The older I get, the more and more I realize that there are always going to be parts of life that are totally and utterly out of my control. In fact, learning how to just go with the flow and taking things as they come is probably the most undervalued life skill around.
As someone who compulsively makes lists, keeps a weekly agenda, and always likes to know "the plan," whether it be for an extended vacation, or a night out with friends, I can get pretty hung up on unexpected complications. Missing a movie because of a subway delay can keep me in a bad mood for hours. Not to mention the trouble I've had coping with the bigger things in life, like when I graduated college in a terrible economy, or when my grown family members decided to stop speaking, making holidays and family time a virtual nightmare.
Now that I'm approaching 30, that old adage about accepting the things we can't change truly starts to have meaning. The reality is there's so much in life that's totally out of our control, and keeping ourselves up at night thinking about that doesn't change it — it just makes us anxious and sleep deprived. If you're trying to go with the flow and worry less about the things in life you can't control, here are nine tips that should help.
1. Ask Yourself, "Can I Control This?"
Amy Clover, founder of the life coaching community site Strong Inside/Out, recommended always starting out by simply asking yourself, "Can I control this?" It almost sounds too easy, but sometimes merely asking the question is enough to give us a better perspective on the situation. "My flights delayed. It means I won't get home until 2 a.m. Can I control this? Nope." You'll be that much closer to accepting the situation.
2. Reframe Your Perspective
Leo Babuata, founder of Zen Habits, suggested always taking a step back whenever you start to feel yourself getting worked up about something you can't change. Is it really a big deal in terms of your week, your month, your year? Sometimes it might genuinely be a very significant situation and this won't necessarily make you feel better, but a lot of the time you'll realize that the thing you're stressing about — liked a rained out barbecue — isn't even all that big a deal.
3. Check Your Narrative
In a piece for Oprah.com, author and vulnerability expert Brene Brown reminded us to be mindful of the story we're telling ourselves about the situation. She noted that we'll often try to come up with ways that we could or should have done something differently, which would have ultimately changed the outcome of what happened. Brown noted that this is an unhelpful line of thinking and we should always be conscious whenever we catch ourselves going down that path.
4. Accept Imperfections
Leo Babauta said to constantly remind ourselves that the world is an imperfect place. As soon as we rid ourselves of an unattainable ideal of perfect, whether it be in our jobs, our relationships, or our families, rolling with the punches becomes a lot easier. I've found that this one is definitely a lesson that comes with time and life experience, and makes a huge difference.
5. Embrace Change
This is a personal tip that took a few major life events to truly understand. As much as I'd personally love it if a lot of things in life stayed the same — like going back to my childhood home for the holidays, or always having the same best friend, the reality is the nature of life is change. Parents grow older, childhood homes are sold, and room is made for new family members. Often times life works out in ways we absolutely never expect, and embracing this, rather than fighting it, will make life way easier.
6. Think About What You Can Control
Clover also stressed the importance of thinking about what you can control when an unexpected situation arises. Instead of melting down or having an internal tantrum when your flight gets delayed, think, "Is there any work I need to catch up on?" Or, "Is there anyone I've been meaning to call?" Acting on the things you can control will not only help ease your anxiety, but you just might find some silver linings.
7. Throw Yourself Into Plan B
Facebook COO and author of Lean In Sheryl Sandberg shared a piece on Facebook about the experience of unexpectedly losing her husband. She told the story of how, in the weeks after her loss, she was trying to come up with a plan for her daughter's "daddy-daughter" day at school. A friend of hers stepped up to help, telling her that while he knew this wasn't Plan A, they were going to, "kick the s&*t out of plan B." Sandberg reiterated this a year later in a commencement address to Berkeley students. If Plan A isn't available, run hard with Plan B.
8. Think About How Your Reaction Will Affect You
This one, while not always fun, helps me calm down and accept whatever's happening. When something disappointing happens that was out of my control, I'll remind myself that I have two ways of dealing with it: stewing in frustration, or moving on and finding enjoyment in something else. If I go with the first way, I'm only hurting myself, since the situation itself won't change.
9. Be Aware Of Your Body
And finally, Clover said to always be conscious of your body so that you can stop a negative reaction before it even begins. If you feel your anger start to flare, or your heart rate picking up, take a few deep breaths. The more in tune we are with our patterns and reactions, the more able we are to stop them in their tracks.
Accepting what we can't change might not be fun, but with time it can definitely increase our quality of life. So embrace the fact that a lot of life is out of your control, and allow yourself to enjoy the journey more!