For some of us, the feeling of a loss of control in one’s life is a temporary situation brought on by stress, or a major life change. For others, it’s a constant condition. You likely know someone in your life that seems to have the decked forever stacked against them, and they wander almost aimlessly from crisis to crisis, lamenting why these things always happen to them. I have experienced this myself in my youth, and in the early parts of my marriage and being a father to my three kids. During those times when things were tight, and we lived paycheck to paycheck, (with a few more days in between than I would have liked), I often wondered why these things always seemed to happen over and over. Even more recently, I felt like I had to ride out a storm of negativity during the sickness and passing of my two parents, who died within 90 days of each other. Add to that the stress of handling my own family affairs, a day job, and executing the final wishes of my parents, it’s easy to feel as if you’re not in control of what is happening.
The good news is, I choose not to live that way anymore. You don’t have to either.
It’s all you.
I said that there was good news, which of course implies that there’s bad news. There is: This problem is one of self sabotage. We create these crises and out of control feelings by not living intentionally. You must choose to take action every day in your life to be in control of your life. It is a fixable situation if we follow some very simple but time intensive steps in order to be in control the next time the feces hits the rotating oscillator.
The 8 Steps To Living Intentionally
1. Admit you are not in control— No one likes to admit that they’re not in control of their lives. We rebel, because we remember how we felt when some authority figure in our lives told us we were failing. Someone who wants to live intentionally knows when they are failing, and is readily able to admit that to themselves. Only then can the work begin on regaining control. 2. Corral the herd—It’s a heck of a lot easier to know what you need to get a handle on, if you have it all in one spot. So, sit down and write it all down. Sometimes a massive data dump onto a sheet of paper (or five) helps to see it all in one place. David Allen (the author of Getting Things Done) calls this a mindsweep, and it really helps get it all out of you and out where you can see it. (Click here for a podcast of Allen doing a guided mindsweep, and follow along. It REALLY helps) 3. Group and Conquer—Look at that list. Do some of those things go together? Group them together as a project. Makes it a bit easier to look at if instead of fifty different things, you know have them in groups. Now, look for the things that you know will take less than five minutes to do. If you have the time, DO THEM. RIGHT NOW. Then look at what remains, and decide what next action on each group (or project) should be. Schedule a time to do them. 4. The Calendar is Sacrosanct.—It’s really simple. Don’t put it on your calendar if you’re not going to do it. You have to commit to that. On the other hand, it’s perfectly ok to look at some of that stuff you have left and say “screw it, I’m not doing that.” You don’t have do everything that’s on that list. As long as you are comfy with the consequences of ejecting stuff from your list, fine. Or outsourcing it to an accountable party. Again, consequences apply if THEY don’t follow through. It’s your head, and your life. But if it’s you? On the calendar it goes, and get it done when you say you’re going to do it. 5. Be Selfish—this is the thing I have the most trouble learning, so listen to me, because I’m saying it as loudly to myself as I am to you: IT IS OK TO BE SELFISH WITH YOUR TIME. Block out a time when you are working on your thing, and do not let anyone take it from you. Turn everything off if you have to. It’s ok. You have permission. Every minute you spend working towards living the life you want to live is an investment in yourself. Every minute wasted on distractions takes you further away. The world, your friends, and the people who would like you to cut their steak for them will still be there after you’re done. Unless it involves an abundance of blood, an absence of breathing, or the house is falling down, keep to your schedule. 6. A Bank is NOT just where you keep your money—Part of living intentionally also means living prepared for things. Not just a savings account, but also being ahead on other things. When we go grocery shopping these days, we buy just a little bit more of one or two items, because we are growing a bank of grocery items for the pantry. We have another freezer in which we store meat and poultry and such. It comes in handy at those times—God forbid—that things get tight. We don’t have to worry about it, it’s there. I have automated my bills, and I send asetamount every week to the utilities and other monthly bills that I have. Call it an insurance policy, but I have not yet been penalized for having a credit balance with my utilities. If I had a major problem right now, like sickness or loss of a job, I don’t have to worry about the utilities for about two to three months before I would have to dip into my savings. Identify those places in your life where you could ‘Bank’ things, and start doing that a little at a time. It adds up. 7. Know what you’re doing tomorrow tonight— The last thing you should do before going to bed is have an idea of what you’re doing the next day. Draw up a battle plan if you need to. Ideally, that’s what your calendar is for, but I also find having a sheet of paper front and center on my desk helps. it’s the first thing I see when I get to my desk in the morning. After I clear my email and get a little Dharma in over my morning caffeine, I get to work. A satisfying day is having most—if not all—of those things crossed off before I start working on the next day. 8. You time—Finally, BREATHE. If you are in a crisis right now, breathe. In most cases, it will not kill you. That’s the anxiety talking to you. I take time every day to meditate, and breathe. It is that time where I can quiet myself and that urgent but very small voice that thinks the sky is falling. If you give into that voice, you give up the ability to think calmly and logically, and anxiety knows this. Don’t give into it. Breathe.
The great news is that as captains of our ship, we have everything we need to see these crises through. A good captain knows when he is not in control, and sets about reasserting it. The only question is whether or not he took the time to gather the tools necessary before the seas got rough.
Had a time when you weren’t in control? How did you get the wheel back? Tell me about it in the comments!