Being called a control freak isn’t usually considered to be a compliment, but these days I am proud to be one. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start bossing everyone around, at least not any more than usual, and try to micromanage the decisions of the people around me. No, I’m focused on what I can control in my own life, because that’s where I can make the most progress on my health goals.
As a wellness coach, I hear a lot of “if/then” statements. If it’s not raining, then I can go for my jog. If the kids are in bed on time, then I can go to the gym. If I bring something healthy to the cookout, then I won’t overeat. These statements are somewhat productive and important, because they show a way of thinking that is focused on positive outcomes. I like that they demonstrate the way that that things could go well, rather than on the obstacles.
But, these statements are a deceptive, too. What if it is raining? What if the kids are up past bedtime? What if you don’t have time to pick up healthy food? What then? The flaw in this way of planning is when we rely on circumstances beyond our control, and fail to have a plan that can be executed regardless of what else happens.
I’m on the lookout for these if/then goals when I am working with my clients, and challenge them to take things one step further and fool-proof the goal. How can that workout happen even if the weather is bad? Is there a time you could go to the gym that doesn’t depend on the kids being in bed or your spouse being home from work on time or anything else out of your control? That’s when it is time to be a control freak.
From the time the alarm rings in the morning until we lay our heads on our pillows, it doesn’t often seem that much is in our direct control. We control more than we think, though. Not in the magic-wand-wielding your-wish-is-my-command kind of control that we think we want (be careful what you wish for), but rather, in the approach that we take towards the day, and whether it sets us up for positive outcomes.
There are two ways to apply this concept. Let’s start with the more pragmatic approach: switching from “if/then” to “even though”. Challenge yourself when making plans for healthy eating, food preparation, exercise, or other healthy habits to fool-proof (or reality-proof) your goals. Avoid making if/then goals, especially those with a heavy emphasis on the “if.” When you notice that you’re relying on something out of your control – the weather, your workload, other people, traffic – in order to take the next step in your goal, stop and find a way to make it an “even though,” goal. How can you make it so you have a success story even though a bunch of stuff happened? Sometimes the end result of this approach is a less impressive goal. That is okay! It’s better to have a smaller goal that is achieved on a consistent enough basis to generate change than a big impressive one that is never reached.
The second approach is in how we create our environment. We cannot control the person in the next cubicle but we can control how often we smile at them. Did you know your brain can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one? Nope, it feels the rush of happy chemicals either way, and those happy chemicals make it easier for you to do good things for yourself later. We can’t control the weather, but we can control whether we have a backup plan for exercise. We can’t control the food someone else makes for a gathering, but we can control how much of it we eat. I know that one is hard, but yes, it is within your control. We can control whether we approach the day assuming good intent, looking for opportunities to succeed, or if we stomp around brooding about the ways things are unfair. Yes, these approaches to controlling our environment do just as much as the pen-to-paper work we do to achieve goals, because they put us in the best mindset for success to happen in the first place.
This week, be a control freak. Take control of how you set your goals: focus on the elements that you can actually influence, avoid falling into an if/then trap, and set your mind on creating an environment where success can happen by expecting the best. Step away from the rest. When you’re in control, none of that matters.