When I was a kid, I was ice skating and remember going really fast. Next thing I recall I was being tended to in the changing room by employees of the skating center. Apparently I had been going so fast that I lost control, hit my head, and knocked myself unconscious. That incident rendered me fearful of the ice. Fast forward many years when I was discussing this incident with 1994 Olympic speed skating Gold medalist Dan Jansen, who endorsed my book.  He told me, “throw a helmet on and get back out on that ice.” His advice was spot on. In the face of fear one must face it rather than avoid it. To ignore that which we’re afraid of only gives the fear more power, while facing it will diminish it. This ice skating incident is perhaps a metaphor for other things in life.

What do you do when you feel like you have no control over a situation? Maybe you’ve had your own ice skating incident or perhaps you’ve been a passenger in a car with an inexperienced driver. If so, then you know just how out-of-control it feels when a driver doesn’t brake quickly enough as a red light or an obstacle approaches.

Some people live their lives as if they are passengers in an out-of-control car. Rather than doing something to control the situation — by getting into the driver’s seat — they operate the car as passengers. They focus on what’s out of their control, rather than what actually is within it.

Here’s how you can gain control when you feel like you have none:

1. Shift the locus of control

Sometimes it’s as simple as recognizing that there are things that you can change and control. What can you actually change? Be realistic. One person can’t single handedly change the economy, but, perhaps there are things you can do to ensure you stay financially sound. Such as being a smart consumer, saving, and investing wisely.

2. Put the dynamite out before it explodes

People often find themselves in tough situations and dread facing someone, whether a loved one, friend, or colleague. Maybe a huge mistake was made at work that cost the company money. Perhaps poor judgment was used and it hurt a friend. Naturally you avoid them. This tactic will keep you free of conflict; however, at an unconscious level it will eat away at you and lead to chronic stress and anxiety. The solution: face it. Rather than passively dealing with the situation, take control and initiate the conversation, and do it with confidence. Know that you have control over what you say, how you tell the person, and reactions you might have.

3. Take action

Rather than feeling victimized and helpless, do something. This is especially true when it comes to employment situations. So often people feel cheated by their employer if they lose their job or don’t get the bonus they were counting on. Rather than stewing in fury, think about what practical steps you can take to safeguard yourself and make yourself less disposable. You can, for instance, control your relationship with your supervisor, your work performance, and whether you pursue continuing education outside of work to improve your skills and marketability. If you have already lost your job, you can control your daily schedule and maintain structure. For instance, you can still get up at the same time every day, shower, and get dressed and stick to a routine. You can make sure you read the job postings and apply for as many jobs as possible. You can network with colleagues in your area of interest. You can learn new skills that will make you more employable.

Next time you face a situation where you feel that you have no control; take some time to change your thinking. Below are some examples of how to take control. Use them as a guide when you look at your own life.

  • Will she agree to have dinner with you? You control: What you wear, what you say to her, how you say it when you make the request, and how you present yourself to her.
  • Will you get a promotion? You control: How well you perform your job so that your supervisors see you as promotion worthy. Things to separate you from your colleagues such as taking on special projects and specialized training.
  • Will you die of a heart attack? You control: The foods you consume, how much and how often you exercise, and how much stress is in your life.
  • Will the traffic start moving in time for you to get to your appointment? You control: Whether you listen to traffic reports on the radio, whether you call into the office to say you are stuck in traffic, what you do to entertain yourself while you are stuck.

So next time you’re stuck or feeling like you have no control, ask yourself: What do I actually have control over?

Written by the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days

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  • Jonathan Alpert

    Psychotherapist, executive performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Twitter: @JonathanAlpert

    Jonathan Alpert is a psychotherapist, columnist, performance coach and author in Manhattan. As a psychotherapist, he has helped countless couples and individuals overcome a wide range of challenges and go on to achieve success. He discussed his results-oriented approach in his 2012 New York Times Opinion piece, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already”, which continues to be debated and garner international attention. Alpert is frequently interviewed by major TV, print and digital media outlets and has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, FOX, and Good Morning America discussing current events, mental health, hard news stories, celebrities/politicians, as well as lifestyle and hot-button issues. He appears in the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary, Inside Job commenting on the financial crisis. With his unique insight into how people think and their motivations, Alpert helps clients develop and strengthen their brands. He has been a spokesperson for NutriBullet, Liberty Mutual insurance, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Jonathan’s 2012 book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days has been translated into six languages worldwide. Alpert continues to provide advice to the masses through his Inc.com, Huffington Post, and Thrive columns. @JonathanAlpert