“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control how you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” ~ Unknown
You’re driving along the freeway on a snowy afternoon.
Without warning, you lose control of the car and it careens across four lanes of traffic, slamming into a snowbank on the shoulder.
This is exactly the situation I found myself in years ago. The experience has stayed with me all these years. The sensation of losing control of a moving car is frightening beyond words. There’s a feeling of helplessness that’s hard to describe when you’re at the total mercy of a three thousand pound vehicle.
Sometimes life can feel like that. One minute you feel like you’re fully in control, the next something happens that completely shatters that feeling. A terminal diagnosis, an accident, or a sudden breakup can leave you feeling totally helpless.
You may be tempted to say things like “What’s the use in trying to make things better?” or “It’s just the way things are.” But we both know that these statements are not true.
While it is true that we have less control of our lives than we think, we’re never totally helpless. Even in a situation where you’ve lost control of a car you can make choices that can help you regain control.
Turns out that the steps to regaining control of a skidding car can also help you regain control of your life.
1. Keep your foot off the gas
If you’ve lost control of a car, chances are you were driving too fast. That was true in my case. A truck was trying to pass me and was spraying blinding snow on my windshield. My response was to increase my speed to try to pass the truck driver instead. That’s when I lost traction.
The same can happen in our lives when we’re going too fast. When something bad happens to you, do you respond by becoming insanely busy? Instead of trying to speed your way out of the situation, try taking your foot off the accelerator.
Allow yourself to naturally slow down so your emotions can catch up to the reality of what’s going on. Eliminate the busy work and allow yourself to sit with your emotions. Acknowledge your feeling of helplessness. This is the first step to regaining traction in your life.
2. Keep both hands on the steering wheel
The most dangerous aspect of losing control of a vehicle is the overwhelming sense of panic that can cause us to make decisions that make the situation worse.
If you let go the steering wheel out of fear and panic, you’ve given up the most effective tool you have for regaining control.
Have you stopped praying, meditating, exercising, eating, or sleeping during a crisis? If you want to regain control, grab hold of the steering wheel with both hands.
If you can only manage to exercise for 5 minutes a day instead of the usual 30, you’ll be much better off exercising minimally rather than giving it up altogether.
3. Look where you want to go
When our lives are spinning out of control, it’s natural to focus on what’s going wrong and on past negative experiences.
Instead of endlessly ruminating about what you could have done differently, ask yourself this question:
What do I want to experience in this moment?
Do you want to repair a broken relationship? Do you want the strength and discipline to do the right thing? Do you want to experience peace in your heart no matter what happens to you?
Decide what you want to experience. Look where you want to go.
4. Steer where you want to go
Once you’ve set your sights on where you want to go, simply start turning the wheel of your life in that direction.
You can do this by making a sincere apology or fully accepting your life situation by releasing anger and resentment. These are not easy steps to take and they won’t happen instantly.
And that’s ok. Just focus on doing one small thing each day that will help you move in the direction you want to your life to go.
Get back on the road
If you’re in a situation that feels helpless and hopeless, if you feel like your life is about to crash, know that you can avoid disaster by taking steps to regain control of your inner life.
You may not be able to control what’s going on externally, but you don’t have to relinquish control of what’s going on in your mind and heart.
Just gently let your foot off the gas, keep hold of the steering wheel, look where you want to go, and turn the wheel in that direction. Take these steps and you’ll be back on the road to wholeness and well-being in no time.