What Can I Control?

This week’s question of the week is, “What can I control?”

I was thinking about this in several dimensions. I was talking with a client manager, who was bemoaning his lack of potential influence across the organization. “I don’t have enough influence to do what I want.”

I asked him this question, “What can you control? What can you influence? What can you do? Don’t worry so much about what you can’t do. There’s always more that you can’t do. Let’s look at what you can do.”

A Manage Your Job Search reader also asked a similar question. “I’m so concerned about my job search. There’s so much out of my control. How can I become comfortable with my job search?”

A job search is an emergent project, so it’s difficult to become comfortable with the ambiguity. That’s why it’s a great question to ask, “What can I control?”

Life is an emergent project too. Maybe you want to adapt this question to be, “What can I control right now?”

When I’m having a vertigo attack, or something like it, I can’t control my body. Last week, something happened. It wasn’t quite a vertigo attack, but my eyes went wonky. I think I had a saccades attack. (Saccades is when my eyes go sideways, back and forth, about 100 miles an hour. Okay, it feels like 100 mph. Maybe it’s only 50 mph.) I didn’t have the whirlies, thank goodness, but I sure could not see. I was dizzy and not able to walk without holding onto something. Of course, I was in my basement office. I wanted to turn off the lights, turn down the heat, and go upstairs. But, how do I do this when I can’t see?

In my office, I always have a cane next to me. So I have mobility assistance. I used the cane to get to the rollator. Aha! Now I have hot wheels. I can roll to the lights and the thermostat. I can do what I need to do, without being able to see very well. I don’t have to control much physically, to do what I want.

The real question is how do I feel about the problem? The problem is not the problem, it’s my reaction to it. I can sometimes control that. Initially, I was in problem-solving mode, “Do this, do that.” By the time I got upstairs, I was so tired, I took a nap. Vertigo will do that to you. After my nap, which was way past dinner time, I felt resigned. “Another ‘event’. I have them. I have to live with them. Maybe I can make this one blog fodder.”

I took care of myself physically first. I made sure I was safe and then I slept. Once I did that, I was able to see enough to make dinner to eat. Then I could enjoy the rest of the evening. (Of course Mark was out of town. Murphy’s Law :-)

I had already drafted this question of the week. I wasn’t sure what to write about. Who knew I would have a personal story to share?

My fellow adaptable problem solvers, here is your question of the week. You may discover you turn the situation on its head and reframe the problem. I find it’s a darn good question, “What can I control?” or “What is in my control right now?”

How has this question worked for you?

8 thoughts on “What Can I Control?

  1. Yves Hanoulle (@YvesHanoulle)

    In a Franklin Covey training, the trainer talked about an orange.
    What happens when you smash an orange? >> You get orange juice
    What happens when you drive a car over an orange? >> You get orange juice
    What happens when you hit an orange wit a hammer? >> You get orange juice

    We humans we have the ABILITY to RESPOND the way we want.
    it’s called RESPONSIBILITY
    By taking time between an action and our reaction. We increase our results.

    Sounds like you did exactly that.

    It’s a detail, yet it’s interesting that in case of this situation, you even think of turning of the lights and the heating.


    1. johanna Post author

      Yves, It’s so cold here, that I did not want to leave the heat and lights on all night. I’m too cheap :-)

      I suspect that because I have had these episodes before, I know I am going to live through them. I know I will get to the other side. It’s a matter of time. I want to find my office in a state where I am happy to be there.

      Love the orange juice story. Love it!

  2. Adriana Beal

    That’s a great question that everybody should be asking themselves most of the time. I’m sure I’ll be linking often to this post, Joanna!

    From time to time I get a comment from a business analyst saying “My performance is not great because management doesn’t understand my role and doesn’t support the BA work.”, and I have to take a deep breath before answering.

    Really? What about what you *can* control? Instead of complaining about the barriers impeding your progress, why don’t you use your self-proclaimed problem-solving skills to find ways to deliver value even in the absence of management support? Every time I followed that approach I ended up with more clout and support, so I’m a big fan on focusing on what’s in my control rather than what’s outside my range of influence.

    1. johanna Post author

      Adriana, yes, we can often do a lot more than we think we can.

      I love the way you say this, where you ended up with more clout and support. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. It’s the art of the possible, right? Not the art of the impossible :-)

  3. Anders

    Yes! Great advice. To get all bearings straight and priorities in order I think its a good idea to spend some time thinking about what we need to control and what we want to control as well (and why ofcourse). We usually don’t need to control that much and the costs of the wants don’t make them worth while chasing. Which lets us return more focused to the things we can control.

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Anders, yes, sometimes narrowing our focus lets us do more. At least, I’ve found that. As you said, I’m not chasing other things.

  4. Rebecca

    I had a tire blowout last Thursday on the way to my noon running group. It was quite an experience. I realized that I wouldn’t make my running group… (and managed to pull off the freeway onto an offramp safely–hooray). My tire was shredded! I called AAA and they came and fixed me up with my baby temporary tire. I ate my lunch while I waited, so I wasn’t hungry (fortunately, since I had planned a full afternoon of activities, I had also packed my lunch). Then I drove to the tire store where they replaced 4! tires.

    They said it would take an hour. So I took control and went for a long walk (it wasn’t raining that much, and I could take control of my waiting time. I managed to get all the way to a nice park by the Tualatin River). When I got back they told me I had problems with tire pressure sensors (and a half hour later after those were replaced I was back on the road)….I then went on to do the things I had planned to do earlier….I didn’t get home until very late.

    But I wasn’t bummed out about anything. In fact, as I was late running errands I was feeling pretty content that I had made the best of the situation, taking control where I could, and not just griping about what I couldn’t control. I easily could’ve been really in a bad mood. But surprisingly, I just rolled with it.

    Taking control of only what you can (and letting everything else go) gives you such a sense of freedom.

    1. johanna Post author

      Rebecca, I’m so glad you are safe. A shredded tire!

      You make a great point about the letting go of everything else. You could have been irritated–and I’m sure you were for at least a moment or so. But since they had to replace 4 tires (!), you made the best of your day. You did control what you could.

      What a great story. And a very nice ending.

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