You know those days… the ones that go something like this:
You wake up after a shit night’s sleep; there’s no milk for your coffee; you see that your boss has changed your work schedule today for the third time with no phone call; the guy in the truck that just passed you on your bike was about an inch away from clipping your front tire when he turned; then you get to checkout at the store only to realize you don’t have your wallet — all before noon. Maybe this is tacked onto a full week of similar days, or maybe it only took these 6 hours; either way you can feel your blood boiling just below the surface, and then you get frustrated about the fact that your blood is boiling at all.
So then you get home and walk slowly to your room and fall into a heap on the bed and sit on that edge of not feeling at all or feeling all of it at once about to burst into tears.
What to do then?
Do you grit your teeth, hold it together, numb it out? Or do you allow the tears to come out of you uncontrollably pulling you over the edge into feeling what feels like too much?
Well, my advice in that particular moment would most definitely be to lean into feeling. Feelings are fleeting when they are allowed to be expressed. However, over the years I’ve come up with a better question - why does it feel like too much to begin with?
To get to the answer of that for yourself is a whole practice in self awareness and honesty. For me, the short answer to that question usually turns out to be some version of the control freak side of me feeling very out of control and uncomfortable. I spent several years trying out the ‘let it go’ movement, but ‘just surrender’ wasn’t cutting it for me; more often than not it was me just shoving emotions down deeper, or shutting them off entirely. I could feel the emotions cling inside my body as I would try to move; I could taste the words I would swallow lingering in my mouth. I needed something more proactive.
I began to practice, in a phrase, controlling the controllables.
My brain likes lists; no doubt it’s probably the side of my brain that also likes to feel completely in control of everything. So I started listing all the things that are controllable. Turns out, it’s a really short list.
YOU. You are the only thing you have control over.
Ironically, over my years of coaching and teaching, I’ve noticed that a high percentage of the time people tend to focus much of their energy on trying to control other people or situations, all while forgetting that they have any control over themselves at all.
If I am to help you remember anything I hope it is this - you have choices!
And for my kindred-spirit control freaks out there, those choices are where your controllables list gets longer. You have control over:
how you spend your time
who you spend it with
what you eat
what you read
what you spend your money on
The list starts to get more interesting when you also realize you have control over:
all your actions
all your reactions; or better yet, responses
how you treat others
how you treat yourself
& even how you interpret things
When you really take a look at that list, these are HUGE things. These are the things that make up your perception. Your perception gives context to life. Why is context important?
Let’s say you’ve had a great night sleep; it’s your day off from work; you’ve just finished a fun catch up with your best friend; then you get to checkout at the store only to realize you don’t have your wallet… the context around forgetting your wallet here is very different than the original story; here you may shrug it off no problem, or even laugh at yourself. Context becomes everything; perception becomes everything.
Controlling the controllables becomes the proactive solution to letting things go. If you’ve primed your perception to see things clearly as they are, then it’s harder to get wrapped up in a story about them. If you’ve decided ahead of time that your boundaries are QRS, when someone asks for XYZ you’ll be able to say no, kindly without dramas. If there’s no stories or dramas to deal with then there will be nothing that needs letting go.
Through my own practice of this, I’ve come to have more respect for the things I can’t control. Someone may say or do something that I don’t understand or like, it may even be something that hurts my feelings, but because I am conscious of my own choices and desires I have respect for others choices and desires too.
Simple? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely.
As always, this is a practice. Start focusing on just one of the controllables. The beauty there is that work will ripple into the others, as well as into your environment. You will be shaping your perception of life. You will get to respond to life instead of reacting to it.