Focus on what you can control – what is in your own sphere of influence. Easier said than done. Although knowing it well I regularly happen to fall into the same trap again and again, getting worked up about things I simply cannot change – because I am not the decision maker. Some examples:
- Government decisions
- The slow pace at which much needed change happens
- Climate change
- Other people not doing what I would like them to do (a particularly ridiculous one)
- Not to forget, the covid pandemic changing our lives forever
I need to remind myself from time to time that the only things I really can control is my perspective and my own behaviour. My response to the events of life – which is my choice. It always comes down to mindset, ultimately.
Why is it so hard to let go?
It’s not as if I’d release control by letting go – because I have none in the first place. What I find so hard to bear is this helpless feeling of having to accept the inevitable: things taking a wrong turn in my opinion and me being unable to stop it.
Take climate change for example. Knowing that decisions taken by our governments to combat it are still not sufficient, which will cause even more irreversible damage to the planet thus impacting all our lives, is a hard pill to swallow. Like a cloud casting a shadow I cannot chase away.
Often it’s not difficult to anticipate an outcome, but I simply don’t want this outcome to materialize itself. Which makes it even harder for me not to give in to despair.
So, whenever such inner dialogue starts to take up too much space in my head, I try to actively stop myself and re-direct my thoughts. Merely hoping for a twist of fate in form of a nice surprise which will prove me wrong in the end, because the human factor in the equation is never predictable (which of course, could be a blessing or a curse either way).
Until then I talk myself into having trust that things will work out somehow, and not worry too much in the process.
I don’t always succeed though.
There are two ways to be. One is at war with reality and the other is at peace. (Byron Katie)
And so, I experience a recurring pattern of complaining and worrying about something I have no influence on. Maybe I should rather be happy about becoming aware of this behaviour much earlier now than I did decades ago. My “worrying turnaround cycle” indeed got faster which is one small success after all.
Probably, that’s all I can expect? Is this a lifetime exercise about strengthening my awareness, achieving patience and some sort of equanimity? Learning to encounter the events of life with a little more assuredness, confidence and trust?
Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating to stay indifferent in the face of the many, many problems life shoves into our path. We certainly can and should take responsibility to do something – but it needs to be a contribution which we can control and is worth our time.
For all else beyond our control we do not have a magic wand to prevent or reverse events – however unfortunate that might feel sometimes. Accepting this is really hard. Some days it feels like advancing on a thin wire while struggling to keep my balance.
It takes trust – especially in people who have not given up yet holding all of us in balance – like a net supporting us. But first and foremost, we need to have trust in ourselves, because we are a part of this support net.
Learning from the pandemic situation
Think about how the pandemic has pushed us violently out of our comfort zone since it started to change our lives forever. Suddenly, there was a lot more to worry about than usual, and far more uncertainty. And nobody could escape it. The situation asked a lot of us. Flexibility, trust, perseverance to name but a few – and that certainly is not easy to muster for everyone.
It is tiring to hang in there for such a long time, in this rollercoaster of emotions, hopes and fears. What fascinates me: there is still hope. We still do not give up. We might be angry, frustrated and sad, but we still hope for the return of some form of normal life which will give us back at least some sort of control.
Surely, we cannot expect everything going according to plan because it never does anyway. But giving up planning for the most part of the last two years was a surrender to reality for me. And a big test of (not only my) patience. Being so used to planning ahead and looking for solutions I felt stuck.
Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace. (Epictetus)
Then I decided to take it as an exercise in letting go. Allowing myself more room than ever before. “Leaning into discomfort” (Brené Brown) is essential in a challenging situation, but we often don’t dare to go down that road. To try it out lets us grow, however scary it feels. And it’s totally ok to be scared when doing hard things.
I was not alone in this. The many conversations with friends and colleagues who were struggling themselves while moving along, the mutual encouragement, all these little signs of support and understanding did and still do help.
To move forward trusting my voice within. Hesitating, stumbling, sometimes falling – and then getting back up.
Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on. (Eckhart Tolle)
Now things do start to look better, even with a bumpy road ahead. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And once again we see that life takes unexpected turns, and not necessarily always bad ones.
My best piece of news I found last week: two Texas scientists developed a cheaper, easier to make and to distribute anti-covid vaccine which they do not intend to patent, so anyone could reproduce it. Thus enabling low-income countries to make it available faster to far larger parts of their population.
It means we are coming closer now to global vaccine equity because two people did the right thing without hesitation, hoping others will follow their example.
If we ever needed proof that not all is lost, here you go.
The past two years have put a spotlight on many things. Not only on what does not work well and where our priorities should lie, but also on what we are capable of.
What we can control – and what we need to live with.
Where we should take action – and where we need to let go.