When I was a kid, I was ice skating and remember going really fast. Next thing I recall I was being tended to in the changing room by my brother and sister and employees of the skating center. Apparently I had been going so fast that I lost control, hit my head, and knocked myself unconscious.
Fast forward to 2012 when I was discussing this incident with 1994 Olympic speed skating Gold medalist Dan Jansen. He told me, "throw a helmet on and to get back out on that ice." His advice was spot on. In the face of fear one must face it rather than avoid it. To ignore that which we're afraid of only gives that fear more power, while facing it will diminish it. This ice skating incident is perhaps a metaphor for other things in life. What do we do when we feel like we have no control over a situation?
Maybe you've had your own ice skating incident or perhaps you've been a passenger in a car with an inexperienced driver. If so, then you know just how out of control it feels when a driver doesn't brake quickly enough as a red light or an obstacle approaches.
Some people live their lives as if they are passengers in an out-of-control car. Rather than doing something to control the situation--by getting into the driver's seat--they operate the car as passengers. They attempt to control what is out of their control, rather than what actually is within it.
Here's how you can gain control when you feel like you have none:
1. Shift the locus of control.
Sometimes it's as simple as recognizing that there are things that you can change and control. What can you actually change? Be realistic. One person can't single-handedly change the economy, but, perhaps there are things you can do to ensure you stay financially sound. Such as being a smart consumer, saving, and investing wisely.
2. Put the dynamite out before it explodes.
People can sometimes find themselves in tough situations and dread facing someone, whether a loved one, friend, or colleague. Maybe a huge mistake was made at work that cost the company money. Perhaps poor judgment was used and it hurt a friend. Naturally you avoid them. This tactic will keep you free of conflict; however, at an unconscious level it will eat away at you and lead to chronic stress and anxiety. The solution: face it. Rather than passively dealing with the situation, take control and initiate the conversation, and do it with confidence. Know that you have control over what you say, how you tell the person, and reactions you might have.
3. Take action.
Rather than feeling victimized and helpless, do something. This is especially true when it comes to employment situations. So often people feel cheated by their employer if they lose their job or don't get the bonus they were counting on. Rather than stewing in fury, think about what practical steps you can take to safeguard yourself and make yourself less disposable. You can, for instance, control your relationship with your supervisor, your work performance, and whether you pursue continuing education outside of work to improve your skills and marketability. If you have already lost your job, you can control your daily schedule and maintain structure. For instance, you can still get up at the same time every day, shower, and get dressed and stick to a routine. You can make sure you read the job postings and apply for as many jobs as possible. You can network with colleagues in your area of interest. You can learn new skills that will make you more employable.
As with many situations, perception is key and that begins in your mind. So next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have no control, take some time to change your thinking. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how you go from feeling powerless to powerful.