We are a generation of possibilities. We connect with people across oceans with ease, we learn multiple languages and we have access to the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. So why will most of us end up in a similar circumstance as our parents? Because of human needs haven’t changed. The white picket fence in the suburbs with the trophy wife/husband is so appealing because it satisfies our fundamental human need for control. If you take a look at anything that is making you unhappy in your life, chances are you feel like you don’t have control over that situation. Circumstances of financial distress, marital conflicts, sickness, breakups, and even deaths are so emotionally overwhelming because we often have little to no control over these situations.
Humans crave control because of our long history of uncertainty. The potential for famine after a storm was great, so we stayed in one place for our entire lives because we understood the weather and the wildlife. If we ventured out of our comfort zone we might even get eaten alive. So, even though the world feels like an ocean of possibilities, we hesitate and we settle.
A lack of control can be debilitating and tends to manifest itself physically in sadness or exhaustion. To take back control over our lives we reach back for the comfort of the familiar, of the skills we have already developed, or of a life we have already seen our parents live.
When we can’t retreat to our comfort zone or our goals demand that we push past our comfort zone, how do we escape our very nature of fight or flight back to the nest?
- Take back control: Find an area of your life where the end result will satisfy your need for control. I didn’t exercise before, but I found that the satisfaction of choosing to workout and following through greatly helped relieve some of the stress during financially difficult times. For the same reason, investing your energy in a project or work is a great way to overcome a breakup or other emotional hardships.
- Write it down: Having negative emotions can feel like carrying around a whip which you use to flog yourself every 5 minutes. Put down the whip. If it’s a situation you have no control over, write down your negative thoughts every night before bed. After a few days you will either realize you have more control over the situation than you previously thought, or you will accept it and move on.
- Make a plan: At simple as it may sound, making plans to solve a problem satisfies our need for control. Just expressing a plan of action to another person gives us the sense of having achieved it.
- Appreciate your options: Studies in positive psychology have demonstrated the power of gratitude to bring about happiness and emotional stability. Realizing we have access to a world of opportunities can allow us to breath a sigh of relief. There is always another way of making money, another form of therapy to try, another potential partner, another support system to find comfort in, new people to meet, and the list goes on!
- Turn lemons into lemonade: Along the same lines, realize the positive opportunities in your struggles. Being fired can be an opportunity to explore entrepreneurship, breaking up can mean learning to be single and love yourself and so on. Rock bottom means you have nowhere to go but up!
- Let go. Losing control goes against every instinct we have. Recognize the feeling of powerlessness and surrender to it. Learn to flow with whatever the universe brings.
The most powerful step towards happiness is recognizing that CONTROL is what you are missing. Once we comprehend that our unhappiness or dissatisfaction stems from a lack stability and control, we can confront the situation from a different angle and create a plan of action that actually solves the problem.
Let me know in the comments below if you’re struggling with gaining back control and what strategies have worked for you.