First 30 Days Blog

19 apr

Where’s Your Focus? The Secret to Feeling in Control During Times of Change

RenitaKalhornDo you remember the movie Bruce Almighty from several years ago? Jim Carrey played Bruce, a television field reporter who, after a series of misfortunes, complains to God that He isn’t doing his job properly as supreme deity. God obligingly grants him all His powers which Bruce promptly uses for personal gain.

How many of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to have total control over the unpredictable ups and downs of our daily routine. Add a major life change to the mix—even a positive one like having a much-anticipated child or receiving a promotion—and the desire to control uncertainty grows even stronger.

On the other hand, would we really want to be in charge of making decisions about everything—the weather, traffic, what your colleagues, friends, neighbors and family wear, say, eat and do? Aren’t we already kind of busy as it is?!

So here’s the good news: Rather than actual control over our environment, what we really want is simply a sense of control, to feel like we’re on top of things.

Take rock climbers, for example. There are plenty of very real physical threats over which they have zero control—a sudden storm, avalanche or drop in temperature. And yet, they home in on what they can control: their mental toughness, physical preparation and skill, and finding the next secure hand hold. Although the final outcome remains uncertain and out of their actual control, they derive great satisfaction from knowing they are equipped to handle whatever comes up and thus influence the outcome.

The same is true for you. Amid the sudden swerves and unpredictable demands of life, there is one thing over which you, and only you, always have absolute and total control: where you focus your attention.

That’s right. Instead of feeling overwhelmed or powerless when your team has to relocate—for the third time this month, or you have to find a new lunch spot because your doctor put you on a low-fat diet, or your newborn develops a suspicious-looking rash—you can maintain a sense of control by deciding where you will (and won’t) direct your focus.

Easier said than done, of course, but here are three techniques which, with practice, can help:

  1. Let go sooner. As humans, our natural tendency is to want permanence. When there’s a deviation from the status quo, we’re often taken aback—“Not again!?”—and our first inclination is to resist and dig in our heels, even when the change is positive. Paradoxically, however, the sooner we can let go of attachment to our idea of the way things are supposed to go, the sooner we can feel a sense of control. As motivational speaker John Kanary says, “I was asking myself why I was having these obstacles In my life. Then I suddenly became aware that these obstacles were my life and I began to enjoy them.” Ask yourself, “is this something I can control?” If not, let it go.
  2. Set a clear intention. When your thoughts are skittering all over the place, setting an intention has the same effect as turning on a bright flashlight in a dark room. Making a simple declaration—even better if you say it aloud—such as “I will find the doctor’s phone number” or “I am going to fix this printer jam” will galvanize the full force of your focus and ensure quicker results.
  3. Calibrate challenge with ability. You know the feeling of being so immersed in an activity that you lose track of time and it all seems effortless? That’s the phenomenon of “flow,” or optimal experience, as documented by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

A key element of flow is an optimum balance between our level of ability and the challenge presented: not too easy (we’ll get bored) or too difficult (we’ll give up). When the right balance is achieved, we experience a heightened sense of personal control—one reason we find being in the flow so satisfying.

Regardless of the enormity of change you face, you can calibrate the challenge to be a match to your ability. Like the rock climber surrounded by a myriad of elements out of his control, simply narrow your focus to the next hand hold: one phone call, one meeting, one three a.m. feeding at a time.

By learning consciously to reframe even the most chaotic situation, you’ll find that feeling “in control” is less about making life go according to plan, and more about your ability to focus on what you can control.

Renita Kalhorn is a Juilliard-trained concert pianist with a first-degree martial arts black belt and an MBA from INSEAD, Renita Kalhorn helps the “athletes” of business tap into the power of flow to reach the top of their game at work and beyond. Find out more at

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Posted by Renita Kalhorn on April 19th, 2010 in Health, New Directions | 0 comments Read related posts in , ,

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