In my last column we talked about something we’ve all felt at some point in our careers; the complete loss of control. That feeling of being at the centre of a hurricane where everything is spinning out of control around us and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to change it. It’s very much a feeling of helplessness.
We decided the only real thing we can do under those circumstances is to step away from it in our minds and admit we have lost control. That puts a certain mental distance between us and the situation, which stops us from being sucked even further into that dark vortex. Whether it was our own fault or outside forces that led to the loss of control, it is a very unpleasant head space to be in.
It’s important to remember that what we want is a sense of control, not control itself. There are times when we simply cannot control what’s going on. We want to stop that loss of control from seeping into other areas of our lives. That’s where trouble lies. That’s what leads a person to simply throw up their hands and say, “What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do.” Separating yourself from the situation, giving yourself distance from it, allowing yourself the room to think clearly about it is the first and most important step you take in regaining your sense of control. But then what?
When you feel like you can’t control anything, control the things you can. It doesn’t have to be anything big or life-changing, or heroic, or epic. In fact, it should be something simple, something small. Something you can control.
Imagine for a moment that your mind is a sheet of paper. The circumstances you’re in that lead you to feel completely out of control are like a pen that’s just drawing circles on that page. Circles and circles and circles that end up being just a big scrawl on that page. It’s a mess.
You can concentrate on that mess, or you can look for a corner that’s still clear. That’s the corner of your mind you want to occupy until you regain control. That little blank space is free. It’s yours to do whatever you choose to with. You control that space. Concentrating on that small space helps fade away the mess on the rest of the sheet. By doing that you stop your mind from controlling you and you start controlling it.
Once you’ve zeroed in on that free space, you need to take the next step, which is moving from thought to action. I call it taking a do-day. It’s a day when everything around you is spinning out of control, when there’s nothing you can do to change it and you react by doing something.
Once I had this huge deal I’d been working on for months. It was going to pay for a much-needed vacation, but at the last minute, in the space of a few hours, it completely fell apart. I was devastated. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing that I was driving the train. The brakes were gone and all I could do was watch it happen.
What I did that day may sound silly. It might seem like nothing in the face of what was happening. When I got the call saying there was a problem, I realized that all the hours of work I’d invested were for naught and that there would be no big payday and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change a thing. I felt completely powerless. I had to do something or I’d go insane, so I went into my kitchen and cleaned out my fridge. After that day, whenever I felt like I was losing control, that’s what I would do – clean the fridge. It didn’t stop the train wreck from happening, but it got me off the train.
I’m not saying everyone should rush out and clean their fridge. What I’m suggesting is when there’s nothing you can do to change a situation, do something you can do. Do the laundry, do the dishes, organize a closet, clean up a room, clean up your desk, get your car washed, get a hair cut, do something. You’ll be amazed at how much that little chore takes your mind off what’s happening around you and re-establishes your sense of control over things. Does it work? Well, let’s just say I feel very much in control of my own life and I’ve got the cleanest fridge in town.
Debbie Hanlon is the founder of Hanlon Realty and CEO of All Knight Inc. She is a three-time top 50 CEO winner and was named one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada. She is currently an elected city official in St. John’s, Nfld. and is available for motivational and training seminars. Email [email protected]