I subscribe to the belief that no matter what, you are always in control of your own emotions.
(There’s a big BUT coming…)
BUT there are times when long-term stress from a myriad of causes can make it seem like you are very much out of control of everything.
How do you put yourself back in charge of how you are feeling and reacting? Better yet, how do you start changing your life for the better?
Here are a few ways that work for me:
1. List the things in your life that ARE in your control.
No matter what’s going on in your life right now, there are things that ARE in your control. Don’t believe me? Here’s a short list:
- The pace of your breathing.
- What you decide to look at.
- What you choose to put on in the morning.
- What you choose to eat.
Start making your list. What’s in your control right now? Doing this helps shift you from the “victim” mode (“Why is this all happening to me! I can’t do anything about it!) to the “empowered” mode (“Okay, some of this is out of my control, but I CAN control some things.").
Focus on consciously controlling the small things you can. Then, focus on what you can control in larger, more complicated situations. The more you put your mind in the mode that you are in charge, the more that things begin to feel under control in your life in general.
2. Realize that, through a series of stressors or shocks, you’ve become programmed to react from a place of fear, worry, and exhaustion.
While it IS true that you are always in control of your emotions, if you’ve been through a series of unexpected stressful events, you shift into reaction mode.
What’s this mean? Basically, you are prepared for battle every moment of every day. You EXPECT the worst is going to happen, so when anything happens (good or bad), you react automatically from a place of fear, anger, or exhaustion. Basically, in reaction mode, you bypass the usual break between the experience and your choice of reaction to it, and instead, you just react.
On top of that, gone are the days when you made confident decisions; by expecting the next thing to be as bad as the last, each decision is made with anxiety and worry.
I cannot tell you how difficult it is to shift from reaction mode to being empowered again when you are in this out-of-control, my-life-sucks place, but it can happen. In fact, taking back control over your emotions is the key to taking back control over your life.
The first step is acknowledging that you are in reaction mode. The next is to start making empowered, non-rushed decisions.
3. Start making empowered, non-rushed decisions.
For me, when I go through an out-of-control period, I fall into “decision fatigue,” and have difficulty trusting my instincts to make even the most irrelevant of decisions. In fact, something as simple as what to make for dinner can have me standing at the fridge for minutes trying to figure out what looks good.
More often than not, in this decision fatigue state, I’ll make the “lesser” or “easier” choice and, instead of, for instance, making something healthy for dinner, I’ll go out to eat or call for pizza. (Neither are decisions I’d be likely to make if I was feeling clear-headed and in charge of things.)
Worse, I find that in this state even little things - a colleague asking for help with something, a driver cutting me off on the road, another phone call while I’m in the middle of something important to me - make me react more sharply and angrily than I would ever normally do.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon in my life for years, but it turns out that “decision fatigue” is a very real thing. In fact, social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, coined the term after discovering that the more decisions a person has to make in a period of time, the more likely it is that the person either makes an impulsive and slightly reckless decision, or, exhausted by all the choices, just stops making decisions altogether.
It’s basically the cumulative effect of trying to make the “best” or “right” choice a zillion times in a day. When you are going through a period when you have significant stressors - and maybe some of those stressors are because of decisions you made previously that seem to be “wrong” - you will get into a mode of panic.
For me, this manifests in this kind of thinking: “What if this decision is wrong? What if everything falls apart? What if I put in all this effort and it fails? Maybe I should just take the safe choice. What is the safe choice? Maybe I shouldn’t make any choice right now; everything is just too scary. I’m going to screw this up.”
As you may know, that is not a fun dialogue to have running through your head; little things seem like life-or-death things.
If this is happening to you, realize that whatever decisions you made that have lead you to this point are in the past. Yes, you may be dealing with the ramifications of them at the moment, but you can make present decisions that lead you to a better place.
More so, realize that you made the prior decisions with the best information you had at the time. With new info, you might go back and change it, but you can’t. Instead, use the new information to have confidence that the next decisions will be better ones.
To start to get out of this mode, make the most significant decisions early in the morning after a good night’s sleep; you’ll be freshest and most able to clearly see what you want to do. Always take a moment to calm your mind and connect with positive emotions - happiness, love, contentment - before making a critical decision.
Next, if you get overwhelmed through the day, remember that you can always walk away and gather yourself before making a decision. Use the phrase, “You know, I need a few moments before I can decide on that,” and excuse yourself.
Go somewhere quiet (the bathroom or your car, for instance), and breathe in and out several times. How do you really feel about this decision? Listen to yourself. Make the decision. Expect the best.
To help with this process, use the retuning statement (affirmation), "I am now in charge of my life. I trust my ability to make empowered decisions for my best." It's a good idea to use the retuning statement when you wake in the morning, by closing your eyes, connecting with a feeling of happiness (imagine a happy time in your life), and then repeating the statement over and over while in that happy state.
While it does take work, by using these steps consistently, you will reprogram your mind to have confidence in your ability to control your life.
Put these steps in place today; I’d love to hear your experiences below!