or not you can ruin this person’s day or make them remember you fondly for the rest of their lives.
If you have any comments or questions, I’m more than happy to talk about this. For now, this is Mike X Huang, signing off.