Friday, May 15, 2015

Outside Your Control by Allen Laudenslager with Bryan Neva

When I was in the army , an  old time sergeant said “You either control your environment or it controls you” and like many young inexperienced trainees, I bought into that concept. Unfortunately, it has caused me untold frustration both at work and in my personal life. With age and experience, I  came to realize that there are circumstances outside my control and that many times they are completely outside my power to control. This is the central teaching of both Stoic Philosophy and Buddhism: that there are things under your control and things outside of your control, and if you really think hard, you’ll realize that the only things absolutely within your control are your own attitudes and behavior.  

I recently read an article that included the following statement: “Blaming others for a situation over which you clearly had a choice is simply shirking responsibility.”  While it's true that blaming others for situations over which you clearly had a choice is bad for you anytime you do it, there are real situations where outside influences caused the problem for you and recognizing that the cause was really outside your control is the first step in recognizing that it's not YOUR failure that caused the problem. Recognizing the real cause will help you find ways to either fix that outside disturbance or to separate yourself from it.

Life basically only offers us three choices: we can Accept things the way they are, we can honestly and constructively try to Change things, or we can Exit. In other words we can ACE it: Accept it, Change it, or Exit.  In practice, this is what most people do unconsciously.  The 12 step programs phrase it well in their serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Remember, you are getting wet because it's raining and you can't control the rain. All you can do is continue getting wet (Accept it), put on a raincoat or put up an umbrella (Change it), or come in out of the rain (Exit).

In any organization whether it’s a family, a social group, or a workplace, people will behave badly at times.  You might blame yourself asking, “what did I do to upset them or cause their bad behavior?”  Regardless of what you did or did not do, how someone chooses to behave is entirely up to them and not you.  You can honestly and sincerely try to positively influence other people’s behavior, but you cannot control their behavior. That’s completely up to them. You only can control your response and your behavior.  You can choose to be hateful and vindictive, or you can choose to be loving and forgiving - knowing that you too sometimes behave badly.

One of the big secrets to life is discovering the difference between what’s inside your control and what is controlled by other people or events. Once you understand what is truly within your control, you can begin to fix the things you can, decide to accept the things you can’t or to exit from the situation. 

When it gets right down to it, all you can really control is what you do and how you act. Including what you will or will not stick around for.

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