Let Go of What You Can’t Control

'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot 

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference'
(Reinhold Niebuhr)

As a child, I remember believing if I could somehow manage to walk the road to school without stepping on the cracks in the paving stones, the day would go well.  I’m not sure whether that was me trying to have some control over the unknown, or whether I was trying to abdicate control to a greater power, but either way, I imagine it came from a place of fear, or uncertainty.

As I puzzle on ‘fear of the unknown’, I am reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin:

'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes' (1789).

With that in mind, I wonder why it might be that control is so difficult to relinquish?

Let’s take a look at some of the feelings that we may have experienced at times in our lives when frightening things happened which were out of our control:

  • feeling panicky
  • physical pain
  • shock
  • anger
  • sadness
  • fear
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • helplessness
  • frustration
  • disbelief
  • denial
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • shaking
  • nausea
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • feeling paralysed
  • breathlessness
  • shock

Looking at this quite hefty list, it would seem to make sense that we might want to avoid being reminded of the difficult and traumatic times that brought us to feel this way.  Is this possibly where our desire to keep control comes from?

Whilst it would be totally unrealistic to expect to sail through life avoiding adversity, it seems some of us are able to live more care-freely, whilst others of us want to keep tighter reins on all that we can!

What makes us more or less inclined to want to try and keep control can be a combination of past and difficult life events, as well as our learned abilities to manage our emotions.

Whilst, as Franklin states, there is much in life which may be out of our control, I believe it is important to understand that there are things which we do have control over.  Let’s take a look at some of these things:

Things I can control:                                                                                           

  1. Being kind
  2. Doing my homework
  3. The friends I choose to have
  4. My decisions
  5. How I spend my free time
  6. Asking for help
  7. Studying for tests
  8. How I respond to others
  9. Respecting property
  10. Being accountable
  11. Forgiving
  12. Trying again
  13. Doing my jobs
  14. Being honest
  15. Working hard
  16. How I respond to challenges
  17. Apologising
  18. Taking care of myself

Things I can’t control:

  1. Someone else’s decisions
  2. How others treat me
  3. My height
  4. Skin colour
  5. Others taking care of themselves
  6. Others being kind
  7. Who loves me
  8. Who likes me
  9. Death
  10. Others apologising to me
  11. The weather
  12. Others asking for help
  13. Others forgiving me
  14. Others being honest
  15. Past mistakes
  16. Someone else’s efforts

If we want to try and embrace a more carefree life, perhaps we could try and let go of the things which are outside of our control.  In doing so, we could strive to live more in the present moment; not worrying about stepping on those paving cracks; accepting ourselves, and others, as we are.

'People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be.  When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, ''Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.'' I don't try to   control a sunset.  I watch with awe as it unfolds.'           (Carl Rogers)

If anything in this article has left you wanting to explore things further, please feel free to get in touch.

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