Getting criticized by your supervisor; finding out that someone you love has lied to you; receiving some bad news — these things cause stress. And stress has negative consequences, as you well know. But these are only stressful events. The source of stress that wreaks the greatest havoc on your health and sanity is ongoing stressful circumstances.
Like what? Like when a stepchild moves in with you, permanently disrupting the privacy you had with your spouse; or when your younger brother marries someone who verbally abuses your favorite niece. These are the kinds of stresses you have to live with. They don’t just come up and rock your world for a little while and then go away. They stay. And, like living in a house with a fire alarm going all day long, it starts to wear you down.
But there is something you can do about it. When you have an ongoing stressful circumstance in your life, you can modify your level of responsibility. Either take more responsibility or less. Start by asking yourself, “Am I trying to control something I can’t or shouldn’t control?” or “Is there something I should take responsibility for that I have been leaving out of my control?”
It might help to write it out. Write the questions and then jot down some ideas — where are you taking too much or too little control of some aspect of your life?
Be specific. You are responsible for your child in general, for example, but specifically, do you control what he wears or what he eats or when he goes to bed? You must decide. What exactly do you control and what is either out of your control or none of your business? You must decide.
If something is out of your control (or is none of your business and you’ve been trying to make it your business), you will relieve yourself of a lot of stress by letting go of it. Drop that one. Recognize it’s out of your control and busy yourself with things that are in your control. You may be in the habit of trying to control that thing, so you’ll have to remind yourself again and again for a couple weeks: “Oh yeah, I’m not trying to control that anymore.” Write it on a card and carry it with you. Post notes to yourself on your bathroom mirror. Do whatever you have to do to remember you no longer have to waste your energy trying to control that thing.
Now, if you find something you should and can control and haven’t been, roll up your sleeves and get to work on solving the problem. Use the problem-solving method from page 266. Deliberately take steps to repair the troubling circumstances. That’ll relieve your stress better than anything else. It may be difficult at first; it may actually cause you extra stress to face the situation and try to deal with it, but in the long term, your stress level will go down.
Take responsibility for what you are responsible for, and stop taking responsibility for what is not your responsibility. It’s that simple. Control what you can control, and let the rest go. It will relieve a great deal of your stress. Control stress by stressing control.
This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.