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You Are In Control

This article was written by in Personal Development. 13 comments.

Many people begin a new year with goals, resolutions and targets that define what they’d like to change within the next 365 days (or 366 days in a leap year). While most people fail to achieve these goals and resolutions, just the process of making resolutions and the self-reflection required can be helpful towards improving a life.

The ability to make and achieve goals relies on the belief that one can control an outcome, in this case an improvement in one’s life, by changing behavior or attitudes. One reason resolutions fail is that some are no entirely convinced they have control.

ControllerThere is a tendency in American culture, due its focus on the strength of the individual over the strength of a community, for people to take credit for success but look for external causes for failure. This tendency is apparent even in the choice of words; in the previous paragraph, I wrote “resolutions fail” rather than “people fail at achieving resolutions” without thinking about the possible causes. There are other examples:

  • Good performance in a portfolio is due to the investor’s own stock choices while bad performance is caused by market forces or the failure of a system.
  • A promotion at work is due to one’s own hard work and accomplishment while a lack of reward or being laid off is the result of having a bad boss or the economy.
  • A business’s success may be caused by the owner’s or CEO’s strategies, while a business’s failure would be the result of a competitor’s tactics.

Over the last decade, I’ve come to increasingly realize that I have more control over my life. My actions and choices — and sometimes, lack of choices — have a bigger effect on the outcome of my life than external factors. I haven’t quite fully accepted this in all aspects of life, but I’m getting there. With the knowledge that I am in control, there are certain ways I can exercise this control to affect the way my life moves forward.

Making active decisions. There was a time I avoided decision-making, particularly regarding important changes in my life, as long as possible. There are some decisions that can difficult due to the way a choice will affect the rest of one’s life, and like many people, I often preferred to ignore the need to make a decision in the hopes that someone else — or society itself — would make that decision for me. This is a great way to cede control of my life. Yet, I would still be responsible for the outcome because not deciding is a choice. It’s just a cowardly choice.

Impermanence. I often remind myself that life is short, and that is an idea that keeps me afraid to make mistakes with my big life decisions. I don’t want to make a decision and later discover that two decades or more of my life were wasted on an ultimately unsatisfying path. One way I can motivate myself to make decisions is to remember that almost every choice is not permanent, and I can change my mind most of the time.

Being able to change your mind and find a new path is a great benefit of life. Without some flexibility, it would be impossible for young people to choose life-long goals. Inevitably, external factors do influence our lives, and the ability to react and change course if necessary is key for maintaining control.

Accepting what is beyond control. I can’t control other people’s actions, but I can control how I react to them. I have no control over terrorist attacks, acts of nature like hurricane Katrina, or the day-to-day swings of the stock market. The best I can do is reasonably limit myself to potential exposure. I can prepare for the worst without sacrificing my needs for today and the future.

Being positive, friendly, and happy. While I wouldn’t want to be that annoying friend who is perpetually in a great mood, it is empowering to be able to remain positive in bad circumstances. Having a generally kind disposition can encourage others to be kind as well, though it can also encourage others to try to take advantage of your good nature. Find balance between kindness and strength to keep bullies at bay (adults can be bullies, too — not just kids). Choosing happiness allows you to survive and thrive in tough times and emerge a better person.

The points above are all aspects of life I try to remind myself in an effort to move my life in the right direction. It can be a struggle to accept blame and avoid frustration with the world. It’s still a struggle for me to make important decisions with my life. But these are all aspects of my life I’ve improved over the last decade, and this shift in personal philosophy has helped me arrive at the point of my life where I am now — a state where I feel generally successful and happy.

Photo: Ciaran McGuiggan

Published or updated January 2, 2012.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Very true! I am in control of my actions and reactions. There is very little I can not control in my life.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Good post – and your point is well taken. In failure, we’re probably better off examining what we did wrong instead of instantly blaming the ‘System’ or an external force. Way too many people are definitely taking too much credit for the positive and washing their hands of the negative when responsibility for both sides should be taken.

Maybe that should be a resolution for 2012? Take the good with the bad and learn from both?

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

Thanks! There is also a problem, though less widespread in this culture, of not taking credit for success and taking blame for failure. This is as much a problem because it lowers the feeling of efficacy and can cause people to lose hope in improving their lives. The solution is to rationally evaluate choices and events, but rationality isn’t something the brain does well.

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avatar 4 lynn

I agree with your thoughts. Growth comes from accepting responsibility for failures and asking what one can do to improve a situation.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

Annoying, perpetually, happy friend who laughs when you tell them something bad about your life, or the one that just seems happy and smiles a lot? I will take a serving of that last one daily. Those people just seem to make my mood brighter.

I took a lot of control over my own life at the beginning of last year and I am much happier for it. I may in fact be that latter person, to some extent.

My goal this year is to severely limit my interaction to news. Nothing can make you quite so helpless and out of control as the local news, CNN, or whatever flavor one prefers.

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avatar 6 Luke Landes


Thanks for the comment! There are varying stages of excessive happiness, ranging anywhere from infectious to infuriating.

A “media fast” can certainly help people ignore the little stuff that doesn’t matter — whether in investing or in day-to-day living. The media need as much fodder as possible to drum up ratings and give advertisers something to buy, in order to fill a 24-hour news cycle. Ignorance may be bliss.

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avatar 7 lynn

I read news 10 minutes each day. Anything after that is repetitive torture.

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avatar 8 Cejay

Great post. I just read a book that suggested pretty much the same thing. A man thought he had lost everything in his life worth anything. So he took a trip through time and met a few famous people both real and imaginary. It was a great book and gave me a lot to think about. I plan on incorporating all these items into my life.

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avatar 9 Luke Landes

Hi Cejay,

That sounds like an interesting book. I like that kind of “fantasy” approach… probably much better reading than a typical, boring self-improvement book.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

This is good stuff. It’s all true and I already know it, but I still like to read it for reinforcement.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I feel like 2011 was my year for learning. I came to the conclusion that the only things I can truly influence are my own actions. People will fail me. I will fail myself (whether by being lazy or whatever). In the end, I am the one who has to answer for my actions. My New Year’s goal is “Big Things 2012!” What do you think?

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avatar 12 lynn

I think you’re on the right track. Don’t get too upset about people failing you. Humans are noted for such things.

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avatar 13 qixx

You must have been listening to “Freewill” by Rush before writing this. Ramit from IWTYTBR talks about using everything as a test. Then you don’t have failure you have results. The only failure would be to not use the results from your tests to move forward.

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