You Can Control How You Feel About Control

What’s the worst L.A. traffic you’ve ever been stuck in? Was it a holiday weekend on the 405? Sunset Boulevard after a Dodgers playoff game? A random rush hour that inexplicably doubled your commute time?


Everyone has their tricks to try to deal with traffic. It’s something that we Angelenos love to talk about. But even if you’re the master of taking side streets that few people know about, eventually you’ll still get stuck in gridlock traffic. It’s inevitable.


So what’s the answer? It turns out that even this city’s famous traffic can provide a life lesson. The lesson is…there is no answer. You can be proactive and take steps to try to reduce your chances of getting stuck, but somewhere, somehow along the way you’re going to get stuck anyway. Sometimes you just have to accept the way things are.


What you need to understand is that traffic is so intensely frustrating because it robs us of control. Step back and think about it. There you are, sitting in your car. There’s the steering wheel, there’s the gas pedal and the brake -- all these symbols of your literal control over your car. You’re in the driver’s seat! You’re the driver! Yet you’re not moving the way you want.


In truth, traffic is just one common form this lifelong lesson about control can take. But it’s a great opportunity to step back and consider how much effort you put into controlling things. You don’t want to keep taking the same route to work if you know it gets terribly congested; instead you’ll seek alternatives that save you time and frustration. However, sacrificing an inordinate amount of time planning your routes every day -- and then still getting very upset when you eventually get stuck -- wouldn’t be the best use of your time and energy, either.


Recognize when you are not taking control when you can.


My schedule in private practice is a great example of realistically calibrating expectations of control. When I was first starting out, I thought that I had no control over my calendar and needed to just work whenever clients wanted to see me, regularly working around other people’s routines. I wound up with my schedule all over the place (with no consistency or predictability) and was in the office at times that really did not fit with how I wanted to be working. When I started limiting my availability to what I wanted my work day to look like, an amazing thing happened -- everything worked out fine. Sure, there were some clients that I needed to refer to someone else because I could not see them when they needed to see me. But most people were able to work with my new schedule.


Overthinking and worrying about taking more control over my schedule was holding me back from having my business really work for me. I feared that there would be too many negative consequences if I became more assertive. I imagined that people wouldn’t understand or would be put off by the fact that I was sometimes wasn’t available when they wanted me to be. I thought I would somehow be sabotaging my private practice by limiting the number of people who could see me. But all I was doing was limiting myself from one of the biggest perks of being your own boss.


Accept that you probably have less control than you think you do.


Nowadays I get myself into trouble when I think I have more control over my schedule than I do. I can never predict when new clients enter the picture. People go on vacation, cancel for some reason, or need to change their regular appointment time. Often my week winds up looking a little bit different from what I had imagined. I’ve gotten better at letting go of my desire for my week to go a certain way and now feel less thrown off when my schedule changes.


Part of what’s helped is that I ‘ve been working on consciously adapting my plans to reality instead of just giving up. Before, I might think this way: “I usually go this yoga class, but now I have to work so I guess I just won’t do yoga at all today.” Now I catch myself. Instead of succumbing to feeling discouraged, I know I can still make time to do what I need. I just have to be way more flexible. Otherwise this lack of control can become an excuse to not do so many things. Self-care items like working out, seeing friends, and spending time in nature are all too important to give up. I also need to pay attention and not block myself from working on my practice in other ways (writing, networking, going to training sessions) when my calendar suddenly changes.


You may not even be aware of how much time and energy you’re spending trying to control things. Building awareness of how you feel about control and how you use control in your life is essential. The next time you feel frustrated about having less control over something in your life -- traffic, work, your schedule -- what would happen if instead of fretting about not being able to change it, you changed how you thought and felt about it instead?


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