“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” (Steve Maraboli)

Why are feelings of control so important to our mental health? Control gives us the power to influence situations and helps us to feel valued; it motivates us and it empowers us to exert our effort and energy into the challenges and opportunities that present themselves to us. There are many things in life that we have control over. We can control what we choose to contribute or input into any situation, and also the way we choose to respond to situations that we encounter. When we see things happen as a direct result of our own input, it shows us that we are able to influence events, which can then motivate us further.

However, some things in life are simply beyond our control. Even though we can determine what we put into a situation, the ultimate outcome is often influenced by factors that are beyond us. This can cause a great deal of stress and frustration, especially where that outcome is something that matters to us and something that we feel passionately about. This resource is designed to help us learn to distinguish between the things that we are able to change, and the things that we are not – and, importantly, how to use this knowledge to protect and cultivate our own mental resources. So whether you are worried about a particular issue or problem that does not seem to be getting any better, or whether you are someone who finds themselves feeling generally anxious or frustrated due to the uncertainties in life, this can help you to view these situations in a more realistic and healthy way.

Through raising your awareness of the things that are (or are not) within your direct control, you can begin to ease the pressure you are putting yourself under and learn to better accept the things that you simply cannot change. In doing so, you will find your mental resources are freed up to focus in on the things that you can change and the differences you can make. This should result in a more positive overall perception of the situations you encounter and can help protect your health and well-being in many ways.

Before we begin, here are a couple of tips…

  • Be honest with yourself. We may want to believe we have the power to change every aspect of a situation, but in reality, our influence may be restricted to certain things. By acknowledging this and knowing when to let go or walk away from something, we can free up our energy to focus on the things that we are able to influence more effectively.
  • Don’t give up aiming high or trying to change things. There is an important difference between letting go of something we can’t control and giving up on something too early. Sometimes our greatest achievements are the things we have to work hard for and try hard to change. The key to this exercise is learning to be kind to yourself and accept when the line has been crossed, and when it is time to start re-channelling our energies.
  • Take it one step at a time. If there is more than one thing weighing on your mind, don’t try to address all the issues in one go. Break them down and zone in on the single thing that is most pressing at the moment. Then, repeat the activity after a few days (or as often as you wish to) with a different concern or worry.

Step 1 – Focus your thoughts

What is it that is worrying you right now? Focus in on exactly is the thing that is making you lose sleep. When we try to supress our thoughts and block them from our mind, they can end up bubbling away in our minds and returning with increased frequency or at unexpected times. Actually paying attention to them can really help with this. Of course, sometimes it is not that simple as there may be more than one thing on your mind. If this is the case, list the things that are causing you the greatest deal of concern at the present time. In the steps that follow, we can then focus in on the thing that is weighing most on your mind at the present time.

Step 2 – Break it down

Write down some facts about the issue that is worrying you, and what it is that makes it feel so troubling or unresolved. If you have listed more than one thing above, take just the first one for now and make a few notes about it to help you understand why this particular issue is one that concerns you.

Step 3 – Identify what you can and what you cannot control

  1.  Now that you are focusing on this particular issue, you will be able to identify aspects of that situation that are in your control – the things that you might be able to influence and take some action on. What are they?
  2.  Now here is the tricky part – take a good look at the situation and identify aspects that are simply not within your control. These might be things that are up to other people, where our influence over them is so limited that it is not a good use of our time to try to change them. They might be things that no one can control – perhaps they are things that will only resolve or reveal themselves in time, and as such, waiting and worrying about them is not going to be an effective use of our mental resources.


Step 4: Shifting the focus and preserving our energy

Ask yourself: are you really focusing on the things that could be making a difference?

Try to focus your energies and focus on one or two things that are in your control, once you have done so, allow yourself to set aside the aspects of this situation that you cannot control, feeling confident in the knowledge that you have done all you can for now.

Step 5: Evaluate

Think about how you feel now you have completed this exercise. Over time, you should find that you are exerting your efforts and energies into more fruitful actions and activities; the things where you can really make a difference. You should start to feel more relaxed and in control of the things that you can change, while worrying less about the things that you cannot influence.


At Zeal, we believe in strengthening people and organisations. Through our understanding of the science of human behaviour and experience of the workplace, we help organisations strengthen their people, teams and leaders to create healthier, happier and more productive workplaces.
What makes us different is we’re psychologists with business in mind. We are passionate about the use of psychology in the workplace, and aim to enhance individual and organisational health, well-being and performance.
Contact us for more information about our practical tools and the bespoke services we can offer to your organisation, or alternatively email us at support@zealsolutions.co.uk or call us on T: 01159 932 324.

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