It’s a paradox. Even as I’m learning more and more, and more and more, to give up control and to stop trying so hard – at just about everything – I’m also learning more and more, and more and more, that I have more control than I often think I have.

In some ways it doesn’t make sense. In some ways it’s the most sense-making thing I’ve realized in a long time.

I work a lot with clients – and with myself – at coming to grips that when we apply the Serenity Prayer (god, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference), and we start to wonder what we can and cannot change, the cannot change list is seemingly endless, and the can change list is miniscule by comparison.

Other people’s actions, thoughts, feelings, reactions, opinions, etc. – those I pretty much cannot change. Outcomes occurring from what I say and do and how I say and do – those I pretty much cannot change. Situations, circumstances, weather, traffic, etc. – those I pretty much cannot change. I can try and have an effect on all of these things, but they are all pretty much out of my control.

I have learned that nearly everything is pretty much out of my control – everything except what I think and what I do. Even my feelings and initial reactions can be out of my control. But, again, I do have at least some control over what I think and what I do. And I can strengthen and increase that control.

I’ve learned to ask myself two questions that stop me in my tracks and help me think through – and control – what I think and what I do. The first question is: “What’s the story you’re telling yourself, Lisa?” and the second question is: “What’s the outcome you’re hoping for, Lisa?” These two questions, when I’m conscious enough to ask them of myself, help me be more intentional, more mindful, and more me.

When I ask myself, “What’s the story you’re telling yourself?” I become more aware of the narrative that’s running in my mind. Because the story I’m telling myself, consciously or not, hugely affects what I think and do and also the outcomes I may get. If I’m telling myself that someone is or will be mad at me, I’m most likely going to react to them out of fear or anger…which will most likely help them feel mad at me. If I’m telling myself that someone loves me, I’m most likely going to react to them out of love…which will most likely help them feel loving towards me. If I’m telling myself that I can’t do something, or that I’m a failure, or that you’re a failure, my actions and attitudes will reflect this story. Which is less than motivating.

When I ask myself, “What’s the outcome you’re hoping for?” it reminds me to think past the moment I’m in and to act in ways that might affect the outcome in the direction I’m hoping for. Again, if I want to connect with you, I’ll be less likely to pick fights over little matters. If I want to strengthen our relationship, I’m more likely to put down my phone and give you my full attention. If I want to write and post my blog post today so that I can have time to play tomorrow, I’m more likely to sit down at my computer and spend the time doing what I need to do.

“What’s the story you’re telling yourself? and “What’s the outcome you’re looking for?” are my powerful questions that help me change the only thing I really can. Which is me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!

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