The Taking Control Approach

People like to feel in control. They like to feel able to take charge of shaping their future lives. Sometimes they can experience difficulties, however, if they feel things are beyond their control.

A person can only do their best and there are events they can’t control. But they can choose their attitude regarding how they respond to such events.

During the past 50 years I have worked with many people who have explained they have distressing symptoms. They have said some of the following things.

“I am feeling stressed … I have lots of mood swings … I am no longer enjoying my work … I am in a situation where I feel trapped … I am beginning to have panic attacks.”

Sometimes there may be medical reasons for these symptoms. When appropriate, I therefore suggest that they consult a doctor to check for any medical causes. There is one question, however, that I ask. This is:

“On a scale 0-10, to what extent do you feel in control of shaping your future?”

People who feel healthy often give a rating of 7+/10. They recognise that there may always be events that are beyond their control, but they feel able to deal with most situations.

People like to feel in control. For some people this is almost as vital as oxygen. Let’s explore some of the ways they aim to make this happen.

The Controlling The

Today it is more common to hear people talking about controlling the controllables. The phrase is often used by athletes, but many people are applying the philosophy in their daily lives.

People may cross an emotional threshold in their lives, for example, when they choose to focus on what they can control. They opt for this route, rather than worrying about what they can’t control.

Some find this approach to be liberating. One person said:

“Several years ago I had a health scare. Fortunately I got wonderful treatment, but it also taught me a lesson.

“Now I put my energies into the things I can control. This means choosing to have a positive attitude, encouraging other people and doing satisfying work.

“In the past I often worried about events beyond my control. Sometimes I used to spread gloom and doom, which was self-indulgent.

“These days I count my blessings. Each day is a bonus and I try to do my best to help other people.”

Controlling the controllables is an approach that can be used by individuals, teams or organisations. People can then focus their energies on the things they can do to shape their future lives.

If you wish, try tackling the exercises on this theme. These invite you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can control in your personal and professional life.

You may say, for example, that you can aim to have a take care of your health, eat healthy food and exercise. You can choose to have a positive attitude, be professional and make good use of the talents you have been given.

You can aim to encourage other people and help them to build on their strengths. You can spread hope and do your best to build a better world.

Describe the specific things you can’t control in your personal and professional life – though you may do your best to influence them. 

You can’t control whether or not or you get an illness, though you can do everything possible to stay healthy. You can’t control what people think of you, though you can try do you best to build a good reputation.

You can’t control your employers or the job market. You can’t control everything that happens in the world, though you can control your attitude towards these things.

Imagine that you have clarified what you can and can’t control. The next step is one that many people find shapes their future lives. They choose to focus on controlling the controllables.

Looking at your own life, when have you taken this step? When did you build on what you could control and manage what you couldn’t? What happened as a result of taking this approach

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind the things you can and can’t control, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe specific things you can do to build on what you can control and manage what you can’t.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking this approach in your personal and professional life.

The Focusing On Your
Life Goals Approach

People who have a positive attitude often focus on their life goals. There have been many books on this topic. One of the most influential was Alan Lakein’s 1970 book How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life.

Many of the ideas seem commonplace now, but many people found them helpful. Here are some ideas from the book.

Keep focusing on your lifetime goals – put these in a place where you can see these each day.  

Clarify your A, B and C priorities – remember these may evolve over time.


The following pages show one way that a person can apply Alan’s approach. This can also help them with their priority management. A person can use this:

To focus on their life goals – such as clarifying their A, B and C goals together with the sub-goals under each category;

To focus on their priorities – such as the specific actions they want to take towards achieving their A, B and C goals.

As mentioned earlier, different people applied Alan’s ideas in different way. This is one approach that some people have found useful.

The Making Use Of
Freedom Approach

Let’s explore another aspect of taking control. Many people work towards having a sense of freedom. A person who is working to reach a specific goal may say something like the following.

Everything will be okay: 

When I have enough money to retire … When I sell my business … When I get out of this place … When I have got the right qualifications … When I meet the right person … When I win the Gold Medal.

Sometimes this proves to be the case. A person feels free and moves into shaping their future. They find it easy to do things that are rewarding for themselves or other people.

Sometimes this proves more difficult. A person who has been working towards a specific goal, for example, may experience post-purpose syndrome.

Such a person previously had a sense of purpose. They followed a certain schedule when aiming to sell their business, win the Olympic title or reach another target. Suddenly they may need to find a new sense of purpose.

Another person may grab the opportunity. Certainly there may be dips along the road, but they are grateful for the chance to shape their future. Different people do this in different ways.

They may do activities where they experience a sense of flow. They may focus on these and do work that is fulfilling for themselves or other people. 

They may do things that give them positive energy. They may translate these into doing a specific project and work towards this new sense of purpose.

They may clarify the positive things they want to give to people during their time on the planet. They may focus on doing these activities and passing on a positive legacy.

Let’s return to you own life and work. Looking into the future, can you imagine a time when you may feel a sense of freedom? This could be in your personal or professional life.

What can you do then to make use of this opportunity? How can you use this freedom in a way that is beneficial? How can you use it to do things that may be fulfilling for yourself or other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

The Spring Cleaning
Your Life Approach

There are many exercises that invite people to focus on their priorities and life goals. One approach invites them to focus on what is really important.

Some people amass lots of things in their lives. Imagine that you want to spring clean your life. This exercise invites you to look ahead and focus on the following things

Three People

Who are the three people – in addition to your loved ones – that you would like to spend time with and encourage? How would you like to build with these people?

Three Strengths
And Three Goals

What are three strengths you have that you would like to build on? What are the three main goals you would like to focus on in your life? How can you work towards these goals?

Three Possessions
And Three Other Things

What are the three possessions that you would like to keep? What are three other things you would like to keep in your life? How can you appreciate or use these in a beneficial way?

Focusing In The Future

Bearing in mind what you have written, describe the specific steps you can take to build on these things in the future. This can help you to keep focusing on what you believe is important.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


Let’s return to the theme of taking charge of your life. Can you think of a situation where you may want to feel more in control? You may want to focus on your key life-priorities, feel more in control at work or manage difficult conversations.

Looking at the situation, how can you build on what you can control? How can you clarify and focus on your priorities? How can you shape the future and achieve your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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