Stop Trying to Control the Uncontrollable

July 7, 2016

Having control means that you can change things with your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It means you have power over them and you can change their course at will.

We’d all love to be able to control the world around us, but the truth is there very few things we can control. At the theoretical level, this is nothing new, and we’re pretty aware of it, but at the emotional level we tend to forget it very easily, which can make us upset.

In general, we tolerate uncertainty and frustration pretty poorly when our expectations aren’t fulfilled the way we wanted them to be. It’s quite unpleasant when this happens, just as it sometimes is when we don’t know what’s going to happen in a given situation.

What can I control?

In the external world? Nothing. You can control yourself very easily, however. We can feel free and content if we remember this and believe it. There’s an infinite amount of problems and stressful or unfortunate circumstances that could happen, and it’s normal to get emotional when they do. The emotions that arise in the face of a threat or loss are completely normal and help us to manage the problem.

Healthy emotions, like sadness, frustration, or grief, help us to resolve problems if they’re not too intense, lasting, or frequent.

woman thinking

But when your emotions get too intense, lasting, or frequent, it means their “internal software” is failing, probably because you’re trying to control the uncontrollable. You’re probably telling yourself that things have to be another way, just the way you’d like them, and this way of thinking only ends up frustrating you because things won’t be that way just because you want them to be.

As we said before, you can control and try to change the way you see the world, because no one else can enter your thoughts, but it’s completely absurd to try to change the external world around you.

Internalize the idea that you can’t control anything but yourself, and you’ll become emotionally flexible and strong, capable of enjoying everything that’s in your hands to change.

Tolerate uncertainty and frustration

To be more psychologically healthy, you should learn to how to tolerate uncertainty and frustration. Uncertainty occurs when we’re not sure what will happen. Some people react to this feeling with anxiety because they stress about “preparing” in case whatever happens is frightening or dangerous.

So they employ the strategy of constant worry. But no matter how much you worry about something, this won’t prevent it from happening if that’s what has to happen.

Even if I worry a lot because I have a strong headache, this won’t prevent me from getting sick. And another thing is that if I am finally diagnosed with something, I would be responsible and take care of myself, which is totally logical and sensible.

question clouds

We feel frustrated when our expectations aren’t fulfilled. I expect life, other people, and myself to act according to norms that I create, and if they don’t, I get angry, depressed, or anxious. But in the end, the world goes on, and I’ve just prescribed myself a dose of unpleasant anger. Two problems for the price of one. Is it worth it?

How to stop trying to control things

Here are some tips that can help you stop trying to control everything and tolerate uncertainty:

  • Accept and tolerate the fact that certainty and security do not exist. In this world, the only thing that we can be sure of is that we will die one day. That’s it. You can never be absolutely certain that your partner loves you and will never abandon you, or whether you’ll get sick or not, or whether you’ll  be successful at work.
  • Even if you put a lot of effort into something, you still might not actually succeed. Sure, if you do something well, you’ll get better results. But it doesn’t always happen that way because the world is unfair by definition. So it’s better to forget about the results and focus on enjoying what you do, without caring so much about what will happen in the future.
  • Forget about rigid norms for yourself, others, and the world. Nothing, or at least almost nothing, will go exactly the way you want it to. Getting angry, depressed, or anxious over things that are out of your control is a waste of energy and time.
  • Take responsibility for yourself. The good news is that you can control yourself, and you can start now. You can look at reality from many different angles, try to be more flexible, and try to care a little bit less. But do this without becoming apathetic, which is another way of being controlled by fear.