Inspire your work

What next? Preparing for Challenge — Aviation Frame – Part 5

We all know we should back up our devices – laptops, tablets, phones. But…I’m guessing most of us have had an experience of looking at a blank screen realizing we don’t have a recent backup.

It can seem as if it should be obvious or straightforward to figure out what is within our control or influence, or beyond it, but as explained in the previous newsletter it’s not necessarily plain and simple.

And even once we’ve figured it out, we may not get the outcomes we expect. Sometimes we can be surprised by taking a hard look at our actions. They may reveal that what we subconsciously think we can control is different from our conscious perceptions. In the backup example, we may subconsciously forget that – in spite of their high reliability – our devices can fail and we don’t (usually) control when that happens.

We may simply have fallen into an old habit. Maybe we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security because things usually don’t go wrong (as we discussed in an earlier newsletter). Or perhaps we are not ready to let go of a belief – or hope – of control over something that matters deeply to us.

How can we support ourselves to focus our efforts where we can have most impact?

Firstly, we can become aware of the signs that may indicate we’re trying to control things that are beyond our control, including:

  • Reactivity
  • Negativity
  • Blaming
  • Frustration
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling of being stuck
  • Loss of Confidence
  • Lack of progress against goals
  • Ability to make progress is dependent on someone else making a decision, taking particular action or changing their mind.

Simply being alert to the signs can be sufficient to help us refocus. Sometimes it takes more effort.

At times when I’m really stuck, I find that more structured reflection can help reveal where the mismatch lies: perhaps between my perceived and actual control or influence, or between my intended focus and my actions.

I’ve outlined below what works for me, and will post some supporting coaching questions on my blog. Sometimes the answer becomes clear part way through the reflection and I skip to the final point then choose actions. The practice below also works for understanding opportunities.

If you’re trying it for yourself, an important part of the process is getting the information outside your head, such as by writing, or saying the answers out loud to yourself or with a trusted friend or colleague. This helps you gain a more objective perspective on your situation:

  • Explain the challenge or problem (or opportunity), such that someone unfamiliar with it could understand. Be as specific and objective as possible.
    • How does it impact you? (Positively and negatively)
    • What are you aiming to achieve in regard to this challenge or problem (or opportunity)?
  • What is beyond your control or influence? List.
  • What can you control or influence? List. If you’re not sure if something is within your control, ask yourself what actions can you personally, concretely take to change the impact of the problem, or the problem itself. List at least two actions or steps and how they move you closer to your objective(s).
  • Where are most of your efforts currently focussed? What impact are they having?
    • If your answer surprises you, revisit your two lists, and even the problem statement.
  • Now…what options do you have to focus your efforts for greater impact?

Being alert to the signs that our efforts are focussed on controlling areas beyond our control can help us refocus towards the impacts we intend.

To get started, try out the practice on a challenge you’re facing now or in your recent past, as suggested. Start with something small that you think is obvious, but where you are feeling a little stuck and go through all of the steps to understand how they work.

Serenity prayer: May I be granted the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reframe: Some things that are beyond our control can be positive and life-giving. Think of the joyful surprise of seeing a rainbow, rounding a corner to be unexpectedly face to face with an old friend, or overhearing the laughter of a child while walking through a park on a grey day…or the gentle reassurance of the sun coming up and the tides turning.

Rainbow through clouds over the ocean
© Jodi Steel 2017


Please note: Many people have suffered from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, including people who have never experienced issues before. This newsletter series is not a substitute for professional mental health support specific to your circumstances. If you have mental health issues, please access professional mental health services before attempting any of the practices in this newsletter series. Links to some Australian organisations and their online resources are below:

Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute

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