The Power of Control

Hand squeezing a green ballEVER WONDER how some people, with incredibly busy lives and multiple responsibilities, seem to take their stress in stride while other people, with even fewer responsibilities seem to fall apart under the least bit of pressure? We can begin to understand this paradox when we begin to understand the power of control.

People who feel in control of their lives are invigorated and challenged by their busy schedules. People who don't feel in control, often report being "overwhelmed" by the stresses of life. This second group tends to see problems as unsolvable and obstacles as insurmountable. But the first group believes there is a solution to every problem and a way around any obstacle.

There may even be health benefits to feeling in control as illustrated by a 1994 study of HIV patients. Those patients from the study who believed their illness could be controlled lived, on average, 9 months longer and had higher T-cell counts than those who believed their illness could not be controlled. The only difference between the two groups was that one group believed their illness could be controlled.

While there are many ways to achieve a sense of control, it may be enough to simply believe you're in control in order to feel in control. In other words, control begins in your own mind.

So how do organizations help their employees feel more in control? Ironically, this can often be achieved by giving employees even greater responsibilities. Like the paradox we referred to in the first paragraph, greater responsibilities do not necessarily mean higher levels of stress.

As long as the employee is given an amount of control commensurate with the amount of responsibility the net effect is often a lowering of stress! Even entry-level workers can be given the power to resolve certain conflicts that arise while dealing with customers. This increased sense of control can have a huge payoff for both the customers and the employees. The customers don't have to sit there stewing while they wait for their dispute to be resolved, and the employees feel a sense of pride for being able to reconcile the problem themselves.

Man sitting behind an overflowing inbox of workA thorough training program for new employees is another way to help them feel more in control. Often times, new employees are simply thrown into the fray and left to learn their jobs with inadequate supervision. Proper training helps give these new recruits a much better sense of control over their situations. One study showed that there was significantly less turnover in companies where this kind of orientation training was offered.

Encouraging employees to get organized, both at home and at work can also help them feel more in control. Whether that means working from a clean desk, tidying one's car, or working from a list of things to do, these techniques (which as a trainer you may take for granted) can give an employee a much greater sense of control.

The use of humor also has a vital role in creating a sense of control. When life seems out of control, finding something to laugh at can really be therapeutic. When staunch Republican President Ronald Reagan, was shot in the chest by a potential assassin, he was cracking jokes all the way to the hospital. When they wheeled him into the operating room he asked his doctors: "I sure hope you guys are not democrats."

Dr. William Glaser, author of the book CONTROL THEORY, has a wonderful exercise that can be tied into Loretta's rule MOVE JOYFULLY. The exercise demonstrates how to achieve a sense of control by attempting to control what you can control and letting go of what you can't.

If you are feeling depressed, for example, it's hard to control your negative thoughts and even harder to control your emotions. But taking an action, like going for a walk, or going on an outing, is much easier to control. And taking this action can, in turn, have an uplifting effect on your mood.

To demonstrate this concept: ask your audience to try and make themselves angry. (Emotions are the hardest to control.) Now ask them to think of only the color green for one minute. (Thoughts are easier to control but still difficult to do for the entire time.) Now ask them to raise their right arm. (Actions are easy.)

What this exercise illustrates is that actions are the easiest to control. What's more, as we demonstrated in MOVE JOYFULLY, actions can have a positive effect on our emotions. As Loretta says, it's hard to feel angry and twirl at the same time.

So when life seems out of control, tell your audiences to control what they can control and let go of what they can't. Help them remember that control starts in the mind. If they believe they are in control of their lives they probably are. Remind them that it's easier to take an action than to change an emotion. And if all else fails, find something to laugh about in a difficult situation. Humor is like a lifeline to sanity in a hectic world. As author Leo Buscaglia said, "when you find yourself at the end of your rope - tie a knot in it, hang on, and swing!"

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