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Feel like you've lost control? Here's how to get it back...

It was a couple of my clients recently saying their big changes and shifts in thinking from coaching have been around “control” that sparked this post, so I wrote about what I know about it as a human behaviour. I hope it’s a helpful view, and keen to hear comments.

Here’s an interesting thing about control. In a professional setting, generally, we manage to control our emotions. In conversation with someone not in agreement with our suggestions, being opposed to others plans or not liking a certain attitude, we control (or manage) our responses. OK, we might have to bite our tongue, but more often than not, we remain composed. So, how is it that, when faced with a troublesome teen, well-meaning mother or good-intentioned partner, this ability to exercise control leaves us, all emotions and language flying in an uncontrolled manner? That is, the people we care about MOST, we have the shortest temper, CHOOSING not to use that skill that we frequently use at work?

Who is screaming – “but it just happens, something snaps inside me”?

How is that situation different? How do you stop yourself in a work setting?

Interesting concept, and one to take a moment to think on for yourself. Tap into that, and you could be onto a winner at home!

What do we actually mean by control? Is the “need for control” different to a “sense of control”? If we control things too much (need), when they don’t happen as we expect them to, it can have devastating effects. From this perspective, its about the level of control we feel (sense) is needed, and being flexible when we don’t feel in control, or have choice. More importantly, it is to what extent we BELIEVE we have control, and as in the above example, who the control is placed on. Is that an internal, or an external focus?

In a queue of traffic, there are generally two types of driver, the one that keeps within a millimetre of the car in front determined not to let anyone in, it may impede their time to destination. Any incident not to their favour on this journey is likely to result in high emotions, impacting mood and behaviour hours after arrival. In the other camp, we have the drivers who recognise that letting a car or two out of a junction or merge in turn around a breakdown won’t impact their time too much, arriving at their location feeling good to have helped someone out along the way.

What is the difference? Our chosen response to an external event, has changed our approach. E+R=O (Event + Reaction/Response = Outcome). The origination of that little equation comes from the time Michael Phelps got his first Olympic medal – he chose to carry on regardless of his goggles having slipped out of place, swam for his life anyway – and picked up gold, and many more to boot. SO, what choice do you have, that you maybe aren’t clear on ? What control do you have over your actions, REALLY?

We could say this is about having an internal, versus an external view. We see that although we have no control over external events, we can certainly control our responses to them and thus have an internal locus of control.

This takes practice, but simply keeping this thought in mind goes some way to helping. Choosing how to respond to events, rather than feeling like they are “done to you”. Where could you practice this?

There are a few pieces of research I can share on this. One is the Human Givens Emotional Needs, and the other is the WrawIndex (this is a psychometric tool measuring Workplace Resilience and its impact on Wellbeing). The specific Emotional Need is “Autonomy & Control – having the volition to make responsible choices” and the Wraw Index, suggests it is “Future Focus – Personal Control – Seeking and believing you have personal control over your situation”. Both pieces of evidence are further reinforced up by a Cambridge University study, which looked at what protects people from mental health outcomes. They found a “sense of control”, but also a “sense of meaning and purpose” (another whole topic to explore later!). I mentioned the troublesome teen earlier, here’s another study that found that a perceived sense of control was actually protective against mental health problems in parents.

For more on internal/external locus of control, click here for ideas to try out.

Sheela Hobden is a Coach at bluegreen Coaching. Following her own mental health battles, she now coaches individuals, runs training sessions and speaks at conferences. She has a real passion for helping medics and healthcare professionals take as much care of themselves as they do their patients! She has a PGCERT in Business and Personal Coaching, holds ACC member status with the ICF and is CIPD qualified.

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Photo courtesy Mpho Mojapelo

Parkstone, Dorset