Today is Day 10 – thankfully the last one – of my enforced ‘posturing’ following major surgery to reattach my right retina. Posturing involves lying on my left side for 45 mins out of EVERY hour during the day, and sleeping on my left side at night.
The 15 min breaks I get every hour, I have taken to calling my ‘party time’. These highlights are meticulously planned so that I can fit as much of normal everyday life in to them: meal prep; eating; drinking coffee; toilet breaks; eye drops; painkillers; social media interaction; emails; following the antics of my work colleagues at Active for Health; and writing this blog!
Although I’m in control of what I do in these ‘party times’, the whole detached retina event came as a big shock, and I certainly wasn’t in control of events as they started to unfold on that Friday evening two weeks ago.
As humans we like to feel that we are in control – of our lives, our destiny, our day to day living etc. But in reality, how much control do we truly have? And how can we cope when we’re in that uneasy, unsure position of being ‘Out of Control’? It can happen in any sphere of our lives:
– illness and death: we have only limited control over illness, and have NO control over our next breath!
– redundancy or job problems: we can work hard, but ultimately may not be in control of employment decisions
– family & friend relationships (or lack of!): it takes two to make a relationship work
– fitness / sport / injuries: despite using a PT and/or good training methods, we can still get injured
– food / weight: hormones, environment, manufacturers, advertisers / marketing, culture, habit – all play a part
– finances: property prices; institutional flaws; stock & shares; pensions; HMRC – all affect the outcome
– …and the list could go on and on…
There is no formula for guaranteed success in life – indeed, what is success? You can work hard, network well, train smart, eat clean, be well educated, budget efficiently… and yet still not be able to achieve what you want.
So, how do we cope when we find ourselves in a situation that is out of our control? Over the past few years I’ve developed some strategies that have helped me – I hope they help you too:
1) Avoid Catastrophic Thinking and gain a correct perspective of the situation.
Easier said than done I know – but taking a few deep breaths and putting things into a correct perspective is very helpful. Ask yourself the following questions:
– can I change anything about this situation to help with the stress?
– what could I have done differently in the run up to this situation that would have either prevented it happening, or made it less of a stressful time?
– what action/s do I need to take to improve the situation?
I find that if I can get the thoughts out of my head and down on to paper, it then makes it clearer for me to understand and work through. It could be a matter of writing out what is bothering me: what do I feel and think about the situation, how it came about, and how will it pan out?
Or you can do a ‘Mind Map’ – a picture if you like, with the main problem in the centre of the page, and accompanying problems and possible outcomes around the outer edges. I find Dr Caroline Leaf particularly helpful in describing how to do this.
3) Get support.
As humans, we’re not designed to be in isolation. We all need people, whether we like it or not, for help and support. So hunt out some people who can help you with the particular situation that is out of control. Online resources can be very good, BUT use with caution – there’s a lot of hype and myth out there too! It’s much better to seek out people local to you, who you can meet up with and discuss things through with. This also helps with networking and building up good relationships – you never know when you’ll be in a position to help them!
4) Learn from your experiences.
The ‘joy’ of going through times of being in uncomfortable situations is our ability to learn from them. Often when I’m going through difficult times, I can look back in my journal or cast my mind back to similar times and gain confidence from how I overcame that situation. You acknowledge how you’ve grown emotionally, physically and / or spiritually, and you take another step in the right direction.
However, is being ‘Out of Control’ such a bad thing? Some people crave the feeling of being out of control in a bid to escape from a world that is increasingly being controlled to make it ‘safer’. There is a buzz of adrenaline which rushes through the body when we take risks, whether they’re perceived or real.
Roller-coasters and abseiling are two such ‘risks’ that immediately spring to my mind. I love roller-coasters, and I’ve also abseiled (not quite so enjoyable!). With both activities, you are putting your life, safety, and ability to come out the other end smiling, in the hands of other people. There is a risk, despite all the best H&S measures, that things may just go wrong.
But then there is the HUGE sense of achievement and excitement buzz when you have successfully achieved what you set out to do. You purposely went ‘Out of Control’ and survived!
For me, SCUBA diving was something else I tried where I felt very much ‘Out of Control’. I had an immense fear of going under water, and this was my practical way of conquering that fear! I purposely decided it was time to put myself out of my comfort zone. The Cheshire grin on my face afterwards lasted for at least a week, and I now love being underwater.
So here are some tips to help you to go purposefully ‘Out of Control’:
1) Face your fears.
You cannot overcome something until you’ve admitted that you have a problem with it. Often the biggest step we take is than initial admittance. It means we have to swallow our pride, maybe shatter a few illusions (our own and other peoples’) and face reality. There is a sense of relief and release when we finally admit something though. It comes into the light from being hidden in darkness – and, like our thoughts are clearer when written down, our fears lose some of their power once they are acknowledged.
2) Learn and develop.
In the weeks between finally admitting my fear of going underwater and actually doing my first SCUBA dive, I did a lot of research. I spoke with a doctor for a medical perspective, and spoke with a couple of expert divers for a practical perspective. I also found a local dive club and chatted with them for friendly support. Going ‘Out of Control’ is, for me, a step by step process of building up a Big Picture (good name for a company!) and working through issues one at a time. That way I try to minimise the feeling of panic and being overwhelmed. The benefits of this approach is that you can start to rationalise your fears, and the knowledge you learn along the way can then help others in the future.
3) Work alongside others.
Being mentored by someone who is ahead of you on the journey, and working with others in a particular area of interest is invaluable. You can learn from their mistakes, broaden your thinking, discuss ideas and theories in a safe environment, develop your area of experience, and may even teach your mentor a thing or two in the process!
There are many ways of seeking out a mentor: ask friends and work colleagues who you respect if they would be willing to spend some time helping you; join local groups specialising in your particular interest; take part in online forums and discussions; make Social Media work for you by taking an interest in what others are saying / commenting on and join in with the discussion.
4) Lifelong learning.
I love learning! I love reading, researching, going to conferences, trying new things, and talking to people who challenge my existing thinking and expose me to new ideas. It keeps my brain whirring and my adrenaline pumping. There is a plethora of groups you can join; societies you can support; conferences you can attend; podcasts you can listen to. Never be afraid to ask questions – however silly they may seem to you – if you’re thinking it, then chances are, so are many other people.
We all need a purpose to our life – something to focus on which keeps us going through the tough stuff; something which is worth getting out of bed for each morning. Personally, as a Christian, the thing which keeps me going is knowing that I’m truly loved and accepted by God just as I am, but that He loves me too much to leave me there! He wants to help me become more like Him. This involves the scary, ‘out of control’ times of letting go of things which I hold dearly on to, but which don’t necessarily help my personal growth. I’m learning to trust Him when I face difficult times (like a detached retina which could affect my sight!). I believe that He knows what lies ahead in the future, and that He has good plans for my life. I know that He is in control, even when I feel out of it.
I’ll leave you with this song from Bethel Music which perfectly sums up my feelings of being ‘In over my head’ – of being ‘Out of Control’ but knowing (at least in part) the Person who IS in full control.