Worrying usually stems from a desire to control the outcome and the environment. And the more you try to control things, the more anxious you're likely to become.

While it is healthy to acknowledge that you do have control over some things in your life--like your effort and your attitude--it's not healthy to think that you're solely responsible for every outcome you encounter.

Out of all of the unhealthy habits I talk about in my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, worrying about things you can't control drains your mental strength faster than almost anything else. Not only does it waste your time and mental energy, but it also leads to more unhealthy habits, like toxic self-blame.

Fortunately, you don't have to resign yourself to being a lifelong "worry-wart." You can take control of your mind and train your brain to think differently. Here are two things you can do the next time you catch yourself worrying about things you can't control:

1. Develop a balanced sense of control.

Remind yourself what's within your control and what isn't. For example, you can control how well you take care of yourself, but you can't always prevent illness. 

You can give your kids the tools they need to succeed, but you can't force them to be good students. And you can control what type of product you sell and how you sell it, but you can't force people to buy it.

Those who strike the right balance of control recognize how their behaviors can affect their chances of success. But they also identify how external factors, such as being at the right place at the right time, can play a role. 

Examine your beliefs about what you can control and what you can't. When you can't solve the problem, focus on managing the way you feel about the problem.

Use healthy coping skills to decrease the intensity of uncomfortable emotions. Go for a walk, engage in a hobby, or practice meditation--the key is to practice dealing with discomfort so you can build confidence that you're strong enough to handle uncertainty as well as undesirable outcomes.

2. Focus on influencing people without trying to control them.

Admittedly, it's hard to sit back and watch people engage in behavior that we don't approve of, especially if that behavior is something we view as self-destructive. Maybe you worry about whether your boss is going to be mad. Or maybe you worry about whether your spouse will finally quit working such long hours. But, the truth is, you can't control other people.

That doesn't mean you can't share your concerns. Just be sure to only do it once.

Nagging, begging, and repeating yourself, won't be effective. In fact, it can backfire. The other person might simply start avoiding you or they might start hiding their behavior as their focus becomes on getting you to stop nagging, rather than on changing their behavior. 

The one thing you can do is change your own behavior. You might inspire someone else to change their behavior. 

Don't forget to focus on the positive. Offer genuine praise if someone is trying to become better.

But when you stop worrying about things you can't control, you'll enjoy better relationships, less stress, and more success. 

Build Your Mental Muscle

Studies consistently show that people who have a balanced sense of control experience higher levels of happiness. So focus on taking steps to improve your life, while also recognizing that you can't control everything.

And when you are finally able to stop worrying and trying to control every aspect of your life, you'll have more time and energy to devote to the things you can control. It'll help you develop the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.

Published on: Jan 23, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.