William Liao

December 17, 2021

A note on matters that you cannot control

A friend of mine was recently notified that the completion of his future home would be delayed for another two months. 

His response to the news, which by the way, bore several inconvenient financial and logistical implications, was rather calm, composed, and wise. 

He said, “I’ll tell you what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to spend another second thinking about it because there is absolutely nothing I can do to control the situation.” 

His response revealed a keen awareness of the fact that paying precious attention to things that are out of your control seldom has any redeeming value. 

Moreover, by allocating your attention to things that you cannot control, you also lower the amount of attention you’re able to give to other things that are perhaps more worthwhile — like a gathering with friends and family, or an exciting project that you’re working on. 

An initial reaction filled with feelings of worry, anxiety, anger, or any other kind of distressing emotion doesn’t sentence you to continue experiencing those feelings. 

That isn’t to say that you can simply turn off these emotions like an on-off switch — indeed, if that were possible, then we’d all be worry-, anxiety-, and anger-free. 

There is, however, a powerful tool you can deploy to help you redirect your attention to somewhere that’s more valuable to you that exists in the form of a simple question: “is there anything I can do at this moment to positively influence the situation?” 

Whenever the answer is “no,” then the choice you have becomes a little clearer: you can continue to be distracted with thoughts about something out of your hands, or you can shift your awareness to being fully present for other activities that you care about. 

The quality of your moment-to-moment experience is largely defined by what you pay attention to. And what you pay attention to is something that you have more control over than you might realize.