Are you in control?

“Is the situation under control?” is a common phrase in straight-to-DVD movies that usually involve a hired assassin trying to take down a rogue agent or snooping reporter. In real life we use the terms ‘have you got this?’ and ‘is everything alright?’.

But what is control?

We all know people who are too controlling and we don’t much like them, and if you are a control freak, pursuit of control seems to rule your life negatively, so it is something you can definitely have too much of.

But then again if you completely lose control it indicates failure or recklessness so you certainly need some control, whatever it is.

Thanks to Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived life in a concentration camp during the holocaust, we have a very workable definition of ‘control’.

Viktor believed control exists in the space between stimulus and response.  

A stimulus is the weather or a driver cutting you off in traffic, the boss handing you an urgent job at 4:55pm or your new-born pooing their nappy as you are trying to head out the door. Most of us accept (apart from the control freaks), that we don’t control ‘stimuli’, it is just stuff that happens to us.

As we look out the window at another cold, rainy day we might let out a big moan and it can feel like we had no say in whether we did that or not, but in those fleeting seconds between discovering the foul weather and moaning is the opportunity to exert control by choosing how we respond.

Throughout the day, moments of stimulus and response are happening constantly and they can be very hard to catch. Most people walk around on autopilot, so they miss all these opportunities to exert control and can end up feeling powerless and insignificant.

That is what mindfulness is all about. By staying present, it means you don’t miss stimulus and you get to choose better responses, ones that serve you better.   

All that might sound like a lot of hard work, but making better ‘control decisions’ can make your life significantly better very quickly. 

Let’s look at it in the context of trying to lose weight.

You feel hungry - that is the stimulus - and since you are driving past a petrol station you swing in to grab a few meat pies – that’s the response. Afterwards, with gravy stains on a shirt that is far too tight around your bulging middle, you begin to feel regret that you didn’t opt for something healthier.

In that all too familiar scenario, the space between the stimulus of feeling hungry and your response to eating pies was the opportunity to take control. In that moment, you got to choose your response.  Let’s break the key stimulus down so you understand how control works.

When we respond to stimulus like feeling hungry in the same way repeatedly, it is called a habit and our habits define who we are. Control allows us to break habits, but to do that we have to first be aware of stimulus.

And taking control won’t just help weight loss, if the opportunity to exert control in our life exists in the space between what happens and how we react, it is the key to changing everything! You want to save, but you keep spending, you want to be a better dad, but you keep shouting at the kids, you want a better relationship, but you always act like an ass – these responses are all things you can control and the result or outcome will change when you do!

So the first step in taking back control of your life is to become aware of stimulus before you respond and then make some better choices - it really is that simple.

Wayne Dyer said ‘our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made’ so if you don’t like your life, controlling how you respond to life’s many stimuli is the answer.


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