Life is complex and unpredictable. So much happens that is outside of our control. Just in this past week I have had to contend with major organisational changes at work, a gas leak at home with freezing temperatures outside and cataract surgery.

640px-Generic-remote-control-shallow-focusOn the grand scale of things these are all relatively minor, but each has the capability to unsettle or cause major disquiet,especially if you are something of a control addict like me! There is also so much that happens we don’t expect or takes us by surprise. It is so easy to feel powerless and at the mercy of whatever is latest and loudest. Some have described this as a VUCA world – volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. And with each passing year it doesn’t seem to get any less turbulent.

So what is controllable in what is an increasingly complex and challenging world? Maybe not a lot in the wider world, but there are specific actions we can take. We can, however, still move forward when we take responsibility for our lives. Here is how the late Stephen Covey put it:

“Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

So what can you control in a fast changing and increasingly turbulent and uncontrollable world?
As I give this list to you I am very much aware of how I too need to implement these in my own life….

  • Our aim or purpose. What is it you want to do or achieve with your life, this year, this month, this day, this hour? While being open to the needs around you, what is the overall goal and direction of where you are going. Keeping the big picture in mind gives purpose and direction to the apparently trivial or mundane that is in front of us.
  • Our attention or focus. Contrary to what it at times feels like, we do have a choice as to what we focus our attention on at any given moment. You are choosing to read this blog post which means your attention is not (hopefully!) somewhere else. You can try to multi-task, but what you are actually doing is rapidly task-switiching from one thing to another, giving away your attention partially to a number of other things. So are the things I am continually focussing on  bringing me joy, fulfilment, connection or growth? Or alternatively am I allowing myself to be distracted by trivia or gossip?
  • Our attitude. This again is counter-intuitive. We are responsible for the attitude we project to the world. Happiness and a positive disposition is a choice, as much as is a complaining and negative attitude. Here are three reasons why this is important:
    • Attitude is contagious. We have mirror neurones in our brains that make our emotions catchable by other people. So whether it is a positive or a negative attitude, that rubs onto other people. For this reason it is so important to take responsibility for the kind of energy we project to the world.
    • This moment makes your future moments. In other words how you do what you do impacts how people respond to you and very often the results you get. Going into a difficult situation with a positive attitude increases the likelihood of finding a path through or a possible solution.The way we go about a task, no matter how apparently trivial or unglamorous, can have huge implications in the lives of others.
  • Our affections. One of the best way to reduce the stress we are feeling is to increase the amount of connectedness we feel in our lives to other trusted and safe people. Just being able to talk and off load to a friend or colleague who can safely handle our feelings is enormously powerful. Am I connected with those I love and am I sensing the beauty of this life?
  • Our actions. Our future is dictated by our disciplined actions in the form of what we do each day, the habits we develop and what we strive for with purpose. The opposite is also true – if you take no effort, you will have no sense of purpose or direction. However with the Law of Process it is amazing what small consistent actions can produce. As the saying goes:

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

Which of these five responses do you currently need to focus on developing in this increasingly uncontrollable and complex world?