There’s little in life that feels as uncomfortable as living with a sense that things are spinning out of control. We want autonomy at work and to not be micromanaged because of our desire for control. We hate change and prefer predictability (for the most part) because of our need to feel in control. So when we don’t feel it, it doesn’t feel good.
But feel good about the fact that you can indeed foster a greater sense of control.
In doing research for Find the Fire, I interviewed and surveyed over 1,000 employees about what inspires them at work (and makes them feel uninspired) as well as what makes them feel in control (and not so much in control). Patterns clearly emerged among the mentally strongest people I talked with, which I cross-referenced with the habits of the most self-assured leaders I met over a 30-year corporate career.
What follows are the top five habits of the mentally toughest and most in control–all habits you can develop too.
1. They focus on their own agenda.
By this I don’t mean you should be insubordinate or consider your bosses agenda as irrelevant. This is about not just plodding along, mindlessly working in your life, but being mindful to work on your life.
The mentally strongest know what they want to accomplish, set concrete goals of personal significance, and then are careful not to get caught up working on things that only advance other people’s goals.
If you don’t have a clear big-picture agenda of what you want to accomplish in life, you’ll wind up merely being, rather than becoming. You’ll get caught in the daily weeds, pruning and working in someone else’s garden. That doesn’t much feel like control.
2. They stop asking for permission.
It takes time to wait around for permission to do everything. It’s the opposite of control, as you’re literally waiting for someone else who controls the situation to grant you something.
The best employees I ever had learned quickly that they didn’t have to ask for permission to get things done (within reason). So make that decision and assume responsibility. Just move forward without looking over your shoulder. If you have a trusting relationship with your boss, you’ll learn where your boundaries are. Odds are, you can stretch your boundaries more than you think.
Here’s a helpful reminder: Home builders need a permit for everything–business builders don’t.
3. They ditch any traces of a people-pleasing habit.
When you focus on pleasing others, you’re giving away more control than you realize. You sacrifice sharing your true opinion so as not to offend. You miss out on the opportunity to bring needed change by not being confrontational. In your desire to be liked, you enact a robotic instead of real version of you. All of these things tacitly give away your control.
You simply have to remember that even the most popular politicians never get 100 percent of the vote, and neither will you. Work towards authenticity, not approval.
4. They balance “solo-powered” with “solar-powered.”
Being in control doesn’t mean you operate solo-powered and try to do everything yourself. The most in-control people know they can’t control everything, and draw on what I call solar-power–the heat and energy of those around them ready and eager to help.
This includes establishing for yourself a personal board of directors–a group of people with a vested interest in you who are willing to help guide you, especially through uncertain times. It’s like taking out a loan for a sense of control when you need it most.
5. They energetically embrace change.
You already know that the only thing that’s constant is change. So why do so many struggle with it? Doing so is like throwing a sense of control onto a pile of logs and striking the match.
The mentally strongest thrive in and even lead change. They don’t fear uncertainty, and instead simply observe and acknowledge its presence and appreciate it for the benefits it brings, like learning, growth, and resilience. They don’t exaggerate what they will actually lose because of change and think of change as a software upgrade, a way to download to a better version of themselves (You 2.0).
You can be mentally stronger and feel more in control. Start by taking control of what you’ve read here and run with it. You don’t need my permission.