Focus On What You Control

Needless to say, it was devastating to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after living thirty years of healthy, active life, but I woke up the following morning and proceeded to live, not as a "newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic," but as someone who was living with diabetes. What I mean is that I didn't carve out adjustment time for myself, I simply switched "cold turkey" to a lower-carb diet and a more routine lifestyle. I credit this decision for insulating me from some of the depression that many other diabetics often grapple with.

What worked about this wasn't that I made a quick adjustment, and therefore everything turned out fine. Rather, I employed a well-known trick for fostering resilience: focusing on what I control. My diagnosis and my new state as a disabled person with a chronic, life-changing illness was beyond my control. Grieving for that kind of change is worthwhile, but ruminating on it is bad for resilience. What I could control was my diet and my lifestyle habits. I could control which foods I decide to put in my body, what and how much exercise I got, what time I went to bed and got up in the morning, how to plan my insulin doses, and so on. By making these control points the focus of my new diagnosis, I adapted quickly and avoided emotional pitfalls that could have been a real challenge for me, and that have understandably been a serious challenge for others like me.

Quite obviously, this concept applies to all aspects of life, not just chronic disease. In fact, it applies to small discomforts every bit as much as it applies to major life-changes.

The other day, for example, I was driving in rush hour traffic when another motorist suddenly decided to do something inconsiderate of me. The fact that I don't even remember what happened is strong evidence to me that my reaction was precisely as it should have been. Rather than getting upset, swearing, and thinking of all the reasons the other motorist shouldn't have done what he did and should have done something else instead, I told myself the following: "Rather than thinking something negative, why not think of three positive things instead?" I'll admit that it was difficult to think of three positive things about an unpleasant traffic situation, but I managed to do it. (One of things was pretty thinly positive, but positive nonetheless: "I'm happy that I'm raising my daughter to be a more considerate person than that.")

Sometimes, at work, I'm asked to compensate for the poor work of someone on another team. This could be really frustrating, and in the past I've grumbled to myself about it quite a bit. In truth, however, there isn't much I can control about a situation like this. If my boss tells me to work on something, I generally have to work on it. I can't fully control my work assignments, so I'm better off not ruminating on whether certain assignments "should" fall to me or not. Instead, I can invest that energy in thinking of the things I can control: my personal scheduling, my ability to take advantage of peripheral opportunities, the extent to which I can delegate some tasks, and so on. By focusing on these things, I can avoid dwelling too long on the emotional sunk costs of "unfairness" and keep my work moving in a positive direction.

I imagine that something similar will crop up next week, when my daughter starts school for the first time. I'll have to rearrange my work hours so that I can pick her up on time. Working earlier, and then watching over her in the afternoon, means that I'll have fewer viable hours during which I can exercise, so I'll need to think of a way to stay as fit as I want to while still meeting my responsibilities to my daughter. I could waste a lot of mental energy mourning the loss of my current routine, or I could focus on the things I can control to maximize the time I'll have. I mentioned calisthenics at work, but I have more options. I can go to the gym on my lunch hour, I can jump rope at home. If I can't sneak out for a run or a bike ride, I can use an indoor trainer to get a good ride in. I can re-vamp my breakfast so that it takes less time to prepare. I can work out with my daughter, too.

Well, these are all examples from my own life. What examples from your life can you think of? 

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