There’s a lot going on in our lives and around us, and much of it we can’t control.
You’ve heard that before, yet year after year many of us stress out trying to control too much or worrying about those uncontrollables, no matter how pointless it is – not to mention how damaging it can be to our mental and physical health.
With a new year beginning, why not get off that merry-go-round and try a new approach? Focus on managing only what you can control – namely, you. Do that, develop that habit, and you’ll reduce your stress while finding yourself happier.
Look, many of us agree that as 2022 begins, uncertainty in the future is casting a large shadow over the annual optimism associated with the start of a new year. Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey reports high percentages of U.S. adults are struggling with daily decisions because they’re stressed about the virus.
Over 60 percent of respondents in The Harris Poll said the pandemic has made them rethink how they were living their life, and about half said it has made planning for their future feel impossible. It’s like some people simply don’t know how to move forward. An invisible enemy, the virus, is in the way, planting anxiety and indecision in their path.
People in these challenging times need to re-evaluate how they manage themselves in order to lower stress, improve their relationships and productivity, and increase their happiness. Equating the approach to business, each of us must manage the product that is our life. And remember, you are not the only customer of the product that is your life. Everyone you know is a customer.
And just like with any product, you won’t be right for everyone; any product that tries to please everyone inevitably pleases no one. But I’ve made the decision to love my customers. If you make that decision, you’re deciding to love everyone you meet, no exceptions.
Look for a path that gives you real happiness, even through trials. Value yourself enough to manage yourself and your own effort.
It all starts with knowing what we can and can’t control, and acting accordingly. We need humility and courage to take command of what we can control and accept what we can’t. The following are three ways you can better manage yourself while improving the things you can control:
- Prioritize your attitude. A good attitude doesn’t mean you feel good; it means you’re open to the possibility that something good can come from your current situation. But sometimes, people let bad results give them a bad attitude. The outcome, however, shouldn’t be the primary focus and at the detriment of waning self-esteem. You can still take pride in things like your approach, your discipline, your growing competence and your professionalism.
You need to divorce your attitude from results in order to master your attitude. If you wait for better results to improve your attitude, you may wait a long time. And as soon as results get worse, so will your attitude.
- Align your best effort with your best attitude. Attitude and effort are two sides of one coin. Attitude is mental, effort is physical. Like attitude, effort should be divorced from results. Effort often falters when we feel unappreciated. Other people’s appreciation of our effort is unimportant. Only you know if you gave something your best. Control your effort so you can control your self-respect.
Spend your effort on things that create value. Many things that take a lot of effort are of little value. Some things that take no effort – such as saying thank-you – are invaluable in the right circumstance.
- Own your schedule. Controlling the vast majority of your schedule may seem impossible, but it’s not. You can always say no; you just might not be able to say no without consequences. Block out time for thinking, research, writing, planning, etc. Put those times on your calendar. Treat each time like an appointment, and don’t violate it. You can also create office hours where you’re available for ad hoc conversations.
If you attend every meeting, accept every invitation and return every email, you’ll be a responsive wreck, or you’ll work 80 hours a week, and that’s just as bad. Don’t forget it’s your schedule. Own it and control it. And when you get interrupted, perform some quick triage with a prioritization criterion. Here’s an example:
- Work that makes you smarter about your customers
- Work required to keep a promise
- Work that will delight customers
- Work that will make you rich
These priorities trump each other. If something will make you smarter about your customers, don’t worry about getting rich from it. Same for customer delight – if it will delight customers and it’s responsible, do it.
Knowing what you can and can’t control is critical to finding success in work and happiness in life. Spend your energy on things where you can make a difference. Let go of things you can’t control.
Tom Noser is the author of Fortune’s Path: 12 Steps to Manage Your Most Important Product – You. He is the founder and president of Fortune’s Path, a multidisciplinary consultancy in product, marketing and sales. Tom helped grow one of healthcare’s first SaaS companies from 1 million users to over 4 million while quadrupling revenue and achieving a 10x improvement in the stock price. He founded Fortune’s Path to help SaaS companies grow rich by pursuing virtue. Tom lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Anna, and his 17-year-old pug, Margaret.