The Illusion of Control and the Magic of Influence

There are three times each year when I like to review old goals and set new goals: fall, spring, and New Year’s. I think the urge to renew my goals during the fall dates back to the excitement of returning to school in August as a child. I still relish leaving the heat of summer behind for smoky air, crisp leaves and new projects.

To me spring is the next natural time to renew goals because of the promise of budding flowers and the impending excitement of summer. The sunshine, fresh air, and smell of newly cut grass help me to shake the apathy brought on by the cold, dark days and sparks new energy.

And at New Year’s I’m simply taking stock of the past year and looking forward to what a fresh year could bring.

But this New Year’s, as I looked back at my life, all I felt was disappointment and sadness. For years my two main goals have been to live a life with less pain and more energy. A life where I could ski all day, hike to the top of a mountain, or roller blade for miles. A life where I could sleep the night through, wake up without a headache and know that a migraine wouldn’t derail my plans. A life where I could do a job I was passionate about.

I looked back at my year and I felt stuck, so sad and frustrated because I felt like I had been working very hard to reach my goals without making any significant progress. As I thought about setting the same, very worthy, goals for the coming year I had a sick and hopeless feeling in the pit of my stomach. I just wanted to cry.  If I had tried my hardest the past few years and I had only made a little progress, why was I thinking that trying the same thing this year would get me any closer to my goals? Wouldn’t setting the same goals get me more of the same disappointment and helplessness?

As I talked to my boyfriend about his goals for the new year and sadly considered my lack of progress, a new insight slowly emerged. I realized that my previous goals focused on things that I simply could not control. And, as much as I wanted to be able to control the outcomes, I could only influence them.

The idea of control, in this situation, was an illusion and I had allowed the illusion of control to tantalize and create disillusion in me for years.

I couldn’t control whether my body would heal, my pain would stop, or my energy would increase but I could influence each of those issues by controlling whether I ate foods that nourished my body, abandoned the TV for quality sleep, focused on gently moving my body, released my negative thoughts, hired the best medical practitioners I could afford, and did as much as I could of what they told me to do.

I couldn’t control whether I had the energy to have a full time health coaching practice or whether I would attract more clients but I could control whether I consistently published my blog posts, offered consultations, worked with a business coach, and offered workshops in the community.

I couldn’t even control my weight. At 5’ 5” and 147lbs I’m an average weight. And even though I eat the healthiest diet I can possibly eat, my weight hasn’t budged below 140lbs.  I couldn’t control my weight because of a thyroid disorder and hormone issues.  If I wanted to try to force my body into what society/the media says is ideal then I would either drive myself crazy by enforcing even more food restrictions or I would make myself more sick and more exhausted by depleting myself of vital nutrients. On the other hand, I absolutely can influence my weight and experience more happiness by eating whole, unprocessed and nourishing foods, gently exercising, building strength, and getting enough sleep while loving and appreciating my body just as it is. But having absolute control of my weight is only an illusion.

I can’t control whether a migraine hijacks my weekend and makes me post my blog late (yes…yes it did!) but I can learn to write my post earlier or just be gentle with myself and know that being a day or two late with my blog post will not make the world come to a crashing halt.

Ultimately, the illusion of control can crush me or the magic of influence can free me to acknowledge my accomplishments (no matter how small they are) and take pride in my strength and resilience.

I can focus on trying to control what I can’t control and feel exhausted, stuck, hopeless and helpless. Or I can focus on what I can control, practice courage by not giving up, and cultivate a sense of accomplishment, pride, and contentment.

This year I’ve decided to take a new path, to focus on what I can control and to be content with influencing the things that I can’t control.

This year my goals are to stop watching TV, do 10 minutes of gentle movement five days a week, do five push-ups three days a week, only eat foods that nourish my body, sleep as much as possible, publish a blog post every two weeks, complete a workshop on mental health and nutrition, spend as much time in nature as possible, and follow the advice of my medical team.

So far I’m doing a really good job of accomplishing my goals while working to letting go of what I can’t control. It’s a work in progress because pain and fatigue are not easy states to accept but I’m a work in progress and perfection isn’t the point! Growth, insight, love, and courage are the point.

This time next year I may not be pain free and brimming with energy but I’m confident that continue growing and become the best version of myself.

What are your goals? Are you trying to control what is uncontrollable? Or, are you focusing on what you can control and knowing that the rest will come when the time is right?

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