A famous Yiddish proverb says that “Man plans, god laughs” (Mann traoch, Gott Lauch). Are you familiar with this feeling? Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” is comprised of great examples for it: rain on your wedding day, a traffic jam when you’re already late… Then Alanis summarizes it with her conclusion:
“Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right”
Recent research shows that one’s sense of control over life is a major factor for psychological well-being. But if “Man plans and god laughs” doesn’t it mean we have no control at all? If we can’t control other’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, the forces of nature, traffic, the news – how can we get any sense of control over life?
The answer of course, is that we have full control over our own actions, thoughts, and feelings. When you are on the road, you cannot control other drivers or unexpected oil puddles and potholes, but you can control the bike. This at first seems like an obvious statement, but think more and you’d realize it is not trivial at all. It’s always easier to point at others and at circumstantial factors than it is to assume real responsibility. When my seven year old son gets upset, I try to teach him how to calm himself down. But more than often he will say “I can’t calm down – YOU made me upset!”. He can’t control my actions, and if my actions made him upset, then it’s my responsibility to fix it – right? Well – he can control the feelings and thoughts that my actions evoke, and he can control the way he responds. But that seems so much harder than “I will go berserk and then daddy will allow me to watch more TV”. It always seems easier to change other people and to change reality than to take responsibility, but it never is.
Next time you start complaining about others or about “tough luck” try this simple exercise: write five things you can do that are within your full control on a piece of paper. Then select one and act on it. It works for me every time. And always remember that things you can’t control can also work in your favor As Alanis continues in her song: