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Acceptance and Action: The Distinction between Influence and Control

Last month, the sad news reached me that two ladies I know well and are also friends of each other have been diagnosed with brain tumors. One of them passed away last week and the other has a maximum of 2 to 3 months left. In the process, she will leave behind 2 adolescent children. 

I am getting to an age where I will, unfortunately, experience people being ripped out of life more often. It is simply not something we have control over. But what is actually within our control and what is the difference between influencing something and having control over something? 

The stress of control freaks

I know people who, both in business and private life, want to control everything loose and loose. Some of these are so much of a control freak that I suspect what they have no control over they take out insurance for and insure that insurance as well.   

In doing so, they forget that we are only in control of ourselves and by our actions and speech can at most influence other, possible events and our environment. When crossing a busy street, you exert influence on whether you will be run over or not by looking carefully left and right. But you have no control over that speed maniac who suddenly comes tearing around the corner and runs you over. 

People like this are constantly running with stress in their bodies, and research shows that it is precisely stress that is the biggest cause of cardiovascular disease and can even potentially cause other nasty diseases. You stand there all your life at crossings groggily waiting until you are 'sure' it is safe, and then you die of heart disease in your late 40s.

What do we do have control over?

We have complete control over everything we say, do, and believe, the emotions we experience, the goals we set, the energy we give to something, the resilience we show, and the boundaries we set. Everything else is not within our control and when we start believing it is, we get stressed.

Control over what we say

I had a friend who always wanted to have the last word. Especially when we had a disagreement. It is an ex-girlfriend for a reason you will understand. Her reasoning on this was that she had to say something back because, after all, I had responded too. As if she had no say in when she does or does not say something. Being quiet is also a choice and, in principle, everyone from the age of 5 and above has full control over this. 

Control over what we do

There really is no one on earth who can use a voice alone to make you move your arm if you don't want to. Your body is yours and you decide what to do with it. I am from Amsterdam myself and here are neighborhoods where people from other countries believe that if you look at them the wrong way, they should slap you. 

They are really convinced that there is nothing they can do about it and that their punch on my nose is the result of how I look or what I say. I don't know what drugs you have to be on to believe this, but normal people have 100% control over their entire body, including their fists.    

Control over what you believe

Of course, there is pressure from the media and you get suggestions about what you can believe and think through all the forms of information you take in. But it is still you who decides to believe something. Especially when it comes to what you believe something means. Do you believe that someone who accidentally tells a lie is a liar or do you believe that the government this unabashedly lies to you on a weekly basis has your best interests at heart? Believing something is a choice we make and have control over.   

Control over your emotions

Many people I coach or mentor have a lot of trouble realizing that you have complete control over your emotions. They see a direct connection between an event and the sudden emotion that comes with it. As if the emotion just blows up and nothing has preceded it. In fact, emotions are a direct result of what meaning you give something and what you associate with the event. 

Is death something terrible or does the person go to a nicer place in heaven? Does the death of someone mean a loss, an unfair thing or do you associate it with the seasons where the leaves on the trees come and go? What you believe determines your emotions and thus, even if indirectly, you have 100% control over your emotions.

Control over the goals you set

From a young age, I have been ambitious and sometimes a bit competitive myself. I wanted to be able to run the fastest at the hockey game and wrote my first business plan when I was 15. Subconsciously, I knew I could set myself those goals and then act on them. In other words, if I wanted to be able to run the fastest of everyone, I should train for that. Whether I would then become, be, or stay the fastest, I let go even then. I realized that I only have control over the goals I set.

Control over the energy you put into something

It is you who decides 100% whether you still put energy into your partner and stay together or not. Even if you have children and you don't have a place to live, you can put your energy into how to stick it out for a while longer or put your energy into how to find another shelter - even if only temporarily. Our energy is ours and no one can take it away from us. Not even if we hear something unpleasant and we feel sad about it, because then we don't take control of our emotions.

Controlling our resilience

Resilience is the ability to rebound in the face of setbacks. You may have had to overcome many setbacks, but in the case of the people I coach, many of their setbacks had never happened at all. This is not because the event they perceived as a setback did not happen, but because they were able to give it a different meaning.

That ex-boyfriend who spontaneously quit the relationship was not a setback, it was the moment her eyes opened that the relationship was not a good fit at all and they did not fit together at all. Resilience does not mean never feeling anything, but being able to see events in the right perspective and you have 100% control over that.

Control over the boundaries we set

I know many people who make very little use of the boundaries they are allowed to set. Still others think they set boundaries, but express it so awkwardly that the other person may not care. 

If you say to your partner: "Sometimes I don't like the fact that you don't pay much attention to me, but I understand that you are busy. Then that is not setting boundaries. The other person cannot guess that you are setting the boundary that you need attention because otherwise, you will lose interest in the relationship. If you were to say that, it is clear and your partner has a choice. 

What don't we have control over?

Actually, we have no control over everything not mentioned above, but to make it specific, this involves the past and future, the outcome of your effort, what others say, what others do, what others think, and what others believe.

No control over the past and the future

Most people agree we can no longer change the past, but we have no control over the future either. We can do all sorts of things and resolve to influence the future as much as we can, but we have no control over it. A lady I know was busy studying from an early age so that one day she could become a physiotherapist. 

That was her biggest dream. Graduating cum laude, she was immediately offered a job, but she decided to go to Greece for a week before starting the job. There she was stung by a certain type of mosquito, which left her paralyzed after a long illness and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. You have no control over what life has to offer you.

No control over the outcome of your effort

You can resolve to do all sorts of things and make a 100% effort, but no one has control over the outcome of that effort. You buy your partner a nice present for Valentine's Day, book a restaurant for a romantic dinner, and as you ring the doorbell, you see through the window that all your efforts have been in vain because you see your partner kissing someone else on the sofa. We can do our best for something or someone, but you never know what the result or effect of this will be.

No control over what others say

There are some people who would like others to say exactly what they would like. Some even prefer it to be said in a style they like as well. Especially when it comes to feedback, people prefer it to be said in a style that suits them. But that's not how the world works. We have absolutely no control over what and how someone says something and shouldn't want that at all. You don't want someone else to determine what you say and how you say it, do you?

No control over the behavior of others

What another person does or does not do is something we have no control over. Again, we shouldn't want this at all, because, as with your own verbiage, surely you don't want someone else to determine for you how you should behave. 

No control over what others think and believe

Everyone hates it when your house is broken into. Such behavior is unacceptable, yet burglaries will always happen. There are just some people who think differently and have different beliefs about the concept of keeping your paws off someone's stuff. But in other cases, if we say something and the other person takes it completely the wrong way, we have no control over it. This is because the other person is free to think and believe what they want and this can sometimes lead to a confrontation. 


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