Take charge

Take charge

Published in Macau Business magazine, September 2013

By André Ribeiro

Effective decision-makers only try to influence situations they have control over


“You can’t control the ocean but you can surf it,” says M.D. and author Srini Pillay.

Some people try to control everything around them by planning every single thing down to the last detail. More often than not, reality tricks them.
A big part of what surrounds us is beyond our control. We can blame unpleasant changes on the government, the economy, stock markets, management, pollution – whatever. It makes little difference, besides draining our energy and making it harder to produce results.
There are basically two kinds of problems: those you can do something about and those whose resolution is beyond your reach.
When an event outside your control affects you, the way to think is: can I influence this? Is it something I can control? If the answer is “no”, do not waste your energy trying to change it. If it is “yes”, act.
Problems you cannot solve are actually “solved” by definition. If you acknowledge this, you can put them to your own use, as a potential catalyst for growth and achievement.
Managers cannot control events with a global impact, such as a natural disaster or financial crisis, but they can choose what meaning to attach to them and how to react.


Pavlov’s pets

We are often placed in situations or in confrontations we would rather not face. These are circumstances over which we have little control.

In these situations, managers can either panic or work on the only thing they can control: themselves.
Many people go through life reacting only with Pavlovian responses: the same situation draws the same response.
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who won the 1904 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his studies on how digestion works.
While studying digestion in dogs, Mr Pavlov noticed the animals would salivate whenever an assistant entered the room, even in the absence of food. He concluded this was a learned response, what is now known in psychology as classical conditioning. The dogs were responding to the sight of the assistants’ white lab coats, which they had come to associate with food.
Mr Pavlov’s discovery became the basis of behavioural psychology. Classical conditioning is used today to treat phobias, anxiety and panic disorders.
However, humans are more complex than dogs. We are able to use our awareness and consciousness, and be responsible for our reactions to people or events.
We can choose how to react to a given situation, and we have the ability to adapt our response if faced with a similar situation again.

Real control

The story of Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, as told in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, illustrates how important it is to take control of the way we respond to circumstances, even in the most extreme and uncontrollable conditions.
In his book, Mr Frankl chronicles his experience as a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. There was only one thing his captors could never take from him – the way he responded to situations.
“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” he said.
Like Mr Frankl, you can decide how to react to uncontrollable externalities. This is the first step in taking real control of your life.
Focus your energy on the events, people and situations you can change. For circumstances that cannot be directly controlled, instead change yourself and the way you approach them to make the most of those situations.
This is a simple yet very powerful concept: instead of letting life go by, influence your own future by focusing on what you can control and influence.

André Ribeiro is the founder of ExtraCoaching



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