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Ever notice when we complain or worry about something, it sucks up all our energy and attention? Especially, when it’s something you have no control over. And the more you stress over it, the less likely anything is resolved and you lose your sense of peace and calm.

There are five steps to focus on what you can control:

  • 1. Identify what's bothering you.
  • 2. Talk with a friend.
  • 3. Focus on what you can do.
  • 4. Make a plan and take action.
  • 5. Do your best and move on.

In spite of our best intentions, we all fall prey to fretting over something. We get sucked into trying to deal with something when, often, there’s little we can do.

In some situations, we’re more concerned how others will regard us. Unless you have ESP, you’ll never really know what they think anyways. Ultimately, we need to focus on those areas we can influence and are important to us.

Importance vs. What You Control

Lots of things, you have little or no power over. You can’t change the weather or prevent a natural disaster. And, the situations you might be able to influence, also, require time and effort. That’s when you’ve got to ask yourself, is it worth it.

As the diagram below shows, everything becomes a trade-off between control and your time and energy.

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Worried and Anxious

Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly is bothering you. Often, it’s not just one specific thing and more of a general concern. For instance, the increasing social turmoil, rising crime rates or ever climbing inflation.

It’s completely normal to be concerned and you should be aware of what’s happening around you. However, everything needs to be kept in perspective. If you find yourself consumed by such issues, you want to take a hard look at what you can do (or not).

Your options are to let them go or take some form of action. And that brings us to those other quadrants.

The "Wabbit" Hole

Going down the “wabbit” hole is usually a fruitless endeavor as you’re not likely to change much anyways. An example could be taxes. I assure you the fact I seem to pay more every year bugs me. It’s not fair! Especially with all the incompetence and wastefulness of the system.

But seriously, short of running for office or moving far away, what can I do about it? Gotta let it go and focus on what you can control.

Another example could be a disagreement with a family member or the in-laws. Been there; done that. They’re going to do what they want. That’s a losing proposition and not much is going to change their evil ways. Instead of letting their idiocy bother me, I do my best to be a positive influence and let the little stuff go.

Unproductive Effort

These are situations where you have some influence and can, potentially, change things. For instance, a friend got involved on his condo board. He was frustrated with all the misspending and how expenses kept going up.

While he was able to make some difference, it also sucked up most of his free time. What a thankless job it became with endless squabbling over minor stuff. He commented “it was like herding cats”, with everyone having a different agenda.

Needless to say, he served his time and got off that merry-go-round. The frustrations and endless debate simply weren’t worth the effort.

Mindful and Present

This is the zone where you can make effective change. Besides being able to influence the outcome, this situation/topic is important enough to focus your energy on.

For instance, back when my wife was working, she contributed every year into her retirement savings plan. She maximized her employer contribution and thought she was doing great. What we subsequently learned were about the high management fees and less than stellar returns with their mutual fund distribution.

Rather than bemoaning how they were screwing us over, we decided to explore better options. Just because they were a major financial institution didn’t mean they were looking after our best interests.

This led to educating ourselves on Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). Researching the various funds helped us understand our optimal mix for growth and our risk tolerance.

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1. Identify What's Bothering You

Getting to the root of the problem is often easier said than done. And further muddying the waters, there are usually multiple things or events happening all at once.

For instance, the pandemic turned our lives upside down with the majority of the population feeling frustrated and anxious. Even pinpointing exactly what bothered you was hit and miss. Some of the things that might have been on your mind included:

  • Financial concerns due to job loss or reduced hours.
  • Health fears or all the public safety restrictions.
  • Feeling lonely and missing family and friends.
  • Unable to have fun by going out for dinner, other social events or even take a vacation.

All this stuff might be going through your mind making it challenging on what to even deal with. Unless you can narrow down what’s bothering you most, how can you take effective action?

Identify the Specific Cause(s)

This can be the most difficult challenge. Trying to identify what, specifically, is bugging you. The true issue is, usually, hidden under a pile of circumstances. The reason it’s hard to figure out is we’ve lost objectivity.

The best way to begin is state what you think the problem is. Then start asking yourself questions. What about this particular problem is bothering you? If you can’t find the words, ask why it's a problem. Why is a great question; it leads to digging deeper into the reasons you’re upset or annoyed.

For example, if you set a time to go for dinner with a friend and they’re late. The later they are, the more annoyed you become. Now, is it because they’re late or are you thinking they don’t value your time? Or the friendship as much as you do.

When you dig down and get to the root of the problem, things start to become clearer. Once you find it, then it becomes easier to solve.

2. Talk to a Friend

Isn’t it strange how we all have blind spots? All too often we get mired in details or perceived slights missing the bigger picture. When you discuss it with a close friend or someone you trust, often they’re able to offer a different perspective.

This also allows your thoughts to settle down. We get worked up feeling emotional about something. If you can gain a more objective view, often the issue isn’t as overwhelming as it first appeared.

After stepping back and viewing it through a different lens, you might realize it really isn’t that important. In some instances, you might even make fun of the fact that something so stupid was bothering you.

What you want to avoid is ignoring the issue and letting it fester. If something is bothering you, talking to a friend often helps clarify and figure out how to best deal with it.

3. Focus on What You Can Control

There are things you have some control over; others not so much. Instead of worrying about something you have no influence over, determine what's within your power.

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We all know health is important and we should get in better shape. And, then we find excuses such as the gym membership is too expensive. Or procrastinate, waiting until certain conditions are just right which can indefinitely put it off. My point is the human mind is very creative and we can convince ourselves of almost anything.

Focus on what you can control. For a healthier diet, you might start by eliminating those prepared foods high in carbs, sugar and sodium. Maybe find recipes for more balanced home cooked meals.

Even when you dine out, avoid deep fried foods and choose healthier alternatives.

4. Make a Plan and Take Action 

It’s human nature to want to control as much as we can. Unfortunately, not everything works that way. You need to focus on the things you can manage as opposed to all the things you don’t.

Generally, people feel better when they’re taking action and problem solving. The best thing to do is just start. Begin taking small steps, working to resolve what you can and pay less attention to the things you can’t.

Making positive changes generates more self-confidence and positive energy. You’ll feel better and then it just doesn’t seem likes it’s that big of a deal. It helps put things into perspective.

5. Do Your Best and Move On 

Do your best and move on. Sounds easy enough, huh? If only it were.

When you focus on what you can control, you have a chance of influencing or changing something. Also, it gives you the feeling that you’re participating and impacting the world around you.

Fix or influence what you can to the best of your ability. It restores your power and sense of order.

Move on from all those other things. Don’t allow them to take up valuable real estate in your mind, sucking the life right out of you.

Closing Thoughts

As human beings, we’re constantly trying to put influence on the world around us. Sometimes, it’s worth the effort. Other times, it’s just spinning your tires.

Avoid dwelling on those situations you really haven’t got a hope in changing. It’s a losing proposition.

Take your power back by concentrating on things you’ve got some or a lot of influence over. Put yourself in charge of your life.

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