In fact this is so simple we forget it every single day we go about our lives.
Think about it. How many times do you worry about the stock market? How many times do you worry about getting that job you applied for? How many times do you worry about what people will think about you?
The stock market is down as I write this. Actually the Year to date return for the S&P 500 (the 500 biggest US companies) is down 0.81%. How much of that can you change? Do you have the impact to magically change how the market is behaving? We all know the answer to this rhetorical question, yet somehow we go about our day in a fit, trying to make sense of it all.
Why do we crave this illusive control?
We all know that one person. The one who has to drive because they can’t stand to be in the passengers seat. They think that if they drive they will have control of a car that decides to run a red light and T-bone the car you are in. We can’t control other drivers. So why does that one person have to drive knowing that an accident is caused by those around them.
Take for example a study done by famous psychologist Ellen Langer. She helped to run experiments involving playing the lottery, where people actually believed that they had a better chance of winning by picking their own numbers, over being given randomly generated ones. When we stop to think about how absurd that is, we laugh. Then we realize maybe we would like that control, heck if we lose at least we chose it right? But that experiment highlights this:
Stop focusing on things you can’t control.
As simple as this sounds we need to be cognitively aware that we are doing this. When we worry about all the above we create unnecessary stress, anxiety and even fear.
I laugh when people tell me, “wow the market was down today, I’m starting to worry.” I can’t help but smile and tell them what I tell myself. We can’t control the market, but we can control ourselves. We can control the amount of money we spend going out to dinner. We can control the amount we save for retirement. We can control the temperature in our house, our exercise, our eating habits and the list goes on and on.
How do we get wrapped up in the things we can’t control?
Buying into the illusion. The illusion that somehow we have control over events that will happen no matter what we do or don’t do. Don’t get caught up in returns, instead get caught up in your lifestyle. Live below your means, give your money away and make other people happy. All things that you can control. It’s not hard to do, yet we like to trick ourselves into believing we have control.
When I went out for my run today it started to rain. I had my iPod and my brand new headphones on. I started to get really angry at myself. I should have known it was going to rain today. How could I be so dumb? I had even checked the weather before I left the house.
My headphones did get wet, but they weren’t ruined. Even as I worried the entire run of all the ramifications this would mean, like buying new headphones and not having headphones until I get new ones. Once I got home and put them in rice they were fine. That’s when the realization hit me. The only control I had was to run or not to run and to either take my music or not take my music.
What are things you trick yourself into believing you have control over?